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Penguins trade Scott Wilson for Riley Sheahan

Jonathan Bombulie
| Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, 6:23 p.m.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) tries to steal the puck from Detroit Red Wings center Riley Sheahan (15) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) tries to steal the puck from Detroit Red Wings center Riley Sheahan (15) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Oct. 16, 2017, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

TAMPA, Fla. — Starting with the redemption stories of Phil Kessel, Justin Schultz and others, Pittsburgh has become, in the last two years, a place where NHL players go to rejuvenate their careers.

Riley Sheahan will be the latest player to test that theory.

Ending a four-month quest to add a third-line center, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford traded winger Scott Wilson and a third-round pick to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday for Sheahan and a fifth-round pick.

Rutherford described the 6-foot-3, 226-pound Sheahan as a heavy player who can handle difficult defensive responsibilities.

“He can play against other teams' top guys,” Rutherford said. “He can play certainly against bigger, stronger guys. He's a proven guy. He dropped off a little bit last year in his production, but there's no reason why he can't get that back again.”

Sheahan's drop-off last season was more than a slight decline.

After recording a total of 27 goals and 61 points in 160 games over the previous two seasons, the 25-year-old Sheahan had a historically bad season last year. He went without a goal in the first 79 games he played before scoring twice in his season finale. He had a minus-29 rating.

This year, he has no points in eight games.

Rutherford said he couldn't predict where Sheahan's offensive numbers will end up, but he expressed confidence that Pittsburgh is the place for him to turn things around.

“Players that come to Pittsburgh are excited about playing in Pittsburgh. That starts it,” Rutherford said. “Our coaching staff is very good at working with these guys. As long as guys want to work close with the coaching staff and listen to them and buy into what we're doing, they have a chance to improve their game. It's been shown with the number of guys we've brought here. I really believe that's what's going to happen here with him.”

Sheahan hasn't been killing penalties for the Red Wings this season, but he has in the past and will in the future with the Penguins, Rutherford said.

Rutherford said the acquisition of Sheahan makes him more comfortable that the Penguins would be able to weather an injury to a center. He said he will continue to monitor the trade market at the position but only because he always monitors the trade market at every position.

“This will give us a better idea of where our team's at over the next little while now that we've added another center,” Rutherford said.

Sheahan has two years left on a contract with a $2.075 million annual salary cap hit. According to capfriendly.com, the Penguins have about $760,000 in cap space after Sheahan's acquisition.

Rutherford said he made trade offers for Sheahan after July 1, but the Red Wings weren't sure they were going to move him. When holdout Andreas Athanasiou agreed to a one-year contract Friday, Detroit needed to open up some cap space and decided to make the deal.

Wilson, 25, had eight goals and 26 points in 78 games with the Penguins last season. He dressed for 20 playoff games, recording three goals and three assists. He had no points in the first three games of this season, then was a healthy scratch for the next five games.

“I was hoping for more last year, but of course he came off (an ankle injury late in the 2015-16 season),” Rutherford said. “I thought he played well. I think he's got a good career ahead of him. He kind of got caught in the numbers game here without Sheahan in the mix.

“If he wasn't going to be in the lineup, it's better to give him a chance instead of letting him sit. I still believe in him as a player. I think he'll do well there.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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