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'Breath of fresh air': Pearson excited for new opportunity with Canadiens

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MONTREAL — Tanner Pearson's initial reaction to being traded brought a combination of feelings.

The veteran forward was sent to the Montreal Canadiens along with a 2025 third-round pick by the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, in exchange for goaltender Casey DeSmith. Pearson was in attendance for the first day of training camp with his new team on Thursday.

"Obviously mixed emotions," the 31-year-old told reporters in Montreal. "Really close with the guys in Van but excited for the opportunity.

"I think a breath of fresh air is what I kind of needed, so definitely excited to be here."

Pearson said the timing of the trade worked out well.

"I've gone through it before," he said. "It's actually nice it's right before camp so I kind of still get to camp with the guys and work into the systems of what we want to play. It sucks at the same time, but it's a good time."

Pearson spent four-plus years in Vancouver after being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins in February 2019.

The six-foot-one, 201-pound left-winger had one of his best NHL seasons in his first full year with the Canucks. He set a career high in points (45), while recording his second-best marks in goals (21) and assists (24) across 69 games in 2019-20.

But in 2022-23, he had just one goal and four assists in only 14 games after suffering a broken hand in Montreal last November.

Initially expected to be out for just six weeks, Pearson ended up undergoing multiple surgeries and was ruled out for the season in January.

Pearson said he expected to be traded.

"I've been around the league long enough and you could kind of take hints without there being any so figured something may happen," he said.

"Crazy, to say the least," he added of the last 10 months. "Went through a lot but pretty excited where I'm at now. I think if anyone said I would be here now from where I was, I'll take it any day of the week. Happy, excited, ready to get back at it."

Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes said recently that the strength in Pearson's hand was at around 80 per cent. Pearson was more bullish on his recovery, saying there was a "nine per cent difference" from Hughe's estimate. Pearson also stated that he had been skating since June.

When mentioned to Pearson that Hughes had said he adds "grey hair" to the team, the Kitchener, Ont., native said, "I saw," and flashed a big smile and nodded his head, while reporters laughed.

Pearson is one of just seven players on Montreal's current active roster aged 30 and up, with the oldest being defenceman Chris Wideman and goaltender Jake Allen at 33 years old.

But being a veteran on a young team isn't new to Pearson and he looks to bring some leadership.

"I think just veteran leadership," he said when asked what he looks to bring. "I think I play a certain style or way, you know, straight line kind of guy, get on the walls.

"So going to another team where I'm kind of the old guy but it'll be nice to be around young, fresh faces again and get the energy back up."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2023.