EL SEGUNDO, CA — Every year, for those following the National Hockey League Entry Draft, all the hype and the attention goes to the top-rated young prospects, and the team with the first overall pick in that year’s draft.
This year’s draft was no different, with all the pre-draft attention focused on the top prospect in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, right wing Nail Yakupov (Sarnia Sting, Ontario Hockey League), and the Edmonton Oilers, owners of the first pick in the draft.
As each year’s draft wears on, it becomes more and more of a crapshoot, in terms of whether or not a selected prospect will ever make it to the NHL, and this year was no exception. Indeed, after the Oilers selected Yakupov, and with the rest of the top prospects disappearing off the board right after that, the crapshoot began in earnest.
As much as every NHL team covets the first overall pick in the draft, they would all gladly give it up to secure the 30th overall selection, the final pick in the first round.
The reason? The great privilege of picking last in the first round goes to the team that has won the Stanley Cup that year, and with the Los Angeles Kings winning it for the first time in the 45-year history of the franchise back in June, they had the “low” honor of picking last in the first round, using that pick to select left wing Tanner Pearson, who played the last two seasons for the Barrie Colts of the OHL.
The 6-0, 193-pound native of Kitchener, Ontario, who turns twenty years of age on August 12, 2012, is not the traditional first round draft choice, having started his career in Canadian junior hockey with the Waterloo Siskins of the Greater Ontario Hockey League (a Junior B league), during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 seasons.
“I don’t think I was ready [to play in Canadian major junior hockey], especially in the first year, when I was [selected in the] OHL [draft],” said Pearson. “I was pretty small, and I wasn’t the greatest skater. The following year [the second year he was eligible to play in major junior], Barrie had a great team, so it was really, really hard to make that team.”
“I could’ve stayed around as the 13th forward, but I didn’t want to do that, so I went back to Junior [B] to develop a bit more,” added Pearson. “Obviously, it helped me out.”
Indeed, Pearson’s time at Waterloo helped him make the Colts roster in 2010-11, scoring 15 goals and tallying 27 assists for 42 points in 66 regular season games.
But that was not enough to grab the attention of NHL teams, as he went undrafted for the second straight year after he became eligible after the 2009-10 season.
“I was playing Junior B my first two years, so I knew I wasn’t going to be drafted then,” Pearson noted. “[After the 2010-11 season], I wasn’t expecting to be drafted, either. Maybe a camp invite, but that never rolled around.”
“I knew I had to do something to keep my hockey career going, and last year, I showed what I can do, and it worked out for me,” Pearson added.
Pearson finally got the attention of NHL scouts and held onto it with a breakout season in 2011-12, scoring 37 goals and adding 54 assists for 91 points in sixty regular season games, before a broken right fibula ended his season.
The Colts had a considerable number of players in the final year of their junior eligibility during the 2010-11 season, and as a result, Pearson got his chance.
“A lot of guys left, so there was an opportunity, and I took full control of it,” he said. “Also, there was a new coach, Dale Hawerchuk. It was his first year. New coach, lots of opportunities to make the club. I took hold of it, and kept on going.”
Before the injury, Pearson represented Canada at the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championships, scoring a goal and contributing five assists in six games, helping lead Canada to the bronze medal, and becoming the first junior player since Danny Syvret in 2005 to represent Canada after being passed over in the NHL Draft.
Pearson went through all the drills at the Kings’ 2012 Development Camp earlier this month, showing no ill effects from the injury.
“I don’t think the injury is an issue at all now,” said Nelson Emerson, who oversees player development for the Kings. “He’s everything that the scouts said. He’s got a legitimate pro-type shot. The puck jumps off his stick, different than a lot of people. He’s got great hand instincts.”
“He’s been a battler, the last two or three years, to go through what he did,” added Emerson. “For our group, he’s a pleasure to work with, because of the ability that he has, shooting the puck and scoring goals.”
Pearson’s game appears to be on the upswing, which has given him good reason to be optimistic about his future, and even more dedicated to improving.
“I want to come into [rookie and training] camp, and try my hardest to make the [Kings roster],” Pearson emphasized. “That would be the ultimate goal. Everyone’s ultimate goal is to make the NHL. But if that fails, I’ll try my hardest to make the [American Hockey League]. I want to play pro hockey, even if it is the AHL, and develop for a year or two there, learn the Kings’ system, and then make the jump to the NHL.”
On the other end of the draft spectrum from being a prestigious first round selection is right wing Thomas Hyka, the Kings’ sixth round selection (171st overall), who played for the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in the 2011-12 season after playing the previous three seasons in the Czech Republic.
Hyka showed that he was a skilled winger during Development Camp drills. But his chances of making it to the NHL to stay are very, very long with him being a very small 5-11, 160 pounds.
“I have really good speed, so I want to keep my speed, and [get] stronger, because my size and weight isn’t really good,” said the 19-year-old native of Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic. “I have to use my speed, but I want to [get] stronger [so I can win] one-on-one [battles].”
Hyka’s mastery of the English language is better than most players coming over from Eastern European countries, but he showed his lack of confidence in his English language skills when he quickly clarified his comments about wanting to get stronger.
“I don’t want to have muscles everywhere, I just want to be stronger,” he said, eliciting chuckles from the media present.
Hyka was not selected in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, his first year of eligibility, but the Philadelphia Flyers invited him to their 2011 training camp, so he was a little surprised that he was not selected by them.
“I was surprised the Philadelphia Flyers didn’t get me, because I was at their camp last year,” said Hyka. “But I’m really happy the Los Angeles Kings drafted me because they’re a really good team, and a really good organization. They won the Cup this [past season], so it’s really nice to be here.”
Coming to Southern California for the first time, Hyka made sure he spent some time seeing the local sights.
“I already went to Hollywood and Beverly Hills, so it’s really nice to be here,” Hyka noted. “It’s really nice weather, it’s been a good experience here. I really like it.”
“I hung out with my friends,” Hyka added. “We walked around, did a little shopping. We went on July 4, [Independence Day in the United States], so there were people everywhere. It was really fun.”
With the Kings being the defending Stanley Cup Champions, is there greater pressure on the young prospects, even though they are not yet on the big club’s roster?
Not necessarily, but they know the challenge ahead is likely to be an even greater one to meet and overcome.
“You have to work really hard because you know the guys work hard—that’s why they won the Cup,” Hyka noted. “That’s why I’m going to workout all summer to [get] stronger.”
“It was exciting, knowing that [I’m] going to a team that just won the Stanley Cup,” said Pearson. “But if you look at their lineup, there’s a lot of guys [who are] returning. It’s going to be a hard process, trying to make this club. But I want to do everything I possibly can to make this club.”
“They’re the Stanley Cup Champions,” added Pearson. “There’s a high level [of expectations] here. They’re at the top, so it’s going to be a really, really hard task to make the team, but I’m going to do everything I can make that job easier.”
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30th Overall Selection (LA) – Tanner Pearson From TSN via KingsVision
2012 Draft Prospect – Tanner Pearson – NHL.com Profile
©2012 National Hockey League. Used with permission.
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