AUDIO INTERVIEWS: Listen to audio from May 7 interviews with Tanner Pearson, Drew Doughty, Jarret Stoll and head coach Darryl Sutter.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — In case you haven’t noticed, Los Angeles Kings rookie left wing Tanner Pearson has been flying during the playoffs…almost literally. He has been more effective during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs than at any point during the regular season, making plays and using his speed, which, all of a sudden, appears to be his most dangerous weapon.
Conventional wisdom suggests that a young player like the 21-year-old Pearson should find it more difficult to be effective in the National Hockey League playoffs than it was during the regular season. Nevertheless, the converse has been true for Pearson, who has scored a goal and has contributed three assists for four points, with a +5 plus/minus rating and four penalty minutes in seven playoff games.
Compared to this time last year when Pearson played just 5:44 in Game 3 against the San Jose Sharks, the 6-1, 200-pound native of Kitchener, Ontario has come a long way in just one season.
Pearson attributed his improvement to added confidence.
“I think it comes with confidence,” he said. “Playing more games, you get used to your surroundings. Being up and down and especially last year, playing in the playoffs helped me transition into this year’s playoffs.”
“I think everyone has to step up their game up in the post-season [in order] to move on, so I’m just contributing my part,” he added. “I just tried to find my game. It slowly came along, and I think it’s up there.”
Although Pearson’s numbers indicate that he isn’t hot enough to melt ice, he has been very noticeable, and by and large, for the right reasons.
“[Pearson] has all the skill in the world,” said defenseman Drew Doughty. “He’s a good skater, and he can play physical. He’s just going in and doing his job on the forecheck, and when he gets the puck down low, he’s got the vision and the talent to make plays, and that’s what he’s done.”
When center Jarret Stoll was asked to comment on Pearson, a wide smile appeared on his face, and he was more than a little excited as he spoke.
“I like him, as a player, a lot,” Stoll exclaimed. “He’s fast. I don’t know if a lot of people realize how fast he is. He’s strong on the puck, he’s got good hands, a great shot, I’m sure you guys see it in practice, how hard he snaps the puck.”
“He hasn’t played very many [NHL] games,” Stoll added. “Let’s be honest. He doesn’t have any experience, really. But he made some big plays in the San Jose series, and he’s made some big plays in this series [against Anaheim]. He battles in those situations where you need that extra effort. Him and [rookie right wing Tyler Toffoli] are special players. They’re going to play for a long time.”
With Pearson showing considerably more skill, physical ability and speed than the same time last year, and even compared to just a few months ago, the question is:
What brought on the dramatic improvement?
“With Tanner, I think he’s just learning his role,” Doughty observed. “I’m sure that when he was in the American Hockey League with the Manchester Monarchs, his role was to be that top winger on the top line, and playing in all situations. But when you come up to the NHL, things change a lot. You’re not on the power play, you’re not on the penalty-kill. Your job is pretty much five-on-five. You get some energy going for the team, and I think he realizes that.”
“When you’re going up and down [between Manchester and Los Angeles] like he was throughout the season, the speed of the game changes drastically from one level to the next,” Doughty added. “It’s not easy to go back and forth all the time. [Now that] he’s been here steadily through the NHL playoffs, and the end of the [regular] season, he’s getting used to it.”
Doughty confirmed what Pearson said about confidence.
“He’s getting more confidence,” said Doughty. “Confidence is the number one thing. We want all of our players to have the most confidence that they can in themselves. If everyone’s playing that way, we should be a successful team.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter noted that experience is giving Pearson the added confidence.
“He’s a little bit older, a little bit more experienced,” said Sutter. “He’s learning about the league. We brought him up, played him a little bit in the playoffs, gave him the exposure, not as playing as much as just seeing what it’s like to be consistent, in terms of your work ethic, your preparation and your practice habits, and all those things that come with being a better player. So he’s taken a step.”
Always the motivator, Sutter then shifted gears.
“[Pearson] hasn’t played every playoff game for us this year,” Sutter noted. “There’s still lots there. He’s a young guy who’s just sort of getting his feet under him. Somebody said it after the last game—they asked about Tanner and Tyler. Well, Tanner and Tyler played just as much, and it’s always a Tanner and Tyler question.”
“When they dress, we expect them to play as much as everybody else, and if they’re playing well enough, then they do, and if they’re not, then they don’t,” Sutter added. “It’s no different than any other player. It’s very much, as playoffs go along, just the way it works. Hey, it’s a harder game. We were very fortunate, quite honest, to win the game in overtime that we won. We had to use a short bench because some guys weren’t up to standards.”
“We were very fortunate to win that game. Some guys played too much, some guys didn’t play enough. All you had to do was look at ice times at the end of the game, and you know, on our team, pretty much how guys were playing. Because we expect them to perform, and that’s a big adjustment in the conference, to be quite honest, you need a ‘whole.’ You say there’s depth, or you use your bench, well, they’ve got to play a lot, and they’ve got to play against good players.”
Sutter then issued a challenge to Pearson and Toffoli.
“[This is] not junior or college where you’re playing freshmen against freshmen, or seniors against seniors, or 20-year-olds against 16-year-olds,” Sutter emphasized. “This is a different deal. The young guys have to be better prepared for that.”
“When you look at our team, quite honest now, with the injuries on the back end, those guys—hey, they’ve got to step up and play against top players,” Sutter added. “We’re going to win and lose that way. We’re not going to win and lose by somebody playing 35 minutes. We’re going to win and lose by somebody going from a 13-minute guy going to an 18-minute guy.”
While Sutter was issuing challenges to his young players, the veteran members of the team were talking about making the younger players feel like part of the whole.
“You pump these kids up,” said Stoll. “You make sure they’re part of the team. They’re not just a first-year guy, a fourth-line guy, or an extra. There is no first line, fourth line, third line. Everyone’s part of this team, and I think we’ve really tried to make everyone comfortable that way, and make them feel like they’re a huge chunk of this team, whether they’re in the lineup or not.”
“If we don’t have Pearson or Toffoli going, we don’t have a very good chance to win,” added Stoll. “We need everybody [going], and those guys know that.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Tanner Pearson (1:26)
Drew Doughty (9:50)
Jarret Stoll (10:06)
Darryl Sutter (6:10)
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