On the Penguins: Catching up with Tangradi

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Eric Tangradi is one of the finest forward prospects in the Penguins' system.

Maybe the best.

He has a big body -- 6 feet 4, 225 pounds -- and plays like it. His hand skills are pretty good, his instincts better.

Management projects him not only as a guy who will take a regular shift in the NHL, but one who will do it in a top-six role, working alongside some of the team's most gifted forwards.

"He's definitely viewed as top-six for us, just because of his hockey sense," said assistant general manager Jason Botterill, who doubles as GM of the Penguins' farm team in Wilkes-Barre.

"He has the ability to read off players. You saw that in the preseason here, being able to play with [Sidney] Crosby or [Evgeni] Malkin, to read off them and be able to put himself in good positions."

Nonetheless, Botterill and Tom Fitzgerald, the Penguins' assistant to the general manager, insist that doesn't mean Tangradi necessarily should be counted on to generate eye-catching offensive statistics.

"We've always envisioned him as that big, strong winger who can complement the skilled guys, not to stay on par with the skilled guys' point production," Botterill said.

And for much of his time in Wilkes-Barre this season, Tangradi didn't.

He entered this weekend with eight goals and four assists in 19 games, but it's not as if he's put up his points at a steady pace since being assigned to the Baby Penguins in late October.

He had two goals and one assist in his first dozen games back in the American Hockey League, six goals and three assists in the seven that followed.

The latter included his first professional hat trick, which Tangradi recorded Wednesday night during a 5-1 victory against the Toronto Marlies.

While getting three goals in a game had to cause a spike in Tangradi's confidence, Botterill and Fitzgerald contend that his contributions don't always get recorded on the score sheet.

"He's a guy who's going to allow an offensive guy like a [Dustin] Jeffrey or a [Brett] Sterling to get offensive chances by being the big body, getting to the net, protecting the puck," Fitzgerald said. "Things that don't show up on the score sheet every night are the things we expect him to do well.

"The stats aren't going to [reflect] that. You have to go watch him play to realize that, the big body he is, he gets to the net, he chips pucks past [defensemen], he pins guys up against the [boards]. He opens space for our skilled guys."

Tangradi, 21, spent the first nine games of the season with the Penguins, but his ice time and responsibilities dwindled and the front office determined his development was best served by handling a heavier workload in the American Hockey League.

"Top-six guys need to play, and play in critical situations," Fitzgerald said. "Power play, penalty-kill, last minute of a game. Scenarios he wasn't getting up here to develop into what we want him to be."

While some might focus on Tangradi's modest offensive totals in the AHL, the organization's personnel staffers like what they've seen.

"He's a growing boy and he added some strength to his body [during the offseason]," Botterill said. "When he bumps guys, it's not just a little bump. He's driving guys through the boards, really separating guys from the puck."

That's a facet of the game that has been stressed to Tangradi. His bosses also have emphasized the importance of things like protecting the puck, being strong along the boards and deep in the offensive zone, establishing a good net-front presence.

In short, all the things associated with being an effective power forward. And which, Botterill believes, eventually might have a visible impact on Tangradi's stats.

"There's no guarantee that after having everything in place, the points will come," he said. "But chances are that he will get chances and goals will go in, whether it's tips or picking up second assists."

The week ahead

Tuesday : at Philadelphia ... The visiting team has won all three games in the season series so far. Sidney Crosby traditionally does some of his best work in the Flyers' home rink, no matter what name it's going by in a given season.

Wednesday: New York Rangers ... The Penguins have won seven in a row at Consol Energy Center since New York's 3-2 overtime victory there Nov. 15.

Dave Molinari: dmolinari@post-gazette.com .


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