Could LA Kings 2012 First Round Pick Tanner Pearson Be Better Than Advertised?

Left wing Tanner Pearson was the Los Angeles Kings’ first round
selection (30th overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
(click to view larger image)
Photo: Steve Babineau/Manchester Monarchs
LOS ANGELES — For much of their very recent history, the Los Angeles Kings have had high, first round selections in the National Hockey League Entry Draft, picks they used to select players such as star defenseman Drew Doughty, who was the second overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Other top-15 draft picks who are making an impact with the Kings are winger Dustin Brown, center Anze Kopitar, and backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier.

But what happens when a team wins the Stanley Cup, as the Kings did last June? They get the “privilege” of selecting last (30th overall) in the first round, a pick that many downplay, referring to it as the equivalent of a high, second round pick.

But with that selection in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the Kings selected left wing Tanner Pearson from the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League.

Last season with the Colts, the 20-year-old forward scored 37 goals and added 54 assists for 91 points with 37 penalty minutes, a breakout season for the 6-0, 192-pound native of Kitchener, Ontario.

Pearson, who was signed by the Kings to a three-year, entry-level contract on August 3, 2012, has played in ten games for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) this season, scoring three goals and adding an assist for four points, with an even plus/minus rating, and two penalty minutes (through games played as of November 12).

At first, Pearson did have a bit of trouble keeping himself in the lineup, sitting out one game so far as a healthy scratch.

“We have a lot of bodies here, so I was opted out for a game,” Pearson told Frozen Royalty during an exclusive interview. “I knew I had to come back with a strong game the next time I was in the lineup.”

“We have so many guys right now, so it’s hard to keep everyone in the lineup every night,” Pearson added. “You have to play every game like it’s your last to stay in the lineup.”

Monarchs head coach Mark Morris explained that the crowded roster he is dealing with as a result of the NHL lockout was to blame, rather than Pearson’s play.

Jordan Weal and Brian O’Neill hadn’t played too many games, and Justin Johnson hadn’t played any games,” Morris said during an exclusive interview with Frozen Royalty. “They’ve been working hard in practice every day, and have been looking for an opportunity for themselves.”

“We’re trying to balance having some veteran players in the lineup, while also giving opportunities to some of the newcomers,” Morris added. “It’s important to remember that, not only are we trying to win, but we’re trying to balance the development aspect of our organization.”

Possessing a good mix of size and skill, Pearson has played well enough for the Monarchs to give him some time on the power play, where he scored two of his three goals, both on deflections in front of the net.

“Recently, we put him in front of the net on the power play, and when [defenseman] David Kolomatis was healthy, he seemed to have [a knack to find] Tanner in front of the net,” said Morris. He’s an excellent net-front power play guy. He digs pucks out, and also has the ability to re-direct pucks in front of the net.”

“I like to think of myself as a good player in the offensive zone,” said Pearson. “Handling the puck down low, along the boards, is one of my biggest strengths, [along with my] vision.”

As with so many players coming out of lower levels, Pearson’s defensive game is not where it needs to be.

“[The AHL is] a lot more [defense-oriented, compared to junior hockey],” Pearson noted. “There’s a lot of good players in this league—it’s a step below the NHL. Arguably, it’s the best league in the world right now with no NHL. Everyone’s so good, you really have to be aware of what’s going on in your own end.”

Coming from a team that excelled in the attacking zone and could afford to pay less attention to their defensive zone than most teams has been a bit of a drawback for Pearson going into the AHL.

“[Defensive play is] something I have to be more aware of here, because everyone is so much better,” Pearson explained. “Everyone makes plays so much quicker. Stuff can happen so quick, so you have to be on your toes, have your thinking cap on when you’re on the ice. You [can’t] daydream at all.

“[But] it’s going pretty well,” he elaborated. “I’ve learned some stuff since I’ve been here. You always have a few mistakes, but I think I got those out of the way in exhibition games, which helped me a lot.”

“Now I just have to focus on things like getting the puck out, winning those battles along the boards, flicking pucks out, reading the play better, not making sloppy plays, [resulting in turnovers], and just being aware of what’s going on, all the time.”

Morris indicated that Pearson is making progress.

“He’s making adjustments to the speed of the game,” Morris noted. “He has great hockey sense, he’s good along the boards, and he has the ability to make plays in tight situations. He’s adjusting to the quickness, and recognizing his defensive responsibilities. He’s making strides in that direction.”

Also like so many other players graduating to the professional level from junior hockey, Pearson is having to adjust quickly to being on his own for the first time.

“The biggest change for me is the lifestyle,” he stressed. “As a pro, you have a lot of time to yourself now, [as opposed to] junior hockey, where you have to go to school, and all that kind of stuff.”

“I live with [center] Andy Andreoff,” he added. “We’ve known each other for the past two years, playing against each other in the OHL. We get along pretty well, so it’s been good.”

Pearson even said that his cooking isn’t too bad.

“It’s amazing how fast you learn stuff regarding how to [live] on your own,” he said. “Cooking, and all that stuff, I try to keep it to healthy stuff, but it’s different—cooking everything on your own. When you’re growing up, it was your parents, or, when I was in junior, a billet family was cooking for me. It’s different, but I’m getting used to it pretty quick.”

“I would say [my cooking skills] aren’t too bad,” he added. “They’ve come a long way since I’ve been here. I’m not a bad cook.”

Although learning to live on your own is a big step for just about everyone, Pearson’s bigger concern is to continue to improve his game so that he can eventually advance to the next level.

Of course, in the short term, that would help him stay in the lineup, too. After all, one can only point to the numbers game so much.

A good sign is that Pearson is not making any excuses.

“Ice time is [based] on [how you played] the game before, and how hard you work,” he emphasized. “It’s not all about because of the [fact that some NHL players are playing for AHL teams, eating up ice time that would normally go to young prospects].”

“It’s what you do on the ice.”

Raw Audio Interview with Tanner Pearson

(8:05; Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):

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