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Former number in hand, Tanner Pearson gets to face his former Kings teammates for first time

Former number in hand, Tanner Pearson gets to face his former Kings teammates for first time
Pittsburgh Penguins' Tanner Pearson skates during the first period of the team's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

The attachment that Tanner Pearson has with the No. 14 jersey runs deep. He wore it “my whole life,” from when he was a mite hockey player to the Manchester Monarchs.

That ended when he got called up to the Kings in 2013 and wound up being a part of their 2013-14 championship season.

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“When I got there and won the [Stanley] Cup with [No.] 70, you’re not going to change, and you’re not going to take Justin Williams’ number [14] either,” Pearson said in a phone interview.

It’s not the way he planned it, but Pearson got No. 14 back when he joined the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Nov. 14 trade, in exchange for Carl Hagelin, was an abrupt end to his Kings career and it’s evolved into a career reboot that comes back into focus Saturday when the Kings play Pittsburgh.

Pearson had three goals in his first six games with the Penguins, or three more than he scored in 17 games with the Kings this season. But he went from a former Cup-winning culture to another and, although Pittsburgh has stumbled this season, too, that mentality hasn’t changed. Pearson sees the same franchise fabric.

“Both teams know what it takes to win,” Pearson said. “Both have a lot of star power. Maybe that made the transition a bit easier. It’s the same mentality.”

One of the first new teammates to text message Pearson was Sidney Crosby, which carried significant weight for Pearson because “you grew up watching him.”

“In the room with the boys, he’s a really good guy,” Pearson said. “He loves to be involved.”

The three seasons remaining on Pearson’s contract were primarily why he was moved as the Kings sought salary-cap space. The trade happened 18 months after Pearson signed that four-year deal. Newly married this summer, he was settled into a Hermosa Beach residence.

“In this league, really anything can happen,” Pearson said. “[I didn’t have a] no-trade clause, so you can get the call at any time. Things weren’t going well personally and they had to make a change, and that was me.”

Pearson is forever connected with Tyler Toffoli. The former linemates still text each other regularly. Both said Saturday will be odd.

“I’ll probably look over at him [in warmups and] if we make eye contact I’m sure we’ll smile,” Toffoli said. “[But] it’s not like we’re going to be looking for each other.”

Pearson was once considered an integral part of the Kings’ future, with Toffoli. Now he lines up next to Crosby and Jake Guentzel. It’s almost too soon to face his old team.

“Spending the last six years in L.A., it’s definitely going to be different lining up against those guys,” Pearson said. “It’s going to be fun and it’s going to be weird.”

Doughty vents appreciation

Drew Doughty put it in his unvarnished perspective when asked how assistant coach Marco Sturm has helped put him in the right mind-set. Sturm and interim coach Willie Desjardins represent new eyes and fresh feedback that Doughty welcomes.

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After eight years under former coach John Stevens, Doughty said, “I felt I was doing all these things all the time and no one gave me credit for it at that time because they’re so used to me doing it.

“And now that they’re kind of a fresh start, and we have these new guys, I feel very appreciated and when I feel appreciated I’m more willing to do things for the team and I’m having fun and I feel good about myself, then I become a way better leader. When I’m down on myself … I’m not the same person and I’m not having fun and I’m not getting the boys going.”

Sturm is directing the defense and has given Doughty words of encouragement, especially when he’s down. Doughty understood why Stevens asked so much of him but also explained that Sturm has helped put him in a better place.

“Not that John didn’t appreciate what I did,” Doughty said. “He really did and he always told me that. But at the same time, I feel like some of the things I do on the ice, other people obviously can’t do. Sometimes it gets overlooked, the things that I do, [playing] every game for 26 minutes. I think it gets overlooked sometimes. You’ve just got to feel appreciated sometimes.”

UP NEXT

AT PITTSBURGH

When: Saturday, 4 p.m. PST.

On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network).

Update: Dion Phaneuf (upper-body injury) is “week-to-week,” Desjardins said. He also said that rookie defenseman Daniel Brickley could likely play his second NHL game.

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