Chris Tierney’s evolution got lost in the shuffle of a disappointing end to a fabulous season. Used primarily as a fourth liner during the regular season, Tierney eventually centered the third line to some modicum of success — certainly better than I expected.
He might not be a 3C yet, but if he gets a chance to be the fourth line center full time next season we might see Tierney develop further. Check out some of the numbers that made me a believer.
Let’s start here. Tierney’s possession numbers are far from impressive, while his passing has proven to be an asset. I inserted Nick Spaling here to give an idea of how close they were in terms of possession last year ... but now I’ll give you a little bit of context.
Tierney spent the most time centering a line of Dainius Zubrus and Melker Karlsson during the regular season. That group posted a not-so-hot 45.75 corsi-for percentage at 5v5 play. That shouldn’t come as a huge shock. What gives me hope is the time he spent centering Patrick Marleau and Joel Ward.
While admittedly a small sample size, that third line group posted a 56.36 5v5 corsi-for percentage in just under 60 minutes of action. Tierney finished the regular season with an overall CF% of 47 and 20 points in 79 games, a definite step down from his rookie season where he scored 21 points in 43 contests.
Back to that Marleau-Ward-Tierney line. The Sharks fourth line was at best mediocre for the majority of the regular season as we escaped Mike Brown just to acquire Nick Spaling. There wasn’t much hope of production from that group, leaving the bulk of the lifting to Joe Thornton and company.
Given the relative weakness of the teammates he found himself on the ice with, it should come as little surprise that Tierney’s production slid backwards. He spent most of his ice time with Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto in the 2014-15 season, and while Wingels took a step back this year that proved to be a relatively productive group a couple seasons ago.
Tierney excelled when he got a chance to play with Marleau and Ward, which again shouldn’t come as much of a shock. The forward isn’t likely to be a guy that can drag his teammates along behind him, but if paired with speedy wingers that offer some scoring he could really take a step forward next season. If the Sharks can add another forward to the top nine and give Tierney something to work with, I think he’ll do just that.