Penguins' Tangradi adjusts to NHL role
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This is not the first time Eric Tangradi has made the trip from Wilkes-Barre.
Not even close.
But this promotion, he said, seems different than the others.
"In the past, I've just felt like a call-up guy," Tangradi said. "This time, I really feel like, with the way I'm playing and the way I've fit in, I could really be a part of something down the road if I continue to play the way I'm playing."
While there is no tangible evidence of Tangradi's impact -- he will enter the Penguins' game against Washington today at Consol Energy Center with no points in seven games since being summoned from their team in northeastern Pennsylvania Jan. 7 -- assistant coach Tony Granato said Saturday that Tangradi is "doing a really good job."
Granato, who oversees the Penguins' forwards, seemed particularly pleased with the way Tangradi has taken advantage of the 6-foot-4, 221-pound frame that is his greatest asset.
"He's a big, strong forward who can sustain offensive-zone play by protecting the puck," Granato said. "He goes to the net well and has a great net-front presence.
"He had a couple of great ones [against Montreal Friday] night, where, if we hit the net, we have goals. Where he had the goalie guessing where the puck was going."
Tangradi, 22, is on his third stint with the Penguins this season, and his continued presence figures to be linked, in large part, to their injury situation.
While his place on the big league roster seems secure for now, Tangradi can be sent to the American Hockey League without going through waivers. That makes assigning him there an easy default position for management unless Tangradi plays so well it simply is not a viable option to be without him.
"It's a numbers thing," Granato said. "If he keeps playing the way he's playing, it's certainly going to give us a lot more options."
One option the Penguins have is to send Tangradi back to Wilkes-Barre during the all-star break this week, which would free a sliver of salary-cap space and save them a few dollars in salary since he earns less when playing for the Baby Penguins.
While it seems nearly certain that the Penguins will do that, regardless of how they feel about his work, Tangradi is not entirely resigned to having things play out that way.
"The first step for me would be, hopefully, to just make it here until the all-star break," he said. "That would be a great step. Whatever their plan is for me, I can't really do anything but accept it."
The Penguins' long-term plans for Tangradi are not entirely clear; at least some in the organization believe that, with time, he can develop into a top-six winger and be a productive power forward.
At this stage, however, Tangradi is still very much a work-in-progress. He has matured into an impact player in Wilkes-Barre, where he has 18 goals and 15 assists in 42 games, but still is cast in a blue-collar role at this level.
In the Penguins' 5-4 shootout victory against the Canadiens, for example, he received four minutes and 50 seconds of ice time mostly on the fourth line.
That same night, Tangradi's frequent teammate in Wilkes-Barre, Dustin Jeffrey, scored twice, snapping an 18-game goal-less drought. A game like that could have a profound impact on Tangradi, who does not have a goal in his past 21 NHL appearances.
"I'm starting to realize what I really can do with my body and my size," he said. "Once I just get one and realize they're going to go in if I keep doing things, I think it will help to get the ball rolling a little bit."
Tangradi prefers to use his hands to score goals. When necessary, though, he will use them to throw punches as he did with New York Rangers defenseman Stu Bickel midway though the first period of the Penguins' 4-1 victory Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
"I'm by no means a fighter, but I can drop the gloves if I need to," said Tangradi, who said the fight was about his eighth as a pro and second in the NHL. "To be a spark is kind of my role and, when challenged, I don't think I'm the kind of guy who's going to turn it down."
Being willing to trade punches with Bickel, even though he did not earn a decision in the fight, probably earned Tangradi a little more respect from his teammates. Ultimately, though, his future with the Penguins will be determined by what Tangradi can do with his gloves on, and he is encouraged by how he has gone about his work the past few weeks.
"In the past, I felt like maybe at times I was playing not to make a mistake," he said. "I think now I feel like I'm playing my game and starting to realize that I can do things at this level, that I can be effective at this level."
First Published January 22, 2012 12:00 am