SAN JOSE -- Two years ago, in his final season of junior hockey, San Jose Sharks center Chris Tierney was voted the smartest player in the Ontario Hockey League in a poll of coaches.
Tierney was smart enough to know not to panic in November when he was dropped from the Sharks' third line to the fourth line, or in early January when he was sent to the San Jose Barracuda of the American Hockey League for two games.
Tierney kept working and kept improving to the point Sharks coach Peter DeBoer felt confident enough to promote him to third line center for Game 5 of the Sharks' seven-game victory against the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Second Round.
That change allowed DeBoer to move Patrick Marleau from third line center to second line left wing, reuniting him with center Logan Couture in a switch that turned out to be one of the keys to San Jose's victory in the second round.
"We're not comfortable making that move unless Tierney's playing well," DeBoer said.
Video: SJS@NSH, Gm6: Tierney nets a pair in the 1st period
Marleau and Couture each scored in San Jose's 5-1 win in Game 5, and Tierney scored two goals in Game 6, a 4-3 overtime loss. In San Jose's 5-0 victory in Game 7, Tierney's line had two points, a goal from Joel Ward and an assist from Melker Karlsson. Couture had a goal and two assists and Marleau had a goal and an assist.
Tierney has three goals and an assist in his first 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games, and is expected to center the third line when the Sharks face the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday at Scottrade Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
"He's a smart player," DeBoer said of the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Tierney. "It's never been about IQ or being in the right place. For me it's been about, this is a compete league and young guys have to learn to bring that level of compete every single night, because you're playing against big men. I think he's starting to learn that."
Tierney, 21, said he returned to the Sharks a more confident player after his brief stint in the AHL.
"Ever since I came back up there the second half of the year, I felt I can bring the same game night in, night out," he said. "I feel pretty confident I can play that third-line role. I still try to get better every day, keep going and growing as a player. I feel pretty good."
The Sharks selected Tierney in the second round (No. 55) of the 2012 NHL Draft. He had 89 points (40 goals, 49 assists) for London of the OHL in 2013-14. The next season, he played 29 games in the AHL and 43 for the Sharks. He scored six goals and had 15 assists as an NHL rookie. He had seven goals and 13 assists in 78 regular-season games this season.
"I'm ready to go at whatever position the team needs," Tierney said. "Just kind of come to the rink and do your job."