LOS ANGELES — This past summer, the Los Angeles Kings had the misfortune of selecting last in the first round of the 2012 National Hockey League Draft.
Of course, selecting last in the first round is the “privilege” that every Stanley Cup Champion earns for upcoming draft, and as you probably surmised, the Kings were not complaining after they won the first Stanley Cup Championship in the 45-year history of the franchise on June 11, 2012.
Most pundits would tell you that, more often than not, the draft is a huge crap shoot after the first handful of picks, and no one expected the Kings to get an impact player with the 30th overall selection.
That could still be the case down the road, but if you ask Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi, the outlook for twenty-year-old winger Tanner Pearson, the player selected with that pick, is quite good.
“The kid we got has really done well, so we actually lucked out there,” said Lombardi. “To get Pearson with the 30th pick, he’s got a good chance.”
As so many young prospects do coming out of major junior hockey in Canada, Pearson, a 6-0, 198-pound native of Kitchener, Ontario, struggled early in his first season with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate.
“I started off slow, but I guess that’s kind of how it goes when you don’t really know what to expect coming into a new league, and playing against men [rather than teenagers in junior hockey],” said Pearson, who played two seasons for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League. “It was a lot different coming into [this season], but as the season went on, I’ve gotten more used to it.”
Getting a chance to play on the power play helped change Pearson’s early season fortunes.
“He didn’t play a lot in the beginning, but somebody wasn’t doing a very good job in front of the net, so on a whim, I told him to go play the net on the power play,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “I remember—it happened in the same game. [Defenseman] David Kolomatis has a great release from the blue line. He fed a couple of wrist shots towards the net, and Tanner tipped them both in the net. From that point forward, we made him a net front guy.”
Pearson, who has scored 15 goals and has contributed 27 assists for 42 points, with a +15 plus/minus rating and 14 penalty minutes in 61 games this season, also had to deal with two upper body injuries this year, which slowed his progress. But he was eventually put on a line with Tyler Toffoli and Linden Vey, and the trio lit up the AHL.
“We just played shift-to-shift, and played hard on every shift,” Pearson explained. “With the talent [we had] on that line, if you played your game, you [were bound] to do something on the ice.”
“Tyler and I knew each other [from] playing against each other the past couple of years,” Pearson added. “We kind of knew how each other played, and we played in the OHL Super Series together last year. That kind of helped out.”
Vey, who centered the line, characterized Pearson as a power forward with skill.
“I think he’s been really good, especially the last two-thirds of the year,” said Vey. “Unfortunately, he’s had a couple of injuries, which held him back, but when he’s been in the lineup, he’s been a force. He’s kind of a power forward. He’s got great hands, and some good speed.”
“He’s a real skilled player, and he’s got a great shot,” added Vey. “He’s a guy who’s not afraid to go to the net and mix it up. He brings a lot to our team. He’s a strong guy, he’s got a scoring touch, and he’s willing to go to the net. Especially from the start of the year, he’s improved a lot. He’s finding things out, like everybody else, but he’s improved, and he’s definitely a great player for us.”
Morris has noticed Pearson’s hands, along with his ability to make plays.
“He’s got a soft touch, he makes real clever plays in small areas, and he wins a lot of loose puck battles,” Morris noted. “He’s real good coming down the wing—he has a real deceptive move to his forehand, which is a hard move.”
“When he gets his ‘man strength,’ you’re really going to see that kid take off,” Morris added.
While we’re on the subject of strength, Pearson is not unlike most every young prospect in that building physical strength is the greatest challenge in his development.
“His biggest challenge is off-ice, in the weight room, getting his body ready for the rigors of pro hockey,” said Morris. “The funny thing is that he has the frame, and he is a strong guy, but as the body matures, you get more defined.”
“You might be a gifted player, but until you firm up the parts of the body that need extra strength, you risk injury,” added Morris.
Pearson’s defensive play was a question mark coming out of junior hockey, something that will need to change at the AHL level.
“Playing in the OHL the last couple of years, especially last year, you weren’t really counted on too much on defense,” he noted. “You’re counted on more to do stuff in the offensive zone. But here, everyone’s so much better, you have to be an all-around player [in order] to play.”
“I’ve been trying to do my best on that part, and I think it’s going well so far,” he added. “I just have to [adjust] to it until it becomes second nature.”
The need for greater awareness on the ice is also something Pearson is adjusting to.
“The players are bigger, stronger, faster and older, and everyone in this league is so good, you’ve got to be much more aware of what’s going on out on the ice,” he stressed. “If you cough up a puck, or make a bad play, it could result in a goal against. Everyone’s just so much smarter up here.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Tanner Pearson (6:40)
Linden Vey on Tanner Pearson (1:11)
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- Could LA Kings 2012 First Round Pick Tanner Pearson Be Better Than Advertised?
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