Penguins' Tangradi, Jeffrey eye future


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Eric Tangradi was among those who were thrilled when the Penguins plucked proven defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek in the hours after free agency started two weeks ago.

Sure, that had something to do with the fact that Tangradi is part of the same organization and wants to see the Penguins win. But the winger also had a sound personal reason for rejoicing -- the signings meant the Penguins might very well have a spot or two open for a young forward.

"I think they felt like they had to pick up the [defensive] corps, and that's what they did," Tangradi said Tuesday, the first day of the 2010 Penguins development camp. "They have confidence in that young group [of forwards], and we're going to roll with that confidence and have a good training camp."

Tangradi, 21, is a budding power forward obtained from Anaheim in February 2009 in the Ryan Whitney trade. At 6 feet 4, 221 pounds with a lot of poise and a penchant for crashing the net, he is the type of player the Penguins would love to pencil in for a spot on one of the top two lines.

If and when he earns it.

He realizes there is a heap of expectations attached to him, but he seems more eager than anxious.

"There's a bunch of young guys that feel the same way," Tangradi said. "I think you're going to see a really competitive [training] camp in September. This [development camp] is a stepping stone toward training camp. Impressions are everything.

"But all they can really ask of me, and all I can really do, is to work hard and be a leader right now. Come September, I'm going to be ready for the challenge."

So might a few others, including Dustin Jeffrey, who is a year older than Tangradi and is attending his fourth development camp.

While Tangradi apparently got better and more comfortable as his first pro season unfolded with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and finished with 17 goals, 39 points in 65 games, Jeffrey blossomed after being moved from center to wing. His 24 goals were more than double, and his 71 points nearly doubled from his previous season with the Baby Penguins.

Tangradi played in one game for the Penguins last season. Jeffrey has played in 15 NHL games the past two seasons.

"I think Eric's growth throughout the season was outstanding," said Wilkes-Barre coach Todd Reirden, who is running practice at the camp. "I think he really understood what it took to play a game on a night-in, night-out basis in terms of being a power forward, using his body."

Reirden sees Jeffrey as the more versatile of the two, and Jeffrey hopes that is one advantage that will help him grab a place on the Penguins' roster this season.

"I want to make it my spot. Absolutely," said Jeffrey, a sixth-round draft pick by the Penguins in 2007. "This is where you want to come back in September and earn a spot. It starts right now.

"It's a big year. If you look at the contracts that they gave out to bring in some high-end defensemen, I think it's going to leave opportunities for young guys [at forward]. It's still early in the summer. They could still pick up some veteran players. As of right now, there's an opportunity for one or two guys from Wilkes-Barre ... to play here. They don't come around very often. This is probably the first time in two or three years, so you've got to take advantage of it."

At 6-3, 199, Jeffrey has size, but not Tangradi size.

"I don't really have a choice but to play physical. That's something I'm going to have to do every night and be consistent with it," said Tangradi, who at development camp a year ago was being cautious after delicate wrist surgery.

He called the past 12 months "a roller-coaster ride" and has adjusted his priorities to include being more explosive with his skating, particularly his first stride.

"I'm a big guy, but the knock on all big guys is their footwork," he said.

"Something in the gym I've spent time working on every day [is] my quickness. When you're a winger, sometimes you're flat-footed on the wall and you've got to get out of the zone and start the rush. I think that's very important for me."


Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com .


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