FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: Did you know that, if not for one, critical decision back in 2011, Los Angeles Kings rookie sensation Tanner Pearson could easily still be toiling away in the minor leagues, getting limited ice time (and limited development) on the third or fourth line with the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, and that he, and the Kings, might not have won the 2014 Stanley Cup Championship because of that? Indeed, that was very nearly the case. Part 1 of a two-part series.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — During the Los Angeles Kings’ remarkable 26-game run through the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, culminating in their second Stanley Cup Championship in the last three seasons, rookie left wing Tanner Pearson seemed to come out of nowhere, scoring four goals and contributing eight assists for twelve points, while playing on a line with right wing Tyler Toffoli and center Jeff Carter to make up what became known as the “That 70’s Line.”
That line gave the Kings a whole new look up front, and, in particular, gave the Chicago Blackhawks fits during the 2014 Western Conference Final—they had no answer for them.
For his part, Pearson used speed that had not been seen from him prior to the post-season to get to loose pucks and set up his line mates time and time again. In the end, the result was becoming a Stanley Cup Champion at the age of 21, and in just his first season in the National Hockey League.
“I was really fortunate to win it in my first crack,” said Pearson. “But the goal is to win every year. The tricky part is that there’s thirty teams fighting for the same thing.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Pearson got to celebrate with the Stanley Cup for a day, and like most, he brought it home, back to Kitchener, Ontario, to share with family and friends.
“It was fun,” he said. “I tried to enjoy it as much as I could. It was pretty short. I took it back home, then we did a couple of things in the morning, played a game of ball hockey with my friends, and then had a public appearance until 4:30 PM. Then, we took it back to my house, had dinner, and then, a bunch of people came over.”
Evidence suggests that Pearson’s day with the Stanley Cup ended with a big party, one that lasted well into the wee hours of the next morning, but more on that later.
Pearson observed that, especially for a young player, bringing the Stanley Cup home is really for the family.
“It’s special to share it with [your family], especially your Mom and Dad,” he noted. “They’ve done so much [for me] to get to where I am today. I think that day was more for them than it was for me.”
But all that success, including the Kings winning the Stanley Cup last season, might not have happened, if not for one critical decision by the Kings.
Indeed, Pearson, who was the Kings’ first round selection (30th overall) in the 2012 National Hockey League Entry Draft, was nearly selected in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft…in the seventh and final round.
How would that have changed his outlook on his future? Would it discourage him and stunt his growth, or would it light an even bigger fire under him? How would his development have changed?
One can only speculate, but one distinct possibility is that he might not have come anywhere close to the player he has become, one who is brimming with potential that has yet to be tapped.
Michael Futa, Kings Vice President, Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel, was the Kings’ Co-Director of Amateur Scouting back when they had their eyes on Pearson, and he shared Pearson’s draft story exclusively with Frozen Royalty.
“The Barrie Colts had asked me to come in and speak with Tanner when they were in the recruiting phase with him,” Futa recalled. “I had the pleasure of meeting [his] family quite early in his junior career, when he was trying to decide if he was going to go to college or play in the OHL (Ontario Hockey League). He ended up going to Barrie, and his family made a really good impression upon myself.”
Unlike most NHL prospects coming out of Canada, Pearson did not make it into major junior hockey as a 16-year-old, even though he was selected by the Colts in the 2008 OHL Priority Draft in the fourth round (266th overall).
As reported in this space in July 2012, just a few weeks after he was drafted, Pearson said that he knew the time was not right for him to play for the Colts.
“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],” he explained. “I was pretty small, and I wasn’t the greatest skater. The following year, 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,” Pearson elaborated. “Obviously, it helped me out.”
“I was playing Junior B my first two years, so I knew I wasn’t going to be drafted then. [After the 2010-11 season], I wasn’t expecting to be drafted, either. Maybe a camp invite, but that never rolled around.”
But Futa and the Kings were watching him. Closely. They were not sold on him, but he definitely grew on them, and in a big way.
“He got into the [OHL]—I always liked him,” said Futa. “But there was always something lacking. It wasn’t his game or his mind. It was more what he thought it was going to take, from a physical standpoint, to take it to the next level, to give himself a realistic chance of being a pro.”
“His draft year (2011), he was three players away from being on our invite list—he would’ve been drafted late in the seventh round,” added Futa. “We talked about it as a staff, I talked to Tanner and explained things to him. We really challenged him as far as where I thought he needed to go and where he needed to take things.”
Fortunately for the Kings, they decided not to take him in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Pearson ended up playing another season with the Colts, which worked wonders for him, and, as reported earlier, he was a first round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
“We’ve never been shy about drafting kids who’ve already gone though the draft, and the next year, Tanner had a jump to his step—all the good things that he needed to do were happening at a quicker pace,” Futa noted. “He’s always been a guy who’s really intelligent away from the puck. He learned to settle down with his skating stride—there was a lot less movement and a lot more efficient movement going on.”
“He’s a very, very competitive kid,” Futa added. “All that stuff started to come together and it paid off. We talked a lot about the kids who had already gone through the draft during the first round [of the 2012 NHL Draft], and I was really adamant, along with Mark Yanetti [who was Co-Director of Amateur Scouting at the time; he now holds that position on his own], that this kid—it was so easy to see what he could be. We felt that his downside was going to be that he would be one of your best penalty-killers and that he would be able to play on your third line, and chip in some offense. But to Tanner’s credit, he’s taken it to another level.”
Futa emphasized that if the Kings had selected Pearson in the 2011 NHL Draft, as a seventh round pick, his career might not be what it is today.
“Maybe if we had taken him in the seventh round the year before, he wouldn’t have put in all that work,” said Futa. “Maybe not being drafted had to happen for him to have the light bulb turn on and move forward.”
Indeed, high-round draft picks tend to get more attention from an NHL team’s development and coaching staffs, and they get more ice time while playing in the minors. As such, although it is impossible to predict what might have happened in Pearson’s case, it is not unreasonable to think that his career would not be what it is today. In fact, it is entirely plausible to believe that he might not have made it to the NHL yet.
But thanks to that critical decision to wait another year before selecting him in the draft, Pearson moved all the way up from the seventh round in 2011 to the first round in 2012, and he hasn’t looked back.
“Drafting is an imperfect science,” Futa stressed. “You can find kids where you know they’re going to put in the work. With Tanner, it wasn’t a matter of him being on our ‘later rounds list’ and you think, ‘I hope he’s going to put in the work.’ There was always a contact.”
“When we stood up at [the 29th pick during the 2012 NHL Draft], when I looked up, [Pearson] winked at me,” Futa added. “He knew what was going on.”
Indeed, Pearson was selected by the Kings with the 30th overall pick, the final selection of the first round.
Futa indicated that the decision on what year to select Pearson in the draft had nothing to do with his age.
“None of this is really about age,” Futa explained. “Sure, you want to have a balanced age distribution chart. But when you believe in a player that much, as our staff did, and we were unanimous, as a staff, about what we thought of him as a player. Where our debate was where he takes it.”
“We did it with Wayne Simmonds,” Futa elaborated. “Mark and I have never, ever shied away from it—if you believe in a kid, you take him. You take him higher and you make sure you get him. You don’t screw around. You don’t play with fire, especially when you believe in a kid that much. You don’t want to think that maybe we’ve out-thought [the other teams] and they don’t see what we see in them and then, all of a sudden, somebody in the second round takes him. Then, you’re sitting there thinking, ‘why didn’t I do that?’”
“I would say, for myself, that Tanner Pearson and Kyle Clifford were the two easiest projections, when we took them, as to what they would be at the next level. Not limiting what they might be, but what they had to be and needed to be, as players.”
Two years later, Pearson is in the NHL to stay, and on top of that, he is a Stanley Cup Champion. Despite all that success so early in his career, he seems to know that he still has a long way to go to establish himself in the NHL.
To illustrate, Futa told a story about Pearson’s dedication…here’s where that party, mentioned earlier, comes into play, even though Futa declined to provide details about the festivities.
“[Kings President/General Manager] Dean [Lombardi] and I went on a little tour when we were trying to hire a strength and conditioning coach,” said Futa. “We were going around to see even the veterans. We went to Kitchener to watch Tanner train the day after he had [his day and night] with the Stanley Cup. You can imagine that he was a little groggy. But he put on a clinic. He just fought through it.”
“He has the pro mentality,” added Futa. “He has that swagger, a cool confidence. He’s just a reliable, reliable player.”
Frozen Royalty will have more from Pearson on what lies ahead for him, as well a lot more from Futa on Pearson and his continuing development, what his ceiling might be and about what he has already achieved in Part 2 of this series.
Frozen Royalty’s Tanner Pearson Coverage
- LA Kings Rookie LW Tanner Pearson Is Flying As High As His Confidence Has Soared
- LA Kings LW Tanner Pearson: “I’m Going To Do Everything I Can To Stick This Time”
- Tanner Pearson Is An Early Standout At LA Kings 2013 Training Camp
- Passed Up Twice On Draft Day, LA Kings Prospect Tanner Pearson Reaches NHL Ice Faster Than Expected
- Dean Lombardi Says LA Kings Have “Lucked Out” With 2012 First Round Draft Pick Tanner Pearson
- Could LA Kings 2012 First Round Pick Tanner Pearson Be Better Than Advertised?
- Pearson, Toffoli, And Vey Are Still Dealing With The Sting Of Not Making LA Kings Rosterr
- Los Angeles Kings Rolled The Dice On Over-Agers Tanner Pearson, Thomas Hyka In 2012 NHL Draft
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That was a great read. Thank you,