Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer is using Chris Tierney in a subtly different role this season, and it’s allowing the fourth-year center to enjoy perhaps the best season of his career.
Over the last two years, Tierney was given difficult assignments. He wasn't mistaken for Patrice Bergeron, as he was still used in a bottom six role just as he is now, but he consistently started the majority of his shifts outside of the neutral zone in the defensive zone.
Often, coaches will start their most trusted defensive players on defensive zone faceoffs, thinking they’ll be able to recover the puck and break out of the zone. Similarly, their most trusted offensive players often start in the offensive zone, in order to establish puck possession.
In DeBoer’s first two seasons behind the San Jose bench, Tierney fell in the former camp. Only three Sharks that played at least 1000 minutes started more non-neutral zone shifts in the defensive zone, and only one was a forward (Long Beach native Matt Nieto, according to Corsica Hockey).
Although Tierney was drafted and developed with his defensive prowess in mind, that didn’t really square with his game. He wasn’t able to turn the tide with those assignments, posting the second-worst five-on-five possession numbers (49.09 corsi-for percentage) among forwards that played 1000 minutes in DeBoer’s first two seasons as head coach.
But he often showed flashes of offensive ability, even as he wasn’t scoring at the half-a-point per game clip that he began his career with in Todd McLellan’s final season as Sharks coach. This season, the Sharks seem to have that in mind.
Through 22 games, Tierney’s started a career-high 59.54 percent of his five-on-five shifts in the offensive zone, per Corsica. He’s never started more than 50 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone in a full season.
Tierney’s gotten a corresponding bump in his possession numbers, and is up to what would be a career-high 51.67 corsi-for percentage. He’s also shooting more and attempting more shots during five-on-five play than he did last season, albeit not as much as he did in his first two seasons.
He’s converting at a high clip, but this teammates aren’t: San Jose’s only scored on a little over three percent of their shots with Tierney on the ice at even strength. He may not convert on 14 percent of his five-on-five shots all season, but his teammates are due for better luck.
A corresponding bump in his teammates’ finishing means Tierney, who’s already on pace for his second-best offensive season in all situation, could far surpass his offensive totals from last season.
If he does, he’ll have DeBoer to thank for putting him in a position to succeed.