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Ex-Red Wings center Riley Sheahan contributing since trade to Penguins

Jonathan Bombulie
| Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, 6:15 p.m.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Riley Sheahan (left) attempts to skate around Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Jon Merrill during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Las Vegas.
Pittsburgh Penguins center Riley Sheahan (left) attempts to skate around Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Jon Merrill during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Las Vegas.
Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner makes a save on the Penguins' Riley Sheahan in the second period Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner makes a save on the Penguins' Riley Sheahan in the second period Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.

DETROIT — Whether he's a guy who is prone to self-reflection on New Year's Eve or not, Riley Sheahan had no choice Sunday but to look back at the more important moments of the last 365 days of his life.

Traded to the Penguins at the end of October, Sheahan was playing his first game as a visitor at Little Caesars Arena after spending the first six-plus years of his career in the Detroit Red Wings organization.

Sheahan said the general weirdness that players feel when facing their old team for the first time was tempered a bit by a change of venue.

Sheahan spent most of his time in Detroit playing at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings are in their first season in their new arena.

“This is a great rink, but I didn't get much time in it,” Sheahan said. “It might have been a little bit different if we were going back to the Joe because we had a couple more memories there.”

Sheahan made some good memories during his tenure in Detroit, establishing himself as an NHL regular and turning in a pair of seasons where he hit double digits in goals from 2014-16.

His last full season with the Red Wings was notable for its historic scoring drought. He went the first 79 games of last season without a goal before scoring twice in his finale.

The drought colored the perception of Sheahan in the hockey world. Other checking-line centers can go weeks at a time without producing a point, but can still be performing plenty of vital functions that help their team win.

Because of his drought, though, critics will always be keeping a close eye on Sheahan's point production.

It's something he deals with.

“You still like to score. You still like to help your team win in that field,” Sheahan said. “But something that I've learned from is that you can't really dwell on it. You've just got to keep plugging away, keep contributing however you can.”

Since joining the Penguins, Sheahan has three goals and 11 points in 30 games heading into Sunday night's matchup. His average of .37 points per game is behind what comparable centers Nick Bonino (.46) and Matt Cullen (.41) put up during their time with the Penguins, but not by much.

In addition, Sheahan has won an impressive 56.6 percent of his faceoffs and has decent if not eye-popping shot-attempt stats.

It's enough to keep coach Mike Sullivan satisfied with his game.

“We'd always prefer to have more, right? I think that's the nature of our business,” Sullivan said. “If he could fill the net for us, that would be great. Then we'd really like him. But I think his overall, two-way game, his compete level, he's controlling the controllables out there like we talk about all the time. He's a good, solid, two-way center iceman.”

In recent games, Sheahan has provided a dependable defensive presence on a line with wingers Conor Sheary and Phil Kessel. On Sunday, he was slotted to play between Sheary and top prospect Daniel Sprong.

Sullivan thinks it's a relationship that could be beneficial for all involved.

“I think he can really shoot the puck,” Sullivan said. “I have to believe there's more offense that can come from Riley. He's going to get an opportunity to play with some pretty good players here as of late that have some offensive instincts. We're hoping that can help Riley's game as well.

“He brings a little something to those guys, being a real solid, dependable, two-way center iceman, but I think the guys he plays with can potentially bring something to him as well and help his overall game.”

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

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