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The Underappreciation of Tanner Pearson

Tanner Pearson has quietly established himself as a key member of the Canucks

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Vancouver Canucks Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

The recent editions of the Vancouver Canucks have been defined by new and exciting talent. Whether it be the arrivals of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes or the acquisitions of J.T. Miller and Tyler Toffoli, Canucks fans have been privy to dynamic talent that had been sparse in years previous. Flying under the radar and somewhat in the shadows of these bigger names is Tanner Pearson.

The arrival of Pearson in and of itself may have been underappreciated from the beginning. Acquired in exchange for the much-maligned Erik Gudbranson, the trade was celebrated more for who departed rather than who was brought in. For his part, Pearson was largely seen as reclamation project. Before arriving in Vancouver, he managed just 15 points in 61 games across tenures with both the Los Angeles Kings and the Penguins. Once seen as an integral member of Kings squads that were in contention for the Stanley Cup, Pearson’s days as a top-six winger appeared to be behind him.

Fortunately for him, and the Canucks, things turned around.

In his 19 games as a Canuck at the end of the 2018-19 campaign, he managed nine goals and 12 points, a 52-point pace. While impressive numbers, there was (fair) speculation that it may have just been a blip. This past season, Pearson firmly refuted those assertions. He put up 45 points in 69 games (a 53-point pace over a full season) playing alongside Bo Horvat on the second line and offered well-rounded value to the club. While he may not the flashiest player and may get overlooked, Tanner Pearson has established himself as an important member of the Canucks.

Top-Six Production

The most obvious value brought in by Pearson is his status as a legitimate top-six producer. The Canucks’ second line had, over the previous few seasons, been marred with bottom-six players forced to punch above their weight, including the likes of Jake Virtanen, Markus Granlund, and Antoine Roussel. While fine in desperate situations, there was an obvious lack of surefire top-six talent. Pearson fills that void. His 2019-20 season was the 13th best individual season by points per game of the past five seasons, beaten by only campaigns from Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Horvat, Pettersson, Miller, and Brock Boeser. His even-strength point total (32) also ranks him 13th over the same time period.

While Pearson’s results have been admirable, he also came with the pedigree of being a top-of-the-lineup producer. He was key to the 2013-14 Kings Stanley Cup, serving as one third of the famous ‘That 70s Line’ alongside Toffoli and Jeff Carter. One poor part-season tarnished his brand to some degree, but it also shouldn’t come as a massive shock that he was able to turn things around.

Consistency for Horvat

Similarily, Pearson has established himself as a consistent linemate for captain Bo Horvat, something missing since Horvat became the team’s full-time second line centerman. Over the previous few seasons, Horvat’s most common linemates had been the likes of Loui Eriksson, Sven Baertschi, and Nikolay Goldobin. Too further illustrate the point, Horvat’s most common even strength linemates in 2018-19 were Sven Baertschi, Nikolay Goldobin, and Brock Boeser, the former two whom he played with roughly 10% of the time while playing around 20% of his minutes with Boeser. This year, he played with Pearson over 60% of the time.

The narrative of finding a winger for the captain was pervasive, to the point where it seemed as though Horvat would forever be stuck with a rotating cast of middle-six wingers on his flanks. Pearson was an unlikely candidate upon arrival, but he has provided a consistent presence on the second line and the team is certainly better off for it.

Two-Way Value

Beyond his offensive contributions, Pearson has added a degree of defensive stability to the top-six. Pearson helped make the second line a reliable matchup line, playing among the heaviest defensive minutes on the club. He had the second most defensive zone starts among Canucks forwards and often played against high quality competition.

Further, he was among the team’s most relied upon penalty killers, playing the fourth most minutes on the PK of any forward. He also had the best CorsiFor% of any regular penalty killer when a man down as well as the best FenwickFor% (at 13.56% and 17.52% respectively). And then, of course, there’s Pearson’s reputation as an empty net assassin, which blossomed in his stint with Horvat and Loui Eriksson mid-season.

Pearson’s heavy style of play is well-suited to head coach Travis Green’s tenacious style and has made him into a useful, well-rounded players. He is one of only a handful of players that can be trusted by Green in all situations, making him an indispensable member of the roster.

The Pearson acquisition in 2018-19 was, at the time, an overlooked move. For many fans, he seemed as though he may little more than a depth forward for the duration of his contract, brought in simply to facilitate the exit of Gudbranson. Over the course of his first full season as a Canuck, however, he has quietly revived his career and offered immense value to a Canucks team on the rise.

As flashy as the stars? No. But Pearson is establishing himself as a key member of this iteration of the Canucks nonetheless.