It was a busier day than expected for the Los Angeles Kings, who selected 19-year old Barrie Colts forward Tanner Pearson with the 30th pick of the first round of the NHL Draft after having re-signed two valuable centers who contributed important minutes to the team’s Stanley Cup run.
Los Angeles re-signed Jarret Stoll for three years at 3.25 million per season and Colin Fraser for two years at 825 thousand per season, as reported by Rich Hammond of LAKings Insider.
Stoll took a slight pay cut to remain with the Kings after averaging $3.6 million over the previous four seasons, while Fraser’s two-year, $1.65-million contract was identical to the one he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks prior to 2010-11.
Shifting down to Los Angeles’ third line to accommodate the trade for Mike Richards one year ago, a three-year extension for Stoll may have seemed unlikely early in a season in which he appeared in 78 games, recording six goals and 21 points, his lowest output since a 21-point, 21-year-old season in 2003-04. His two-way value as a penalty killer, premier faceoff specialist and physical two-way force was highlighted in the playoffs, in which he recorded five points and developed strong chemistry while centering Dwight King and Trevor Lewis.
“I haven’t seen it too many years in the past where you can have one line, or a couple players or one goaltender win you the championship, and that’s just the bottom line. That’s just the way it is,” Stoll said after the first round series against Vancouver. “You’ve got to have guys that have roles and are proud of their roles and take pride in doing their job and doing their job well. Everybody has a different skill set … Some guys kill penalties. Some guys take faceoffs. Some guys are blocking shots or being physical. All those things put together make up a really good, strong team.”
Speaking of taking faceoffs, blocking shots, and being a well-received character player who added some toughness on the ice and a respected voice in the locker room in his first season in Los Angeles, Fraser by the end of the 2011-12 season had endeared himself to not only his teammates, but general manager Dean Lombardi and coach Darryl Sutter.
“I don’t call them our fourth line,” Sutter said early in the Stanley Cup Final. “I call it Colin Fraser and whoever is playing with him.”
The re-signing of Stoll and Fraser once again fill the Kings’ ranks down the middle as one of the deeper center corps in the NHL.
As for the versatile forward they drafted Friday, Pearson is listed as a left wing but played all three forward positions for the Barrie Colts as a 19 year old last season. With 91 points, he was the third-ranked OHL scorer and a bronze medal-winning member of Canada’s National Junior team before his season was cut short due to a broken leg in March. Because he will be a 20-year old next season, he will be eligible to play in either the American Hockey League or the Ontario Hockey League, considering he’d be a longshot to make Los Angeles’ roster out of camp.
“There was a lot of what appealed to us, the character, and what we value as a personal makeup,” Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti said. “He has that in spades. He’s a character kid.”
Pearson is already familiar with the Kings and their OHL-heavy assortment of former Ontario Hockey League forwards. Kyle Clifford is a former Barrie Colt who occasionally connects with Pearson in the offseason.
“Cliffy lives probably about 30 minutes form my house,” Pearson said. “I see him a couple times throughout the summer, whether it’s playing hockey or that kind of thing. I know him. He’s a good guy.”
On whether he’d hoist the Cup when Clifford brings it to his hometown of Ayr, Ontario, Pearson had already made up his mind.
“I don’t think I will. There’s always that jinx factor, so I think you just want to leave it alone and lift it when you win it,” he said.
As an Ontario native, he was already well acquainted with several other Los Angeles forwards.
“Being a Kitchener boy, I always watched [Mike] Richards growing up when he played for the Rangers,” Pearson said. “I was able to meet him a couple of times, which was fun back then. To see him, and to be with him on the same ice will be something fun.”
He also carries an interesting offensive touch that made him a unique target of the Kings’ hockey operations.
“The puck explodes off his stick with a natural goal-scoring touch,” Yannetti said. “That was a very intriguing skill set for us.”
Still, there will be a major jump for the forward who claimed to have recorded most of his points on the right wing despite often being listed as a left wing.
“I think I’m a big, offensive forward that is a versatile player, can play every position up front, which I did this season,” Pearson said. “I think my best asset is my vision on the ice, and I’d like to think I’m a good two-way player. At the next level, things change a lot, and you’ve got to maybe take a different role than what you did in the OHL.”
He’s also aware of where exactly his placement will be in joining an organization that won hockey’s ultimate prize less than two weeks ago.
“You’ve got to know you’re going in to a good team. They just came off a Cup victory, so they want to defend that Cup next year,” Pearson said.
“It’s going to be a tough team to make, but I’m going to go there and play my game and see where that takes me.”