Lead San Jose Sharks writer, Andrew Bensch, is taking time off for some R&R before the start of training camp. However, he did not want to end this series before its completion, so he enlisted another Drew to help him finish the Hockey Writers’ “Sharks Previews & Predictions.”
Bensch has already covered his projected top-six forwards in previous articles. They consist of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Joel Ward, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, and Tomas Hertl. Today we will begin examining the bottom-six forward group, starting with center Chris Tierney.
2014-15 Player Card Statistics
Games Played: 43
2014-15 Advanced Statistics
Corsi-For Percentage: 47.4%
Goals-For Percentage: 52.5%
Prior to playing for San Jose, Tierney was voted the smartest player in the west by the Ontario Hockey League. This accolade gave fans large expectations for him upon his arrival to the NHL, and he did not disappoint.
For the first two-thirds of the season, the 20-year-old center struggled to keep a consistent roster spot. His play was less than inspriing and he was constantly scratched in favor of goons like John Scott. He also spent a fair amount of time in Worcester, playing with the Sharks’ AHL affiliate team.
But after the trade-deadline deal that sent James Sheppard to the New York Rangers, Tierney finally uncovered his calling in Teal Town. After Sheppard’s departure, the Ontario native was selected to fill the third-line center role, a position that had been drenched in controversy throughout most of the season.
Tierney lit it up while centering the third line down the stretch, as he demonstrated his hockey intelligence through excellent vision and Joe Thornton-like playmaking abilities. Prime examples of his skill came while setting up two Tomas Hertl goals against the Carolina Hurricanes and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s plays like these that earned him 14 points in the final 18 games of the regular season. He finished the year on an absolute tear.
One interesting fact about Tierney from last season: he led his team in GF/60 despite having a corsi-for percentage under 50%. This is because he was able to convert on opportunities at even strength at an incredibly high rate, making him one of the most productive Sharks towards the end of the campaign.
2015-16 Projected Statistics
Games Played: 75+
2015-16 Projected Advanced Statistics
Corsi-For Percentage: 51.3%
Goals-For Percentage: 53.3%
Tierney found his niche late last year and will continue to be a force in the bottom six. However, he cannot be expected to maintain his phenomenal 0.78 points per game pace he had during the final 18 contests for an entire 82-game season. He will be good, but not that good.
The now 21-year old’s passing abilities will land him at least 25 assists, possibly more. He was successful setting up the likes of Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels, but his best work came while being flanked by Hertl. Though my colleague believes the Czech will start the year on the second line, I feel he would be most effective on Tierney’s wing where they can work as a poor man’s Thornton/Pavelski duo.
A stronger defensive group and half a season’s worth of experience will almost certainly improve the center’s underlying statistics as well. Tierney registered a below average corsi in 2014-15 but will now have three solid defense pairings to help him execute zone exits and suppress shot attempts. Plus, his previous experience in the NHL will assist him in assessing the situation and making the smartest play available.
The team around No. 50 has improved so much from the previous season that a sophomore slump seems unlikely. Though the bug caught both Nieto and Hertl last year, Tierney is poised to dodge it and will remain an impact player for the Sharks all the way through the playoffs.