Tanner Pearson's 2011-12 season only sounds like it came from the mind of a Hollywood screenwriter.
An overlooked prospect with his last shot at showcasing himself for NHL teams breaks out from the pack and earns a spot on an international all-star team as scouts spend the season singing his praises. But his season ends with a heartbreaking injury, clouding his future.
Pearson's story, though, is guaranteed to have a happy ending at some point during the 2012 NHL Draft, whether he hears his name in the first round or at some time during Day 2.
Tanner Pearson is No. 25 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2012 Draft. (Photo: OHL Images)
The 19-year-old Barrie Colts left wing was third in the Ontario Hockey League with 91 points, and his 37 goals, 54 assists and plus-21 rating all were team highs. He's No. 25 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American prospects for the 2012 draft.
"I guess you might say he's obviously a late-bloomer," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "He's elevated his game to a point where we're talking about him in the first round."
Pearson had a pedestrian 15 goals and 27 assists in 2010-11, his first OHL season. He also had an up-close seat as his good friend, Barrie teammate Mark Scheifele, dazzled scouts and eventually was taken seventh in the 2011 draft by the Winnipeg Jets.
That, he said, was the spark that lit his desire to get drafted.
"I've been seeing buddies of mine like [Scheifele] and other people I play summer hockey with, a lot of people I played hockey with growing up, getting drafted into the NHL," Pearson told NHL.com. "I didn't want my hockey career to be over. I wanted to do everything I could this summer to help me get noticed. I believe I had a good summer of training. It's showing on the ice and its helping me."
He also credited Barrie coach Dale Hawerchuk with a big role in the elevation of his game.
"He's one of the best players to play the game -- there's a reason why he's in the Hall of Fame," Pearson said. "To have him behind the bench and telling us what we need to do out there is good because you know he's been through it all already."
Pearson said Hawerchuk knew what he was capable of, even if Pearson wasn't so sure himself.
"[Pearson] might be the most pure goal scorer available in the draft. To come from where he was last year to this year shows you the character and determination of the kid."
-- Eastern Conference scout
"He said he knew I could do it and I had to believe in myself that I could do it," Pearson said.
Pearson rocketed out of the gate with 12 goals and 33 points in his first 14 games. That level of play helped earn him a spot on Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championship -- his first opportunity ever with Hockey Canada -- and he had a goal and five assists in six games as Canada won the bronze medal.
"Being the first time asked to do anything Hockey Canada was awesome, especially on the World Junior stage," Pearson said. "It's a prestigious stage. It's a lot of fun to play in. It was an honor and a privilege to don that Canada flag on the front of my sweater."
He also played for Team OHL in the Subway Super Series games in November, scoring a goal in each game, and he earned an invitation to the 2012 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in February, where he drew the primary assist on Branden Troock's game-winning third-period power-play goal.
"It's definitely been a whirlwind year," Pearson said.
However, his breakout season had a broken ending, when his lower right leg snapped just above the ankle joint in the Colts' last game of the regular season.
"It was a shot from the point [and] I was kind of turning but with one of my legs and my one leg didn't pivot yet," Pearson said. "I was going for the puck and I got pushed and I kind of fell back on the [right] ankle. It looked pretty ugly and it broke.
"I actually got up and the way it felt, it looked like it was sideways. When I got up and tried to take a look at it, it looked pretty good, wasn't wonky. But definitely from the feeling of it, and the popping sound in my ankle -- I've heard that before. I did something to my wrist like that. I knew the feeling that was in my wrist was in my ankle. I knew it wasn't good."
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Pearson said he didn't realize the extent of the injury until he got back to the locker room and got his skate off.
"When I took my skate off my leg looked fine because the swelling wasn't there yet," he said. "I thought maybe it didn't break. But no, it was broken. I got changed and probably 15, 20 minutes later, I got in the shower, I came back out and my one ankle was twice the size of the other."
X-rays showed a small crack in the lower part of his fibula, but Pearson said there were no other injuries to ligaments or tendons in his leg, and doctors said that because the break was clean, no surgery was needed. However, his dream season had come to an end.
He spent four weeks in a cast, then switched to a walking splint. He was back on the ice at the beginning of May, and said now, "The bone is 100-percent healed. I'm still going on with strengthening and getting the balance in that leg. I have been skating for a couple weeks now. It started off really, really weird, felt like it was going to break again, but each day it progressed. It's almost 100 percent right now."
While he healed, however, he had to watch the Colts, who finished third in the OHL Eastern Conference, lose to the Plymouth Whalers in the second round of the playoffs.
"I think the biggest thing is standing there watching the game, knowing, OK, you look at that play, maybe I could have done something there," he said. "It's tough, watching the guys lose and getting frustrated. I'm not kind of in it with the guys. I'm there, but I'm not going through it. It's tough to see that. At the end of the day, it happened. You can't really dwell on it. I just want to focus on getting my ankle back to 100 percent."
Scouts likely won't dwell on the injury, either.
"He might be the most pure goal scorer available in the draft," said one Eastern Conference scout. "To come from where he was last year to this year shows you the character and determination of the kid."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK