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Tanner Pearson is making the most of his new opportunity

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He seems to have found a place next to Evgeni Malkin.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

If I’m being honest, the Penguins acquisition of Tanner Pearson a couple of weeks ago didn’t really wow me.

I didn’t think it was a bad trade because, hey, something had to be done, and there at least seemed to be the potential that he could be a pretty big offensive upgrade over Carl Hagelin.

If nothing else, the Penguins were clearly buying low on a player that has had some degree of success in his career and was mired in a terrible slump in a terrible situation on a terrible team.

It’s just that Pearson never really stood out to me when he was in Los Angeles. He was the kind of player that if he gave you 20 goals and 45 points you should be happy with that. When all is said and done, I still think that is probably what you are looking at with him. If he is one of your top four or five players like he was in Los Angeles, your team is probably in trouble.

But if you stick him in a spot as a complementary piece, with some good players around him, he can probably work for you.

So far, that kind of seems to be what is happening for him in Pittsburgh.

A couple recent highlights for him...

  • After recording just a single point in his first 19 games with the Kings and Penguins (and going 18 consecutive games without a point) he now has four points in his past three games, including three goals.
  • He made an incredible defensive play in Boston to prevent what looked like a sure goal (or at least a prime scoring chance) which at least gave the Penguins a chance to win. The fact they didn’t doesn’t take away from the play itself. That sort of play really stands out when you consider the player he was traded for was still regarded as one of the best defensive players on the team, an element the team might have missed.

As of Monday, the Pearson-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel line has scored four goals in their 63 minutes of ice-time together, while only being on the ice for one against. It’s an interesting situation because when you look at that groups overall numbers you can see where they miss Hagelin. Via Natural Stat Trick, the trio has struggled from a possession and scoring chance perspective (under 44 percent in both categories), which is not ideal. When Hagelin was with them — actually, when Hagelin was with everybody — his lines always outchanced and outscored the opposition in large part because he was such a smart, heady, and defensively responsible player. He did a lot of the unnoticed grunt work that nobody else would ... or could.

Now, with Pearson in the mix it’s obviously a very small sample size so I don’t want to make too much of it, especially because they are probably going to be able to do more of the one thing Hagelin couldn’t do. Score goals. They basically traded defense for offense while also maybe trying to get the attention of a locker room that seemed to be, for lack of a better phrasing, out of it.

Jim Rutherford can say all he wants that it wasn’t meant to shake things up, but let’s try to be honest about this — he knew the type of player he was giving up. A popular player that was close to everyone that all of those players won championships with. That was a “get your heads in the game” trade if I have ever seen one.

Overall I’m still trying to keep my expectations with Pearson reasonable. I don’t know that, at age 26 and with a well established track record of being a 20-goal, 40-point forward, that his game is suddenly going to transform all that much simply because he gets to play next to Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. He’s not going to keep scoring three goals every four games just because he is next to a Hall of Fame center.

If it were that simple everyone the Penguins put on their wing would became a star.

But I also like what I have seen so far and he has given the Penguins just what they needed. A little extra offense from someone that is not one of their big four, some fresh legs, and just maybe, quite simply some new blood in a room that, in Rutherford’s words from a few weeks ago, had simply been together for too long.