To say that Tanner Pearson reinvigorated his NHL career after joining the Vancouver Canucks at the 2019 Trade Deadline is a bit of an understatement. Pearson was acquired for what has to be considered a bargain price—the ever-embattled Erik Gudbranson—and proceeded to score at a near 40-goal pace over 19 games with the Canucks.
In order to provide context for just how much Pearson’s game improved once he reached Vancouver, however, it’s important to first look at just how poorly he was doing with his last two NHL franchises—though a snapshot of his quarterly performance paints a pretty comprehensive picture on its own:
With The LA Kings
One doesn’t have to dig too deeply into Pearson’s stats with the Kings to see why the organization was willing to part ways with him early on in the season. After a solid 2017/18 in which he scored 40 points, Pearson’s play in Los Angeles regressed hard—to the tune of just a single assist in 17 games. The former 25-goal scorer only managed 24 shots on net—far below his career average.
Beyond the surface statistics, however, Pearson had some solid underlying numbers—and the Kings earned significantly more shots on goal when Pearson was on the ice than when he wasn’t.
It looked like Pearson might have more to give—but it was also clear that his renaissance wasn’t going to occur in LA. On November 14, the Kings flipped Pearson to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a slightly-retained Carl Hagelin.
With The Pittsburgh Penguins
If you’re an NHL winger looking to revitalize your career, you could certainly do worse than an organization with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down the middle. Unfortunately, Pearson struggled to find success in Pittsburgh, too. His scoring stats did improve—but they still flagged far behind his career averages.
Even spending a good chunk of his time on Malkin’s wing didn’t help Pearson score at anything greater than a 15-goal pace with the Penguins.
Across 44 games, Pearson’s advanced stats with the Penguins provides a greater sample size than his time with the Kings—and it paints a far less-favourable picture. The Pens were simply more dangerous with Pearson off the ice than with him on it—though his defensive responsibility was noted by observers.
All of this culminated in Pearson being flipped to the Canucks in exchange for Erik Gudbranson at the 2019 Trade Deadline. Being acquired for perhaps the least-popular player on the team meant the bar was left quite low for Pearson—but he still managed to clear it by an astronomical degree.
With The Vancouver Canucks
It’s tempting to look at Pearson’s overall statline with the Canucks and assume he was an instant success in Vancouver—but that wasn’t the case. In his first six games with the team, Pearson scored just one goal—in his second game with the team—and zero assists.
Once he got his seawall legs under him, however, Pearson truly arrived in Vancouver. More specifically, Pearson found a home on Bo Horvat’s left wing—giving the future Canucks’ captain a consistent linemate for the first time all season. As a result, Pearson’s offense started to pick up and he notched three goals and two assists across the next six games—including three points in a memorable and messy matchup against the Ottawa Senators.
Pearson’s final seven games of the season was his best work yet—especially in the goal-scoring department. He scored five times—including a two-goal effort against San Jose—and added an assist.
In other words, Pearson scored eight goals and three assists for 11 total points in the final 13 games of the season—a 50-goal pace that is as impressive as it is unsustainable.
That being said, Pearson’s numbers weren’t just encouraging on the surface level—and he doesn’t need to keep scoring at such a ridiculous pace to remain a positive contributor to the team moving forward.
As previously noted, Pearson began to play regularly on Bo Horvat’s wing—giving both players their first consistent linemate of the season. Across those same last 13 games of the season, Horvat notched 12 points—which would seem to indicate that both players benefitted from one another’s presence.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
In his short time with the team, Pearson managed to make the Canucks a more threatening team—with their average shots on goal effectively doubling with Pearson on the ice.
Similar metrics are difficult to apply to Pearson’s defensive game, as his time with the team coincided with the near-total meltdown of the Canucks’ blueline.
It’s also difficult to measure how much of a difference Pearson made to the Canucks. His GAR (goals-above-replacement) and Point Share stats are negligible—but it’s important to remember that he joined Vancouver at a time when injuries had started to take their toll and wins were few-and-far-between. The end result is that—despite Pearson’s prodigious goal-scoring—it’s hard to say that he made much of a difference in the standings. That will, of course, change if Pearson continues to score at such a rate over a full season.
As Pearson played in every single game after the Trade Deadline, it’s impossible to determine his WAR (wins against replacement).
On an individual basis, however, Pearson’s underlying numbers begin to shine.
Riding shotgun with Bo Horvat meant that Pearson started a preposterous amount of his shifts in the defensive zone—58.1% of them, to be exact. That sort of deployment makes Pearson’s scoring rate all the more remarkable.
Both of his relative possession scores—whether you prefer Corsi or Fenwick—were positive, albeit barely. Again, that’s perhaps to be expected for a player who starts nearly 60% of their shifts in their own end.
Rob Vollman’s Player Usage Chart, which compares a player’s deployment with their quality of competition, places Pearson squarely in the middle of the team.
The column in which Pearson really comes out looking like a champ is PDO—a measurement of the team’s combined shooting and save percentage when a player is on the ice. Pearson’s personal PDO of 100.8 ranked seventh on the team and third among forwards—trailing just Josh Leivo and a small sampling of Brendan Gaunce. This number reflects that the Canucks were a lot more successful at the basest component of hockey—scoring and preventing goals—with Pearson on the ice than without.
That can probably be attributed to the fact that—oftentimes—Pearson put the puck in the net before his opponents even had the chance to return the favour.
It’s difficult to separate Tanner Pearson’s accomplishments with the Vancouver Canucks from the contributions of Bo Horvat. Pearson’s underlying metrics reflect a complementary player—not one who makes an enormous difference on his own—but that’s exactly what Jim Benning was hoping for when he acquired him.
The notion that any winger could come in and succeed alongside Bo Horvat is a false one—after all, Vancouver fans had to watch him drag various wingers along with him for much of the 2018/19 season. The fact of the matter is that Horvat benefitted from the addition of Pearson to his line—and, of course, Pearson benefitted from the presence of Horvat even more.
Essentially, Pearson proved to be a difference-maker in one important regard—scoring goals. For a team that ranked 25th in the league with just 219 goals, the importance of Pearson’s offense can’t be understated. He brought something to the franchise that it had been lacking—and Canucks fans have every reason to be excited about what he might bring to the table in 2019/20.