As you read these words, you may be less than a month away from the return of NHL hockey. Nothing is set in stone as of this writing, but multiple rock-solid sources have suggested that the NHL will resume on January 13, 2021, with a 56-game regular-season schedule and drastically reconfigured divisions, although yesterday’s news, which you can read up on here, suggests this could be in jeopardy.
Regardless, play is expected to be mostly, if not entirely, within division, which could mean a season of All-Canadian play for the Vancouver Canucks. Travel is expected to be greatly reduced.
With that in mind, we’re still rolling out our CanucksArmy player preview series, in which we examine the best that fans of the Canucks can expect from each individual player in 2021, as well as the worst-case scenarios.
Today, we’re continuing with Tanner Pearson as we work our way through the top-six forwards.
Tanner Pearson Now
|Games||Goals||Assists||Points||PPG||Avg. TOI||Corsi For|
With 88 cumulative regular season games in his time with the Canucks, along with 17 playoff games, Pearson has a full season and change under his belt thus far. And, if it were an actual season, it would undoubtedly be the best of his career. In fact, Pearson actually posted his highest point total yet in 2019/20, despite the season being shortened, and his PPG with the Canucks is more than 30% higher than his career average.
In short, Pearson has been a revelation in Vancouver, and he’s already playing significantly better here than he ever has elsewhere, and far better than anyone could have predicted when he was acquired for the low, low price of Erik Gudbranson.
Much of that has to do with the instant and irrevocable chemistry Pearson has developed with captain Bo Horvat, but Pearson himself deserves plenty of credit. If Pearson can just maintain what he’s done so far for another season, it would have to be considered an unmitigated success. If he’s got yet another step-up in him at age 28, that would be downright thrilling.
The Best of 2021 Pearson
Looking at totals like 17 goals and 22 assists may seem underwhelming, but in a 56-game schedule they’d represent yet another record pace for Pearson. A 0.70 PPG average is slightly higher than what Pearson put up last year, but it’s nearly double his career average before arriving in Vancouver. For an occasionally streaky scorer like Pearson, the short schedule may actually work to his advantage, so long as he gets hot at the right time.
Another thing working in Pearson’s favour is that this is a contract year for him, and that gives him motivation beyond the Canucks’ fortunes. Sure, predicting him to produce at his highest rate ever could be a stretch, but there’s also no real reason to believe that his role, ice-time, or offensive opportunities will change. Maybe Prime Pearson and Vancouver Pearson are just one and the same.
The Worst of 2021 Pearson
If you thought that last set of numbers was unimpressive, then this set will stagger you. Yet, such a statline is exactly in line with what Pearson produced throughout his pre-Vancouver career. To barely crack double-digits in goals and assists might seem like a drastic drop, but it wouldn’t be so out of Pearson’s ordinary to truly qualify as a surprise, even if it would be a disappointment.
As to what could cause such a decrease? There’s a multitude of options; a slump at the wrong time, a bit of bad luck, a move away from Horvat. One thing that shouldn’t be a factor is injury, as Pearson has remained remarkably healthy throughout his career, but productivity is quite as guaranteed.
What else does a successful 2021 for Pearson look like?
Of course, hockey success is more than just a nice statline. There are a whole host of other ways in which Pearson could live his best on-ice life in 2021.
Yet another career season: Age 27 is pretty late for a breakout, but if Pearson can increase his scoring rate for a second straight season, then that’s what his 2019/20 performance will retroactively become. Posting a career-high in points in only 56 games would be outlandish, but a career-high in PPG is doable.
Bo Horvat’s goal-scoring dominance continues: Pearson is now one-half of a dynamic duo, and success for him should mean success for Horvat, too. The captain went off in the playoffs with ten goals in 17 games, and if anything approaching that continues in 2021, it should mean ample assists for Pearson.
A consistent third linemate: If Pearson and Horvat manage to pick up a third consistent linemate for the bulk of 2021, that added chemistry should increase scoring totals all around. Whether it’s Brock Boeser, Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette, or someone else entirely, a third amigo would go a long way toward constructing the Canucks’ perfect second line.
Smaller portion of empty-net goals: It’s no surprise that the unit of Pearson-Horvat-Loui Eriksson were empty-net specialists in 2019/20. Nearly a fifth of Pearson’s total goals were scored without the impediment of an opposing goaltender, and while there’s nothing expressly wrong with that, a smaller portion of Pearson’s 2021 goals going into an empty net would probably indicate a stronger overall season for him.
More minutes on the PK: Pearson ranked sixth in shorthanded ice-time among Vancouver forwards last season. With Tim Schaller and quite possibly Eriksson out of the picture, Pearson might need to move up a little higher on that list. This is one of those changes that might benefit the Canucks more than it does Pearson, but it still bears mentioning.
A contract extension (with a raise): Another career year for Pearson would undoubtedly translate into a raise on his next contract, whether it’s with the Canucks or elsewhere. Some might argue that Pearson has already proven himself worthy of a bump on his $3.750 million salary, but one more great season would solidify it, flat cap or no.
A better performance in the playoffs: If there was a sore spot for Pearson in 2019/20, it was the playoffs, where he only managed eight points in 17 games. Still great by his pre-Vancouver standards, but well below his regular-season pace. If the Canucks make it to the postseason in 2021, Pearson will be hoping for a better performance.
What might get in the way?
Before we go, we might as well add a few choice pieces of negativity to balance out all the positive predictions. Here’s what could prevent Pearson from achieving the utmost in 2021.
More of a dedicated shutdown role: As we’ve written about in the past, the Canucks are still lacking a true, classical third-line center. That could mean that even more of a defensive load is placed on Horvat’s shoulders in 2021, and that means more of a shutdown role for Pearson, too. It may be what is best for the Canucks’ success, but it would also hurt the unit’s statline.
Less power play production: Pearson put up nearly a quarter of his points on the power play in 2019/20. As pieces get shuffled around on the second unit, or as increased minutes are given to the top unit, Pearson could see less opportunity, shaving some points off his total.
A shooting percentage regression: Pearson’s shooting percentage with the Canucks has been about 3% over and above his career average. That might not seem like much, but it is a tad anomalous, and a regression back to the norm would cost him some goals.
Usurped by a younger player?: Right now, Pearson’s gig in the top-six is rock-solid, but that could change as younger players hit the roster and achieve success of their own. Nils Hoglander already looks like a candidate, and then there’s the impending arrival of Vasili Podkolzin to consider. There’s a chance, however slight, that Pearson will have his role usurped as soon as this season.
Traded away?: Pearson may be leaving during the next offseason regardless of his success in 2021, on account of budgetary constraints. Thus, it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see him moved at some point in the upcoming season – though that would probably also mean bad news on the overall team success front.
What sort of season are you expecting from Tanner Pearson? Sound off in the comments below, and stay tuned for the rest of our player preview series.