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Tanner Pearson: Playing With Malkin, Kessel Fun But Not Simple

In a PHN Exclusive, Tanner Pearson says it “sucked” playing against the Penguins, but it’s fun playing with them.

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PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 21: Pittsburgh Penguins Left Wing Tanner Pearson (14) celebrates after scoring a goal past Dallas Stars Goalie Anton Khudobin (35) during the second period in the NHL game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Dallas Stars on November 21, 2018, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire)

CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Tanner Pearson could easily have gotten lost when he arrived with the Penguins in a trade. Instead, he has found himself in a good situation.

Pearson, who came over from Los Angeles for Carl Hagelin Nov. 14, has been manning the left wing on the second line, with center Evgeni Malkin and right winger Phil Kessel. That could be exhilarating – and intimidating.

“You realize when you’re playing defensively against them how hard it is to cover them,” Pearson said Thursday of the skill of his linemates that he saw only as opponents before the trade. “It’s, uh, it sucked, to be honest. Now being on this side it’s been fun.”

It’s not necessarily simple, though, to play alongside the swift skating, high-end offense and creativity Malkin and Kessel represent.

“It was kind of an adjustment, the way they play, but I think as periods and then games have gone on, talking with them and (seeing) where they are at times and what to do with the puck at certain times, it’s helped out and it’s showed,” Pearson said.

“Over the years, being on the West Coast, you don’t really see them that often, but, obviously, you know how high-caliber they are. It’s been a treat to play with them. They’re very high-end skill players in the league.”

Pearson, 26, was a first-round pick by Los Angeles in the 2012 draft – one held at PPG Paints Arena, incidentally. In his first three full NHL seasons, through last season, he had 15, 24 and 15 goals. This season, he struggled at the start, as did the Kings. He had one point, an assist, in 17 games.

In four games with the Penguins, he has two goals and an assist, including a rising slapshot for a goal Wednesday in a 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars.

It seems probable that Pearson will continue to be deployed with Malkin and Kessel, including Friday night at Boston.

It could be easy to get a little lost playing with those two core players. Then again, getting a little lost and be a good thing when it means opponents forget about you because they are focusing on your linemates, leaving you open to make plays.

“For sure,” Pearson said. “When you have a centerman to that pedigree, he’s going to bring a lot (of attention) to him. It’s just going to open up more space. With those guys, you’ve just kind of got to get open and be ready when the puck comes to you.

“I think when I’m on my game I’m good down low and on the walls. With them, Geno’s a big body and really good cycling the puck and holding onto it, and Phil can shoot the puck with the best of them. It could be a good mix, and so far it’s working out.”

So is Pearson’s transition to the Penguins. He had a chance for some bonding Thursday night when the club held a team Thanksgiving dinner in Boston, but even before that he never felt like an awkward new guy.

Add him to the list of players over recent years who have had a positive experience when joining the Penguins in-season.

“A lot of good guys here,” Pearson said. “Guys that I played with have played with some of these guys. Saying bye to the guys in LA, they kind of gave me a quick scoop on what guys they know here and they texted them. From the first day they’ve been really welcoming, and it’s made the transition a whole lot easier.”

Playing with Malkin and Kessel, and grabbing a couple goals already, hasn’t hurt.

 

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Shelly is the newest columnist and reporter for Pittsburgh Hockey Now. She was a Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch her on Twitter @_shellyanderson

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