Penguins’ Tanner Pearson hopes to complement Phil Kessel on third line
ST. LOUIS – Pittsburgh Penguins winger Tanner Pearson has a 24-goal season in the NHL and a 37-goal season in juniors on his resume. At many points in his career, he’s been the shooter on his line.
That’s not the case at the moment.
When he takes the ice alongside center Derick Brassard and right wing Phil Kessel when the Penguins face the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night, it’s clear who the No. 1 option to shoot the puck on his line will be.
It’s Kessel. All day, every day.
“When you have an open shot yourself, you try to take it, but I definitely have no issue passing back, that’s for sure,” Pearson said with a laugh Saturday morning.
Like many of his teammates, Pearson speaks of Kessel’s shot in reverent tones.
“You look at his goals over the years and how many goals he’s scored coming down that right side and snapping one low blocker,” Pearson said. “It’s funny. We had a play like that in Carolina. I gave it to him and he went down and tried to go high and it went off the goalie’s knob. We had a chuckle about that, like, ‘That’s not your shot, Phil.’ He definitely has that shot down to a tee. He can place a puck where he wants to.”
When playing with Kessel and Brassard, coach Mike Sullivan said he expects Pearson to play more of a power-forward role.
“When you have Brass and Phil on a line that are pretty good playmakers that can shoot the puck and have good offensive instincts – not that (Pearson) doesn’t, we think he does – but the element that he really brings to that line is his ability to be good down in the corners, in the battle areas and most specifically at the net front.
“When the puck goes to the net, we’re trying to encourage him to be there. Make the goalie’s night difficult. Get in his sight lines. If he can’t control the rebound, sometimes that next play is the one that goes in the net.”
There has been much discussion about the potential for chemistry developing between Brassard and Kessel on the third line. If it does, it would give the Penguins the balanced, dangerous attack they crave.
Pearson thinks the combination has a chance to click, as it did in a 5-2 win over Detroit on Thursday.
“I think last game was pretty good,” Pearson said. “Hopefully we can look at that as a positive thing and keep playing like we did last game and we’ll give ourselves a chance every night.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.