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Stanley Cup Final

Scott Wilson has earned place with Penguins in Stanley Cup Final

Pittsburgh forward ramping up physicality, making impact on line with Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel against Predators

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- On one hand, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Scott Wilson easily could be considered one of the luckiest guys in the NHL. He's a 25-year-old in his first full NHL season, his first Stanley Cup Final appearance, and he gets to play on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

That's pretty special for anybody.

However, there is always the other hand, and for Wilson getting to play with Malkin and Kessel means it's on him to do a lot of the thankless, dirty work to help create room for his high-profile linemates and make sure they get the puck.

That's pretty tough for anybody.

But that is exactly why Wilson has been playing with Malkin and Kessel since Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final and why he could be with them again for the start of Game 2 of the Final against the Nashville Predators at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVA Sports).

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"He brings a lot of energy," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said of Wilson, who has five points (two goals, three assists) in 16 Stanley Cup Playoff games this spring. "He can skate. He's a north-south guy. He has a physical element to his game. He's good when he gets in on the forecheck. He's a good first forecheck guy that can create a 50-50 puck that gives us an opportunity to create some offense. He goes to the net hard and he can shoot the puck. When he plays with those guys, he brings all of those elements to that line."

Wilson had to learn to bring all those elements to a line like the one he is on. It wasn't easy, especially because he came to the Penguins as a goal scorer.

He had back-to-back 16-goal seasons at UMass-Lowell. He scored 41 goals in 89 AHL games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Penguins American Hockey League affiliate, from 2014-16, including 22 goals in 34 games last season.

But scoring was not on Sullivan's mind when he put Wilson on a line with center Sidney Crosby earlier this season, and at times with Malkin. It certainly wasn't on Sullivan's mind when he put Wilson with Malkin and Kessel in Game 4 of the conference final.

Wilson had to figure that part out.

"My biggest thing is I've got to be physical to be effective, and skate too," Wilson said. "Especially at the beginning of this year I was not really playing as physical, and I kind of thought I needed to make these special plays playing with those special guys. That was my mindset about it."

It took several conversations with assistant Rick Tocchet for Wilson to realize he needed to play his physical game alongside the Penguins top players.

It's working now.

Wilson had six hits in Game 1 against Nashville. He's second on the team in the playoffs with 54. Malkin leads all playoff scorers with 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists), including five in his past five games with Wilson on his line. Kessel is tied for third with 19 points (seven goals, 12 assists), including four in his past five games.

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"I feel like I've kind of found myself the last little bit here," Wilson said. "The same way I would play on the third or fourth line is the way I have to play with those guys."

With one significant and fortunate exception, of course.

"With [Malkin and Kessel] you might not think a puck is coming through, but they can get it through anything so you have to be ready at all times," Wilson said. "You've got to be on your toes ready to shoot a lot, because they'll get you the puck a little bit faster than you think."

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