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LA Kings' Top 25 Under 25, #4: Tanner Pearson

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Pearson has fallen off his torrid goalscoring pace, but there are plenty of other reasons he's justifying this ranking.

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Checking in at 4th in JFTC's Top 25 Under 25, and thus narrowly qualifying for a Champions League Spot, is Tanner Pearson:

Rank Player DOB Nationality Draft Vote Total Last Year
4 Tanner Pearson 8/10/1992 CAN 30 (1st), 2012 306

5 (+1)

I've already written about Pearson's 2013-14 in his season review, so I'll spend this article discussing whether Tanner Pearson's second season has built on a very promising first effort.

First, his underlying numbers look good, with a positive Corsi relative in roughly team-average zone starts. One danger in evaluating Pearson is that he spends a lot of time with very good players: so far he's spent about 60% of his ice time with Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter, an assignment that would make anyone (except Dan Carcillo) look good. But the with-or-without-yous suggest Pearson has not been a mere passenger on the 70s line this year. Carter and Toffoli are better with Pearson (about 57%) than without (about 55%). Pearson is probably not quite as good at driving play as his two linemates, but he's definitely been a positive force in that area.

Pearson scored 7 goals in his first 9 games, then 4 goals in his next 31 games. Remembering that Pearson gets little power play time, that's excellent scoring ability. Pearson easily leads the Kings in 5v5 goals/60 and ranks 18th in the NHL. However, his success here is to a large extent unsustainable. While Pearson's shot rate has improved a bit from last year, he is still pretty average at shot generation. His success comes from him scoring on 16.47% of his 5v5 shots, which he won't be able to keep up.

Since Pearson is fast, aggressive, and controls the puck well, I could see him putting up high shot rates in the future. As things stand now, Pearson is an above-average second line forward with the upside to be a bit more than that someday. Since he has a cap hit of less than $1 million, that's extremely valuable to the Kings.

Of course, Pearson won't be underpaid forever. He's an RFA after this year, and the Kings will have to decide whether to sign him to a large contract that keeps long-term costs down, or a one-or-two-year bridge deal that keeps his cap hit very low but may cause higher costs down the road. The bridge deal probably makes the most sense--the Kings have a good enough roster that they should be looking to maximize their title odds over the two years. Signing Pearson (and Toffoli) to bridge deals would let the Kings ice the strongest possible teams in 2015-16 and 2016-17, and for a team that can contend now, that's worth some long-term pain.

Pearson doesn't quite have the scoring and play-driving dynamism of Tyler Toffoli, in my opinion, and so (spoiler alert) ranks behind his linemate in the top 25 under 25. But he looks like a solid building block for the Kings and so far, his 2015 has justified his high ranking. What do you think?