SAN JOSE – When Chris Tierney spent most of the first half of last season as the third line center it was primarily out of necessity. Logan Couture was unavailable due to injury, forcing everyone into a bigger role.
The results, both for Tierney and the team, were so-so. Tierney had three goals and five assists for eight points and a minus-11 rating in 34 games on December 30, when Couture returned for good.
As the Sharks advanced deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs, Tierney was again bumped up to the middle of the third line. This time, though, it was because he was the better option. He was promoted midway through the second round against Nashville, and finished the postseason with nine points (5g, 4a) in 24 games.
The former second round pick seemingly became more of a playmaker throughout the postseason, and all nine of his points were at even strength – which tied him with Tomas Hertl and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and was two more than Patrick Marleau.
Hertl is still perhaps the odds-on favorite to center the third line for the season opener, but nothing is set in stone, of course, with the first preseason game on the horizon on Tuesday and many key guys still at the World Cup. Based on how Tierney looked in an intra-squad scrimmage on Sunday, though, maybe he could be the guy. Along with Tommy Wingels and Marcus Sorensen, Tierney’s line was much more effective than Hertl’s line with wingers Joel Ward and Nikolay Goldobin.
“He looked good. He’s come back with some good jump,” Pete DeBoer said. “It looks like he put in a good summer of work, and excited to see him hopefully take another step this year.”
Tierney said: “I have the same mindset, just work hard and see where I end up in the lineup. I obviously hadn’t had a full [NHL season] under [my] belt last year. You feel a lot more confident coming into camp versus last year. I’m just feeling good about my game, and just want to do as well as I can in camp.”
Tierney gained particular confidence from going up against top line centers like Anze Kopitar, Ryan Johansen and Alex Steen, and having success against them.
“It definitely builds your confidence to be able to play against these guys,” he said. “In the playoffs it’s a different atmosphere and different kind of feel to it. Every round and every game you play in the playoffs you just feel more confident, so I’m just trying to carry it into this season.
“After the first round, it just felt like you’re just going out and playing normally. There’s no nerves out there. I think that’s when you’re playing best, is when you just go out there and play, and you feel confident like you can go against any line.”
DeBoer is hopeful that Tierney can harness that confidence and consequently build off of his playoff success.
“When you’re effective and you’re producing at that time of year against the best teams, you would hope that confidence would carry over into this year,” said the coach.
There are areas for Tierney to improve. His career faceoff percentage is 45.2 percent, and he mentioned that as one area he’s focusing on in camp. His advanced possession numbers are also concerning, as his 47.9 shot attempt percentage in the regular season was one of the lowest on the team.
He’d like to “be offensive throughout this year,” too.
“I think I can do more offensively and try to help the team score more. Try to put up some more points.”
At just 22 years old, Tierney’s career is just getting started. If he’s able to progress this season as much as he did last year, his ceiling could be higher than even the organization thought was possible.