LA Kings Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli Still Have A Long Way To Go…That’s A Good Thing

FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: In Part 1 of this two-part series, we told you about Los Angeles Kings rookie left wing Tanner Pearson’s rise from being a very late bloomer who came within a hair of being a late seventh round pick in the 2011 National Hockey League Draft, instead of a first round pick in the 2012 draft. What might’ve happened if he had been picked in the seventh round instead of the first round?

In case you missed it, you can read that story here: LA Kings 2012 First Round Pick Tanner Pearson Just Missed Being a 7th Round Pick In 2011.

In Part 2, we’ll look at Pearson’s (so far) successful ascent to the NHL, with comments from Pearson and Kings Senior Vice President, Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel Michael Futa, who shared his thoughts about both Pearson and right wing Tyler Toffoli.

LA Kings left wing Tanner Pearson
(click above to view larger image)
Photo: David Sheehan/CalishooterOne Photography
EL SEGUNDO, CA — For the last seven seasons, center Anze Kopitar has led the Los Angeles Kings in scoring, and he has led them, essentially, from start to finish each season.

Don’t look now, but that is not how things will go this season, as rookie left wing Tanner Pearson, for now, anyway, leads the Kings in scoring with four goals and two assists for six points through four games.

Although no one should expect Pearson to end the season leading the Kings in scoring, anything is possible, right? In any case, Pearson’s early-season hot streak already has him in the conversation for the NHL’s Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the league’s top rookie (he did not play enough games last season to lose rookie status).

Selected by the Kings in the first round (30th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Pearson got himself on a fast track to the NHL, making quite the splash while playing for the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, before making the Kings roster to stay last season after the Olympic break.

It took Pearson slightly less than two seasons to stick in the NHL.

“It was just gaining more and more confidence throughout my stints here and then going back to Manchester, being told what I need to work on, working on those things, and then, coming back after the Olympic break [last season] and [being able to stay with the Kings],” he said. “I felt like I found my game. I just realized that I have to be patient, and not try to force plays. Once I did that, it worked out.”

“When I first got up here, there was kind of a ‘wow’ factor at how fast the game was,” he added. “But then, as it went on, and as I got more used to it, [the game] slowed down a bit.”

While the game slowed down for Pearson, he sped up by what seemed like an order of magnitude. Added speed, not to mention greater intensity, helped him and line mates Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli to become a potent, dangerous line that no team had an answer for during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We played a few games together in the regular season, and we had some good games,” said Pearson. “We built chemistry pretty quickly, and that’s what you want. You’re not going to get anywhere without chemistry. It came quickly and it helped us out.”

But most noticeable in Pearson’s game was the added speed he showed in the 2014 playoffs, something not seen in his game prior to that.

“It’s the playoffs,” Pearson explained. “You need to do everything you can, put it all out there in every game, and not take a game off. The confidence was there. I got the boots moving there.”

“Anyone who can [add] another gear is dangerous, especially coming down the wing,” Pearson elaborated. “With me being a winger, that helps me out a lot. Playing with Carts, and Toff is a pretty good skater, but Carts can go pretty good. I’m just trying to keep up with him.”

Pearson just might be one of the faster skaters in the NHL now, something that comes as a surprise, given that skating was not one of his strong points just a few years ago.

“Tanner is immensely creative,” said Michael Futa, Kings Senior Vice President, Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel. “One thing he’ll learn being around [head coach] Darryl [Sutter] and our group is that you’ve got to be able to make plays, and he’s always been able to make plays.”

“Some of the plays he made last year, with his vision, in the playoffs, getting the puck to Toffoli in the San Jose series—we got two kids there, and it’s a credit to our development team and our skating guys, and more credit to the kids,” added Futa. “Both Toffoli and Pearson, the thing that was supposed to keep them out of the NHL, according to the books, the experts and the ratings, was that they couldn’t skate. Now, when you see that line with them and Carts, you’re like, holy smokes! Slow down!”

Futa indicated that a big reason for Toffoli’s, and especially Pearson’s, increased speed was that they did not have to hold back at all.

“Darryl did a masterful job of managing their ice time,” Futa noted. “That was one of the things I know he challenged them on, because they were so effective in the playoffs—every time they were on the ice, they were noticeable for doing something positive. Then, when you look at their minutes, he kept them at a point where they were so fresh, they could go like that. They didn’t have to pace themselves.”

Futa warned that the two will not always look like they’ve been shot out of a cannon.

“I told our guys that there’s going to be those lazy games that don’t have the intensity of the Chicago series where they’re going to look like average skaters again,” Futa stressed. “It’s just that the pace of the game will have ‘lulled,’ maybe in the middle of the season. It won’t look like against Chicago where everybody looked like they had a rocket engine up their butt.”

“But to know that those kids could go to that gear, that’s where Darryl challenged them,” Futa added. “He told them, ‘guys, don’t get comfortable here. You’ve done wonderful things. You were, clearly, incredible contributors. But now, you’ve got to prepare yourself, physically.’”

If the fast start Pearson is off to this season is any indication, he has taken that challenge to heart.

“I remember when [Pearson] started on that line with [Linden] Vey (now with the Vancouver Canucks) and Toffoli, they kind of hit it off,” said Futa. “He started putting up numbers and became the kind of player that coaches rely on. He’s got a long way to go to get Darryl’s confidence at all different levels, but coming up last year and contributing the way he did certainly put him on the radar for what he has to be and what he has to do to be a King, and he had a great training camp.”

Futa warned that even though Pearson and Toffoli have been stand outs for the Kings since the 2014 playoffs, they still have a long way to go, and their trajectories might not be a constant, upward curve.

“When you look at our team, they’re still babies compared to the men who are in that room,” Futa emphasized. “They have to prepare themselves to be able to play at that tempo with more minutes, and I think they both had great camps, as far as preparing themselves for that added responsibility, and earning more trust from Darryl so that their minutes can go up.”

LA Kings right wing Tyler Toffoli
(click above to view larger image)
Photo: David Sheehan/CalishooterOne Photography
“They’re playing with one of the best players in the world in the middle,” Futa added. “They’ve got to make him better, they’ve got to make each other better, and Carts can fly. They’ve got to play their game with pace. They’ve got to play smart hockey, they’ve got to play with tempo, and they’ve got to make plays. They’ve got a coach who’s very successful at putting players in a position to succeed.”

That’s quite the challenge. But Pearson and Toffoli seem to be up to it.

“They’ve got the mentality,” Futa observed. “They both love to score, they’re competitive, they both love to win, they both have the ability—Tyler a little bit more. The puck comes off his stick, off the rush—there’s certain guys where the puck just comes off their stick a different way, and it’s funny, but everyone on that line—Carts is at another level—has the ability to snap it off the rush.”

“I always notice—when you see Jonathan Quick jump up in practice, like [a shot] shocked him, it’s usually one of those three guys shooting it,” Futa added. “It’s unbelievable. If you can surprise an NHL goalie like that, it tells you that it’s pretty unique, the way puck the comes off your stick.”

“I think they have the right mentality, and I think everybody in the organization has prepared them to not fail. I think they’re set-up to succeed. It depends on where you want to put the bar and gauge what’s going to be considered to be success. But the fact that they’ve come in in great shape—they were challenged to come back in great shape and have good camps, and they both did that.”

After such great success during the 2014 playoffs, neither Pearson or Toffoli will be able to surprise anyone this season—they will have targets on their backs, making their challenge that much greater.

“There’s great chemistry there [on the line with Carter], but again, it’s so early in their careers, if you get caught thinking about what you’ve accomplished, or you stop working, it’ll catch up to you in a hurry,” said Futa. “When you have that much success, as a young guy, you’re not a secret anymore.”

“Last season, people were probably asking, ‘who the hell is Tanner Pearson?’ Now everybody knows he’s Tanner Pearson, Stanley Cup Champion, who was really, really good in the playoffs,” added Futa. “He’s not going to surprise anybody anymore.”

Team culture and the Kings’ veterans should keep pushing Pearson and Toffoli forward.

“They’re both going to have to get stronger, physically, still, to be able to be upper echelon players. But we’ve got such a good room, such great leadership, that they’re going to see all the great habits they’ll need to accomplish these things. It’s exciting.”

Frozen Royalty’s Tanner Pearson Coverage

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