When Jim Benning traded for Tanner Pearson from the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday, the focus in Vancouver was largely on Erik Gudbranson.
You can understand why, as subtracting Gudbranson from the lineup immediately makes the Canucks a better team.
What’s less clear is if Pearson can make a significant impact with the forward group.
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This season has largely been a disappointment for the 26-year-old Kitchener native. Pearson is on pace for his worst season offensively since becoming a full-time NHL player, scoring just 15 points in 61 games, and he has been traded twice.
That being said, Pearson does boast an offensive pedigree in the NHL.
Three consistent seasons
Prior to this season, Pearson was a key offensive contributor for the Los Angeles Kings, averaging 18 goals and 40 points from 2015-16 to 2017-18.
For the record, only Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, and the Sedins have surpassed more than 40 points in a season twice for the Canucks since 2015-16.
One of the alarming factors about Pearson’s production is that it has been declining. Here are his points-per-60 over the last four seasons.
2015-16: 1.68 (LA Kings)
2016-17: 1.66 (LA Kings)
2017-18: 1.63 (LA Kings)
2018-19: 1.23 (Pittsburgh Penguins)
To learn more about Pearson’s 44-game stint with the Penguins, I asked Kaitlyn Dividock of SB Nation’s Pensburgh for some analysis.
“Pearson started off really well right after his acquisition November,” said Dividock. “He’d drive to the net, fill lanes, cycle into the slot, and scored a handful of goals.
“But as the season went on, his offence kept dropping and dropping, to the point where Mike Sullivan had no choice but to try him with a different centre on each forward line until ultimately having to scratch him for AHL call-ups putting in better, more consistent performances.”
Not a great look for Pearson that he tailed off while playing with guys like Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, even if 44 games is a small sample size.
Strengths and weaknesses
Perfect hockey players don’t get traded twice in one season, so Pearson has flaws. Let’s start with the positives.
1. Productive player at even strength
As Kaitlyn mentioned, Pearson was initially effective at driving to the net and cycling to the slot. That was a big part of his game in LA as well, where he was part of a dominant puck possession team where he had success on That 70’s Line with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli.
At 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, Pearson doesn’t get pushed off pucks easily and creates chances at a decent rate in the offensive zone. He’s also scored the majority of his goals at even strength, hitting double digits in that department in each of his previous four seasons with the Kings.
Pearson scored 20 of his 24 goals at even strength in 2016-17, which ranked him 37th league-wide that year.
2. Dangerous shot
Pearson’s shot can be defined as both hard and accurate.
This goal from November may remind you Thomas Vanek:
Known as a shooter ever since his days with the Barrie Colts, Pearson potted 37 goals before being drafted by the Kings 30th overall in 2012.
Pearson could be due for a bounce-back season given his shooting percentage has dipped to 8.4% since the beginning of 2017-18, after shooting at 13% in the three seasons previous. He’s also battled a hand injury of late, possibly hampering his production further.
3. Malkin’s production increased with Pearson
Hard to call this a defined strength, but it’s interesting to note. Malkin was Pearson’s second-most common linemate in Pittsburgh. Together, their Corsi-for and goals-for at even strength were both 54%. Their numbers apart were ugly.
Pearson without Malkin: 41.4% CF, 30.7% GF
Malkin without Pearson: 47.3% CF, 43.3% GF
This graph from Hockey Viz also demonstrates Malkin’s struggles without Pearson.
4. Defensive game isn’t a strength
While most Kings players have boasted solid possession stats in recent years, Pearson doesn’t shine in the goals against department. His 2.32 goals-against per 60 in LA wasn’t horrible, but it ranks near the bottom for Kings forwards over the last three years.
He’s also been exposed on the penalty kill, where his 7.07 goals-against ranked third-worst over the last three years in LA.
5. Not productive on the power play
A guy with a big body and a decent shot should be effective on the power play, but that’s never been the case in Pearson’s career.
Never scoring more than three power play goals in a season, Pearson also has the second-lowest points-per-60 with the man advantage among 19 Kings skaters since the beginning of the 2016-17 season. Only Brendan Leipsic was less productive.
Risk and potential
While Pearson at his worst is still better than Gudbranson, there is risk with this player.
Like most NHL coaches, Travis Green doesn’t like players that aren’t reliable defensively, and Pearson fits that bill – though he did help the Kings win the Stanley Cup in 2014.
However, it looks like Pearson could be a decent middle-six player in Vancouver, albeit one who shouldn’t play much on special teams.
Perhaps he could be a replacement for Granlund heading into next season since he still has two more years on his contract at $3.75 million per season. Granlund is the safer player, but Pearson has more offensive potential.
Pearson will likely get a chance with Bo Horvat, since the 23-year-old has literally played with everyone. Look for Pearson to wear #70 with Canucks, switching back to his old number from his days with the Kings after wearing #14 in Pittsburgh – opting not to wear Alex Burrows’ old number.
Call it Pearson’s first good move with the Canucks.