The Penguins have been trying all summer, but so far have not signed a top-six forward to play alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
They haven't signed in-house restricted free-agent left winger Eric Tangradi, either, but that apparently will get done sooner rather than later. Tangradi will do his best to earn a slot on one of the top two lines created when Steve Sullivan left through free agency.
"I think it would be a great thrill," Tangradi said Thursday during a break at RMU Island Sports Center, where he is assisting on the ice with a team youth camp.
"It's something I definitely have to earn. I know that going into camp, I've shown that I can play a bottom-six role. I'm just going to try to be myself, not try to be somebody I'm not. If that awards me a top-six job, great. I'm confident I can play in it. But I also know that I fit in well in the bottom six as well."
Tangradi, 23, played in 24 of his 40 career NHL games last season, plus two playoff games. He has a goal and five points in those 40 games playing almost exclusively on the third or fourth line.
He has tweaked his summer routine to push for an expanded role.
"I think I've taken leaps and bounds this summer," Tangradi said. His dimensions remain 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds, but he appears more chiseled.
"My body fat is as low as I've ever had it in my career," he said.
He has tailored his training to work on quickness, explosiveness -- particularly his first stride -- and pure strength so that he will be better at spinning off of defensemen and bringing the puck out of the corner.
He has been skating twice a week in his native Philadelphia under the guidance of Los Angeles assistant and former Flyers coach John Stevens.
"I haven't had skates like that in Philly in my whole career," he said.
He also has taken his "off-ice training to another level" with trainer Kevin Neeld, who opened a hockey-specific center near Tangradi.
A year ago on a trip to Moscow, Penguins strength and conditioning coach Mike Kadar found Malkin a willing subject for two weeks of intense training.
That was in large part because Malkin was coming off of knee surgery and itching to get back into game shape. Malkin credited his work with Kadar in helping to set up a year in which he won the NHL scoring title, the Hart Trophy as MVP, then a gold medal and MVP honors at the world championships.
This year, Kadar doubled his time in Russia and found Malkin no less a stellar student.
"The same if not more," said Kadar, who recently returned.
"He's had good seasons since he got to the NHL, but it's pretty hard to beat the season that he had. Once you get a taste of that, you realize you want more."
On the morning Kadar arrived in Moscow for his nearly month-long stay, he wanted to get to his hotel for an hour or so. But he had to stiff-arm Malkin, who was pushing for Kadar to meet him at the gym.
Kadar managed Malkin differently this time.
"This year, there was no focus on the knee," Kadar said.
"That was never an issue and was never really taken into consideration. We knew the knee was stable."
They consolidated their daily workouts into one long off-ice session of higher intensity. Last year, they did two workouts a day and spent time on the ice so Malkin could strengthen the knee.
"I think he's much further ahead this year simply because there is no knee issue," Kadar said.
After the Penguins lost to Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs, Malkin publicly volunteered Kadar to return to Moscow this summer even before he asked the strength coach. That was OK with Kadar, who would make this an annual setup if Malkin wishes.
"I hope that I can always bring something to the table for him," Kadar said.
"It's been an unbelievable opportunity to go over there and work with him twice."penguins
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly.