During last year’s playoffs, Los Angeles Kings left-winger Tanner Pearson showed he had the ability to not only play, but be a key contributor at the highest level of NHL competition. The only question remaining was whether he could translate that to consistent play over the course of a full regular season.
A Hot Start
Okay, so we’re only 6 games into the 2014-15 campaign, but Pearson is contributing not just consistently, but at a prolific rate. He has already tallied 5 goals and 2 assists through the first 6 games of the season, tied with line-mate and fellow rising youngster Tyler Toffoli. Those two form “That ’70s Line” with center Jeff Carter (6 points through 6 games), which has easily been the Kings’ most dangerous forward combination this season, picking up right where they left off in the playoffs last year.
Carter has been a star in the NHL for a number of years now, while the highly-skilled Toffoli has always had noticeable goal-scoring ability and is now beginning to find consistency in his game. As such, the well-rounded Pearson had the tendency to fly under the radar last postseason, even with his productive play. Now, though, the Kings and the rest of the NHL are becoming aware of how just how much potential the 22-year-old has. Pearson, however, has remained humble in the midst of his success.
“I’m just trying to contribute with my part,” Pearson said after a 4-1 home victory against the Winnipeg Jets on October 12. “I don’t want to be a liability in our end, I want it to be my thing – getting pucks out and that kind of stuff. I’m just trying to do my job that I need to do and go from there.” (lakingsinsider.com)
Right now, Pearson is doing a bit more than just “getting pucks out.” He has had a hand in exactly half of the Kings’ 14 goals so far in the young season. Without him and the rest of “That ’70s Line,” LA probably would not be 4-1-1, as they have struggled to manufacture offense outside of those three forwards.
Pearson was drafted by the Kings in the first round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, 30th overall. Coming off two strong seasons in the OHL — particularly in 2011-12 — Pearson had already been passed over in two previous NHL drafts. Despite that, he remained determined and worked to improve his game, adding muscle to augment his skating and offense, as well as working on his two-way game (hockeysfuture.com). By the summer of 2012, he had become a first-round NHL draft pick.
After making his NHL debut in the 2013 playoffs as part of the Kings’ taxi squad, Pearson saw his first regular season NHL action with 25 games in 2013-14, where he tallied 3 goals and 4 assists. After that, he grabbed hold of a regular spot in the lineup during the postseason, and he and the Kings never looked back.
He was notably a key factor in the Kings’ historic first-round comeback against the San Jose Sharks after being down 3 games to none in the best-of-7 series. Los Angeles had been thoroughly manhandled in the first two games in San Jose, neither of which Pearson dressed in. Pearson was inserted into the lineup for Game 3, which the Kings dropped in overtime. Even with the loss, the fact that the Kings were closer likely gave them some shred of confidence going into Game 4, which they won handily. The rest — including Pearson’s 2 points in the Game 7 clincher — is history. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Kings’ fortunes started to turn once Pearson became a regular in the lineup.
“To be considered a rookie, a player must not have played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding seasons, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons.” (NHL.com)
The above qualifications from the NHL’s Hockey Operations Guidelines mean that Pearson is actually still considered a rookie. He only played in 25 regular season games last season, so he just made the cut (or missed it, depending on how you look at it). Pearson, though, doesn’t really feel like a rookie and is focused on helping sustain the Kings’ team success rather than on his strong shot at winning the Calder trophy for Rookie of the Year:
“No, not really,” said Pearson after the Winnipeg game on October 12, when asked about whether he feels like a rookie. “I think being with them in the playoffs the year before and going so far in camp last year and being up and down so often, it’s kind of I’m just another one of the guys. Even when I came in last year, it’s wasn’t as a rookie. It was ‘you’re another one of the teammates, and you’re here to do your job.’” (lakingsinsider.com)
“It’s different, I think,” continued Pearson, with respect to whether it feels odd to be considered a rookie even after winning the Stanley Cup. “It’s obviously there, but you’re not look(ing) at winning the Calder. You’re looking at winning and trying to go as far as we did last year in the playoffs. Hopefully we keep on playing well and see what happens.” (lakingsinsider.com)
If Pearson keeps on playing well, he will probably be the favorite to win the Calder trophy — not that he cares about that as much as winning another Stanley Cup. Nevertheless, the question about Pearson maintaining consistency over a full 82-game NHL season is still one that has to be answered, but he has certainly impressed in the early going. The odds of continued success also seem to be in his favor because of his strong work ethic and great chemistry with Toffoli and Carter. All indications are that Pearson is not only here to stay with the Kings, but that he might be on the verge of NHL stardom over the next few years.