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Top 25 Sharks Under 25: No. 3 Chris Tierney could struggle to replicate last season’s success

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We miss you already, Cobra.

LAS VEGAS, NV - APRIL 28: Jonathan Marchessault #81 of the Vegas Golden Knights and Chris Tierney #50 of the San Jose Sharks collide in the third period of Game Two of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobil Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As you may have heard, Chris Tierney might have to go shopping for some threads that go well with red and black for this coming NHL season, as he, along with a big bag of other stuff, was traded to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday in exchange for some Swedish pirate. Still, as in any circus, the show must go on, and maybe we can give some much sought after information on our dear departed Cobra to Sens fans. Yes, both of them.

Let’s get the positive stuff first so that our Kanata residents can just stop reading halfway through and still sleep at night. Tierney had a career year production-wise, as his 17 goals and 40 points tied him with Kevin Labanc for fifth on the team. The man they call the Cobra played a mostly defensive role, as his 127 minutes on the penalty kill placed him third on the team and first among forwards, and his four shorthanded points led the Sharks in that category. With Tierney as its leader among forwards, the Sharks’ penalty kill’s 84.8% ranked second in the league in efficiency.

Tierney spent most of the season serving as the Sharks’ third line center, but he bounced around the line up a bit. Per Frozen Tools, Tierney’s most common linemate was Mikkel Boedker, and he spent 12.1 percent of his ice time flanked by Boedker and fellow Dane Jannik Hansen. Reunited with Boedker in Ottawa, the two could be primed to work their 43.82 percent Corsi magic. Sorry, that was mean: it should be mentioned that Tierney’s Corsi percentage relative to quality of teammate was a much more respectable 50.01 percent.

To be fair, Tierney was put in a position to succeed last season relative to seasons prior. His 51.27 zone start percentage was the highest it’s been in his professional career, meaning he started more shifts in the offensive zone than at any point before. Also, his 67.8 individual points percentage (IPP) was a little high, but also a stark jump from the 59.0 he recorded in 2016-17, meaning he was recording points on more goals scored while he was on the ice. This can sometimes regress, but considering his most common line mates and that fact that 18 of his 22 five on five points were primary, it seems likely that this is an artifact of a larger role in driving play and not dumb luck. If he continues to trend in that direction, a larger role in Ottawa could portend further growth.

Considering the Senators’ roster, Tierney looks to have a strong chance of seizing the second line center position out of training camp. After Jean-Gabriel Pageau tore his Achilles tendon last week and was ruled out for up to six months, there is a top six position that is likely up for either Tierney or Zack Smith. Whether or not Tierney wants that position should be up for some debate.

Sens fans, you’re good, right? He’s a good hockey player, very nice boy, you’ll love him.

The rest of us have to face facts. In a lopsided and top heavy Atlantic division, Tierney may be well out of his depth at that position. I don’t mean to spoil the edge-of-your-seat suspense of our season preview and predictions piece, but we’re thinking about Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point in Tampa, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci in Boston, Auston Matthews and John friggin’ Tavares in Toronto, Sasha Barkov and Vincent Trocheck in Florida, even Jack Eichel and super-prospect Casey Mittelstadt in Buffalo are likely to be better drivers of play.

Our best friend Chris Tierney does not match up well on paper with most of those centers, but he could surprise us; his quality of competition ratings are higher than most third-line centers, probably shored up by penalty kill time. Whether his efficacy and production can rise commensurate with a likely doubling in ice time, though, is a huge question mark at best.

Tierney is a very good fourth-line center. He showed us last year that he is a perfectly acceptable if not spectacular third-line center. He’ll need to show an awful lot more next year if he expects to be a second-line center and, considering the depth of talent with which he’ll be equipped, maybe don’t hold your breath.

What we like

We really like Erik Karlsson.

Okay, that was mean again. Tierney is a hard worker, and a bona fide NHL player who can hold his own at center against the bottom half of most NHL line ups, lead and direct a strong penalty kill, and effectively battle and retrieve pucks from corners. His community outreach is strong, and is well loved by fans for his work ethic and his presence and approachability at team events. He is still young, despite what we who have been watching him for years might have assumed, and it is entirely possible that he hasn’t hit his peak yet. Also, his nickname is the Cobra, and that is very awesome.

Areas of improvement

Tierney needs to do more to create offense in between getting the puck and shooting. His go-to play in the offensive zone is win the corner battle, pass back along the boards towards the point, go to the front of the net and wait. That was effective in San Jose, where he was receiving net front feeds from Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc, but it may not be as strong a play when he’s getting them from Brady Tkachuk and Ryan Dzingel. His counting stats benefited from accepting top quality passes and, in the worst case scenario in Ottawa, his goals could see a big drop off with less spicy sauce. He’ll need to inject some versatility into his offensive zone strategy to continue to be effective.

Highlight

This highlight shows the best and worst things about Tierney’s offensive game. He chases pucks into corners and beats the defenseman back, chipping the puck to the point to still-current-teammate Dylan DeMelo. Here, his strategy of “go to the net and wait” pays off, because Joonas Donskoi draws the attention of Christian Folin and Darcy Kuemper off to the left, and Donskoi has the skill to thread that cross crease pass through traffic. This kind of play may be less effective in the barren wasteland that is the 2018-19 Ottawa Senators.

Still, he has two years on his current deal, so he may still get a chance to receive those passes from Jack Hughes.

Oh wait, that was mean again.