This season: 80 games, 24 goals, 20 assists, 44 points, 13 penalty minutes, +5 rating, +2.1% CF%Rel, 16:19 time on ice
The good: There were really only three primary developments on which the 2016-17 season could hang its hat. There was Peter Budaj’s season-saving relief, a whole lotta questions answered by Derek Forbort as part of a younger, more mobile defense, and Tanner Pearson’s continued development into a cold, hard killer, which, as the starkest development of the three, was significantly more pleasant to watch than Arya’s assassin training at the hands of Jaquen H’ghar. In summary, Pearson has what the Kings need badly. He is a lifetime 12.8% shooter in all situations, which represents the highest active career shooting percentage on the team and the third highest aggregate percentage among players who have played at least 100 games with the team since the 2005-06 season. This raised rate appears, more or less, to be sustainable: he shot 12.7% in his career entering October, and after adding an additional 24 goals on 187 shots – that’s 12.8%, by the way – his career rate rose marginally to match his 2016-17 mark. He scored 18 goals in five-on-five play – a seven goal improvement from the year prior – and continued to earn the opportunity to play in the offensive zone. By averaging 26.0 offensive zone faceoffs per 60 minutes, he led the Kings and ranked fifth in the NHL – where luminaries such as Vladimir Tarasenko and Sidney Crosby ranked third and fourth, and Evgeni Malkin, Patrice Bergeron, John Tavares and Johnny Gaudreau (and Tyler Toffoli) weren’t far behind. Pearson set a career-high with five game-winning goals, four of which came during a five-week, pre-bye stretch, and one year after he ended two regular season games and one postseason game in overtime, he contributed another two overtime daggers. 13 of his 423 career regular season shots have resulted in game-winning goals. During five-on-five play, Pearson took only three minor penalties (!) and drew 14. His goals, shots on goal and time on ice have risen steadily each season, and combined with his high shooting percentage, that’s an excellent combination that offers no red flags towards the deceleration of this young goal scorer’s burgeoning career path. He’s responsible, too. One year after he had been benched when some checking detail slipped from his game, he drew recognition from Darryl Sutter for his all-situational play during a season in which he maintained his penalty killing usage and scored his first career shorthanded goal. Using plus speed that allows him to close in on defenders while forechecking and receive passes after entering the offensive zone on the rush, Pearson is a player who plays with the pace necessary to find success in the modern NHL and provides production on the left side, where Los Angeles badly needs it. He’s also among the more adept Kings at driving the net and creating traffic for teammates. Playing under Sutter required players to maximize their skill set, and before the season Pearson was identified as a player whose goal scoring could be taken to “another level.” “I think he’s looked on as a top left winger, and he plays on our top line. He plays a lot of power play, [a lot of] situations,” said Sutter, who added, “you knew his goal scoring would go up.”
The bad: Not a ton. Pearson was suspended for a check to Brandon Davidson’s head late in the preseason, and the DPS hammer came down hard. Without the services of Pearson (and Marian Gaborik) for the first two games (and Jonathan Quick for the first one and two-thirds games), the Kings took zero of a possible four points to begin the season. Pearson opened the year on a tear after his return, scoring on his first shift of the season, and totaled three goals, five points and a plus-four rating through his first four games. At the opposite bookend, his production slowed. This was symptomatic of a team-wide malaise, but Pearson, a reliable performer through the three-quarter pole, totaled two goals, one assist and a minus-seven rating over the last 15 games. It’s probably another symptom of last season’s low tide, but his assist rate actually dropped from 15 assists to nine during five-on-five play. Perhaps there is an abstract negative inherent in Pearson’s ceiling. Sure, he had a terrific season and scored 24 goals, but what’s his ceiling? Is he simply a solid 25-goal, 50-point player, or might he be capable of stringing together some 30-goal seasons? He has begun to answer the former; the latter will require the next leap in his trajectory.
Going forward: Signing Pearson in early May to a four-year contract with a $3.75M AAV, Rob Blake kicked off his summer to-do list with a good value signing of a player who at a bare minimum and with the requisite health should replicate his 24-goal season. There’s probably the capacity for some additional offense, given his high career shooting percentage and the fact that he hasn’t yet eclipsed 200 shots in any season. He’ll likely continue to pad his time on ice, which leapt from 14:28 per game in 2015-16 to 16:19, though the areas in which he can fill out his TOI are largely in shorthanded play and some additional defensive zone assignments, so that might not be the wellspring of his offensive potential. Perhaps there is some room to improve on the power play, where he posted a solid 7.89 on-ice GF60 as part of a useful second unit even though his personal .68 G/60 while on the man advantage was the second lowest among the eight players who averaged better than 90 seconds per game on it. In other words, goals were scored while he was on the ice with the man advantage, but he wasn’t regularly scoring or assisting on them. Pearson has proven to be a productive and highly useful player in a number of situations who excels in five-on-five play, and that’s right in the wheelhouse of what Los Angeles needs. With the team’s added emphasis on distributing the puck to high-danger shooters in open areas of the offensive zone – something, admittedly, all teams search for – there is nothing to suggest that Pearson’s swelling career path might hit a bump in the road.
Player evaluations: ANDREOFF | BROWN | CARTER | CLIFFORD | DOUGHTY | DOWD | FORBORT | GABORIK | GRAVEL | KOPITAR | LEWIS | MARTINEZ | MUZZIN | NOLAN | PEARSON | SHORE | TOFFOLI | BISHOP/BUDAJ/CAMPBELL/QUICK/ZATKOFF | THE OTHERS
-advanced stats via Natural Stat Trick