Elmont, N.Y. — The coincidence was incredible, and Red Wings forward Chase Pearson knew it right away.
His dad Scott Pearson played 292 games over a 12-year NHL career that ended with two games played with the New York Islanders during the 1999-2000 season.
On Thursday, at the Islanders’ new home at UBS Arena, Chase Pearson was to make his NHL debut with the Wings.
“It’s pretty cool,” Chase Pearson said after the morning skate. “To play my first game against the team he played for, that’s pretty neat.”
Scott Pearson, Chase’s stepmom, and several friends were scheduled to fly in for the NHL debut, which has been a long time coming for Chase.
Scott was in the sauna after a workout when Chase called him with the news of his promotion to the Wings, and NHL.
“It was great, he was in the sauna, his shirt off and all that good stuff, he shouted and was excited, just like me,” Chase Pearson said. “Right away he booked the flight. I never said I was going to play or not, but he knew he was going to come anyway. It’ll be nice to be able to play, especially in front of him; he played a few games himself, and it will be special for me.
“I’m able to get in the lineup, which is nice.”
Coach Jeff Blashill had Pearson centering a line with Sam Gagner and Adam Erne.
Pearson (6-foot-3, 202 pounds) was drafted in the fifth round in 2015, and played three years collegiately at Maine, before spending his third full season with the minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins this season.
At age 24, Pearson has been waiting for this opportunity.
“It’s the stereotypical dream come true,” Pearson said. “Growing up I wanted to play in the NHL and I finally get the chance. I’m really excited.”
Pearson is more of a defensive center, uses his size to be effective, and is a good penalty killer. In 47 games this season, Pearson has seven goals and 10 assists with the Griffins, with a minus-18 rating.
“Ups and downs,” Pearson said of his AHL season thus far. “Obviously times when you’re playing well and times when you’re struggling a bit. But overall, a decent year so far.”
Pearson was in the running for a Wings’ roster spot out of training camp, but was one of the last cuts.
“You’re disappointed, you want to make the team, but when they do send you down you go down and work and hopefully get a chance, and I was able to do that,” Pearson said. “Now I’m finally able to play my first game.
“Any chance to play is an opportunity in itself and I’ll try to make the most of it.”
Blashill wanted to get more size into Thursday’s lineup, playing against the bigger, stronger Islanders.
With Filip Zadina (illness) and Givani Smith (injured, day-to-day) unavailable Thursday, the call to Pearson was made.
“He’s a guy who can play center for us, it allows us flexibility,” Blashill said. “He has good size and when he plays good, he’s aggressive, has good size and he’s a big body and against a team like the Islanders, the more bigger bodies it helps.
“He brings elements to our team. He can bring defensive responsibility, a big body, strong on the puck, a net presence, and physical. I don’t think he’ll get an opportunity tonight, but eventually a good penalty killer. If he can do those things, he starts to show he can be a guy who can make a way into our lineup and from there, you build yourself up the lineup.
“It’s great for him (Pearson). That’s what happens a little bit after the trade deadline a lot of times. Younger guys get opportunities, especially if you end up with some injury situations.”
Blashill doesn’t get a vote for Moritz Seider for the Calder Trophy (NHL rookie of the year). The Professional Hockey Writers Association vote on that award. But being as diplomatic as possible, Blashill did a good job stumping for the impressive defenseman.
“The voters will decide that at the end of the year, that’s not for me to decide,” Blashill said. “Certainly I can’t imagine anyone having a bigger impact on a hockey team than he’s had on our team. But I don’t see all the players. I’ll let the voters decide.
“I’m less concerned about individual awards than his individual growth, and his individual growth is what’s critical.”
Seider’s teammate Lucas Raymond has been excellent, and Anaheim forward Trevor Zegras and Toronto forward Michael Bunting also have been impressive. But the consistent presence Seider has been, his all-around excellence, is likely to make him the favorite in the final vote.
“I’ve seen him grow for sure,” Blashill said. “Some nights he takes a little bit of a step backwards, but overall he’s taken a lot of steps forward. The physicality is one area he’s gotten more comfortable maybe, over the course of the year. He’s learned how to leverage his body against bigger bodies. He’s done a much better job with physicality.”
Taro Hirose looked to be in the lineup after being a healthy scratch Tuesday against Philadelphia.
… With Zadina ill, Michael Rasmussen was skating on the top line with Dylan Larkin and Raymond in the morning skate, heading into facing the Islanders.
“I liked the (Pius) Suter line and I didn’t want to move anyone off that line, and Ras is a big body and we’ve tried Ras on the wing at different times (this season),” Blashill said. “I like a big body with Larks and Raymond, they have enough skill among the two of them, and Ras is a guy who can retrieve pucks and get it into their hands.”