For years it seems, the most exciting part of the Los Angeles Kings season was actually not during the season but at the NHL's annual draft. With a team who constantly underachieved and/or rebuilt on the ice, there was nothing more fascinating than hoping for drafted prospects to one day help turn the fortunes of the franchise around. But when the Kings turned into a good team on the ice, the draft gradually lost its appeal - and by 2012 when they won the Stanley Cup, the event felt like antimatter. But don't go telling that to GM Dean Lombardi or his scouting staff.
As per tradition, the Stanley Cup winners were awarded the final pick of the opening round of the draft, and with that pick (32nd overall), the Los Angeles Kings selected forward Tanner Pearson.
Having followed him with Team Canada at the World Juniors and with the OHL's Barrie Colts, I was somewhat familiar with Pearson, although I didn't know how he'd fare in Los Angeles nor did I know how many years he needed to make the leap. Nevertheless, I was excited and just the following spring, he was already suiting up for the Kings, albeit for one game.
Just months after being drafted, Tanner Pearson was already playing for the Manchester Monarchs. There, he scored 19 goals and 28 assists in 64 games before adding an assist in four playoff games. Then, Pearson was off to Los Angeles where he appeared in one playoff game. But the next season is when the native of Kitchener, Ontario, made his mark.
After scoring 32 points in 41 games for Manchester this past season, Pearson was called up to the Kings and this time, he stuck.
In 25 games with the Kings, Pearson, who just turned 22 this past weekend, scored three goals and four assists while adding 35 hits. But it was his play in the playoffs that led the Kings coaching staff (and their fans) to discover why having Tanner Pearson on their side was a good thing.
In 24 games this past postseason, Pearson netted four goals and added eight assists to go along with a +10 rating, eight points better than his regular season total. Even seeing his average ice time of 10:48 during the regular season increase to 12:16 during the playoffs showed the trust the team's coaching staff had in their youngster.
But Tanner Pearson wasn't only better himself. He also looked at home on a line with Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter to form the That 70's Line. While the trio did find success together all spring, they were especially hot against formidable opponents such as Anaheim and Chicago - two teams that barely give opposing offenses an inch. But Pearson helped change that trend and it is a main reason as to why the Los Angeles Kings are once again Stanley Cup champions.
Pearson was even physical during the playoffs, registering 52 hits in his 24 games played. His 6-foot, 189-pound frame may not instill fear in every opposing player but the former Barrie Colt certainly didn't mind what his size (or lack thereof) gave off. He just used it to his advantage the best he could and it paid off.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, 2014-15 will mark Tanner Pearson's first full year with the Kings. However, entering the final year of his contract before he becomes a restricted free agent, fans sincerely hope that the youngster can be re-signed. One thing is for sure: Pearson will be looking for a substantial raise from his $735,833 salary, and who can blame him?
As excited as I am to see Tanner Pearson with the Kings next season, I'm just as excited to see him perform some magic with the aforementioned Toffoli and Carter on "That 70's Line". In his short time in Los Angeles, Pearson has left his mark with the Kings and as far as I'm concerned, this past year was just the beginning.
Overall grade for Tanner Pearson: B+