There’s no one set journey to the NHL, and our first top prospect is evidence of that.
Lane Pederson began playing AAA hockey in his hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan before starting his juniors career by joining the Seattle Thunderbirds in the Western Hockey League at the end of the 2013-14 season for two regular season games and three playoff games. Pederson played the next season with Seattle, but was eventually passed off to the Red Deer Rebels and then the Swift Current Broncos, where in the second half of 2015-16 and in 2016-17, he was a point-per-game player and alternate captain.
His success as an over-ager in the WHL still wasn’t enough to convince an NHL team to draft him, but as a WHL forward, he was certainly someone the San Jose Sharks were keeping an eye on, as they’ve often looked to the juniors league for underrated scoring talents.
Though the Sharks passed on Pederson then, they’d still be able to keep an eye on him easily, as he signed an entry-level contract with the Arizona Coyotes in October 2016. After his final WHL season, Pederson joined the Tucson Roadrunners in the American Hockey League. His rookie season was a reliable performance, but the center improved year-after-year, eventually earning a nomination to the 2020 AHL All-Star Game, though he was unable to attend due to a lower-body injury.
Despite the injury, when the season was ended by the coronavirus pandemic, Pederson’s 16 goals tied for third on the team and his 18 assists tied for sixth, in the fewest number of games of anyone in the team’s top-10 in scoring.
Pederson was given an NHL audition the next season as a call-up, playing 15 games with the Coyotes in 2020-21 and scoring 1 goal and 2 assists. He served as an alternate captain of the Roadrunners in 16 games with the team, netting 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists). With his one-year deal set to expire, Arizona traded his rights to San Jose on July 28, 2021 in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick in 2024. The Sharks then signed the 23-year-old to a two-year contract worth $1.5 million ($750k annually), making him a restricted free agent in 2023.
In 23 games with the Sharks this season, Pederson has tallied just 2 assists, one primary and one secondary. He’s taken just 19 total shots on goal, 17 at 5-on-5, which is a similar shooting rate to a non-scoring defender (Radim Simek has 20, Nicolas Meloche has 16, Jaycob Megna has 15, the latter two in fewer games than Pederson). His personal unblocked shots and attempts (Corsi) tells a similar story, with just 35, being out-paced by all of the defenseman mentioned above.
He’s largely been utilized in the bottom-six, getting a bulk of neutral zone starts and offensive zone starts, with fewer in the defensive zone. A Pederson-centered fourth-line often gets buried defensively, allowing far more opportunities against than chances created for themselves.
Pederson took the long way to the NHL, but he’s still got to prove he’s worth keeping around, and right now, the Sharks are probably hoping that potential he’s shown will finally break through.
That said, his history shows that the young forward often struggles with adapting to the next level of hockey — but once he’s got a hang of things, he’s prone to pop off. Patience is a virtue and all that, but it’s definitely not easy to wait for a potential payoff from a player who is fighting all odds to be here in the first place.
What We Like
There are very few hockey players with the work ethic of Pederson. Not all hockey players are born to do so; some of them are made through hard work and determination, and Pederson clearly falls into the second camp. For a team in the midst of an identity crisis, having a young guy in the bottom-six who can’t be out-worked can elevate and motivate other young players.
If Pederson trends the way he has his whole career — a lackluster season of learning to adjust, followed by performance exceeding expectations once he’s figured it out — it’ll be worth hanging on to him just a little bit longer.
Areas of Improvement
There was a point in his career where Pederson showed the potential of a second-line NHL forward, but that time has long since passed. Knowing that his ceiling is the third line, at best, Pederson needs to solidify what exactly his game is at this level. Is he a depth-scorer waiting to break out, like it seems he’s been building to? Then he’s going to need to shoot the puck more, improve at faceoffs and continue with his quick takeaways.
But if he’s going to stick around in the bottom-six, then he’ll need to develop the defensive side of his game, or he will be leapfrogged by better all-around players. He’s been tasked with a fair amount of defensive responsibility (typical of the third and fourth lines) and done poorly with it — something that could be brushed away if he were scoring, or even shooting more, but he hasn’t done that, either.
The NHL is new territory, and he’s got to figure out what his place in it will be.
If perseverance is the theme of Pederson’s career, his first NHL goal fits right in. He follows through with the play, collecting the puck in the slot and driving forward to fake out Anthony Stolarz, going around his extended leg to tuck the puck into the net. That’s the kind of play head coach Bob Boughner wants from his young players.