PITTSBURGH - Tanner Pearson is hockey's latest poster child of perseverance.
The Barrie Colts left wing went from unnoticed to a first-round election after he was ignored in the past two NHL entry drafts. As most teams packed up for the evening late Friday, the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings made Pearson the 30th and final pick in the first round.
He hugged his mom Kim, dad Tim and sister Ali before making his way down the steps of section 102 at the Consol Energy Center to meet the brass of his new team. There will be a party to celebrate the accomplishment back in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., on Sunday.
"I was pretty nervous," Pearson said Saturday morning before making his way to spend most of final day of the 2012 draft in the Kings' suite. "From meeting with teams at the [NHL prospects] combine and talking to different people I had a feeling I could go in the first round. But you never know. You can't predict these things.
"It's great to go to a team like the Kings. They're the Stanley Cup champions, so they obviously know what they're doing."
A year ago, Pearson had a clearer understanding of what he needed to do to take the next step in his hockey career. He watched the Winnipeg Jets take Barrie teammate Mark Scheifele with the seventh overall selection, and wondered why not me?
Pearson, who turns 20 on Aug. 10, grew up in Kitchener with Scheifele and felt that he wasn't that far off. Plus, Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk, the Colts head coach, believed in Pearson.
After Pearson had bounced back-and-forth between the Colts second and third line in his rookie season, in which he checked in with 15 goals and 42 points in 66 games, Hawerchuk phoned his player last summer.
"He told me I not only could be a top-six forward in the league, but I could lead the OHL in scoring," Pearson recalled. "I kind of sloughed off the part about me leading the league in scoring, but I knew I could work harder and become better.
"I wanted to make hockey my life."
That has been evident from an early age. His father works for Bauer and he often met star players who wear the company's equipment. He also was an assistant equipment manager for the Kitchener Rangers and had a front-row view of the junior team's run to the 2007-08 Memorial Cup final.
But Pearson was a long shot even to play junior. Colts scout Peter Brill recommended late in the Ontario Hockey League draft a few years ago that Pearson was worth a late-round selection, so he wasn't taken until the 14th round. He wound up playing junior B in 2009-10 for the Waterloo Siskins as a 16 year old against Schiefele, who played for the Kitchener Dutchmen.
Last summer, Pearson trained with Scheifele. When Pearson arrived at the Colts training camp it was evident he was a much better player. Scheifele started the season with the Jets, and this opened up some quality ice time for Pearson.
Hawerchuk was right. Pearson did lead the OHL in scoring by the time Hockey Canada sent out its invitations for the Canadian junior team selection camp in early December. He was not only invited, he cracked the national team's roster.
When he returned to Barrie after winning a bronze medal for Canada, Pearson received more attention from opponents but he continued to impress. He was looking forward to his first post-season, only to suffer a broken leg in Barrie's regular-season finale.
"It was frustrating," Pearson said. "Scouts want to see you play in the playoffs. I was looking forward to it, especially since we missed the playoffs the year before."
Still, Pearson enjoyed a 22-goal, 49-point improvement from his rookie season with the Colts to 37 goals and 91 points in six less games.
If anyone knew Pearson's story, it was Kings chief scout Mike Futa. Pearson and a bunch of Colts prospects were invited to Barrie owner Howie Campbell's suite for a game at the Molson Centre. Futa also was there and he talked to Pearson about whether to play in the OHL or pursue a U.S. hockey college scholarship.
Pearson was leaning towards playing major junior because of his days with the Rangers in his hometown and Futa simply agreed with the youngster. Now three years later, Pearson is a member of the Kings organization.
"It's going to be hard club to make," said Pearson, who also could perform for the Kings AHL affiliate in Manchester or return to Barrie as an overager next season. "I know how hard I have to work. I'm ready to go."
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?