Penguins' Tangradi growing as leader at camp
Eric Tangradi isn't just any other prospect at the Penguins' development camp.
The players aren't the only new faces on the ice at the Penguins development camp this week. Bill Guerin, now part of the player development staff, is also on hand at Consol Energy Center.
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Eric Tangradi doesn't have his usual stall in the Penguins locker room at Consol Energy Center, and this crop of teammates includes many strangers.
Still, the budding power forward is digging being in a comfortable, familiar setting this week. Not only that, but he also is something of the big man on campus at the club's annual development camp as the only one who has played in the NHL.
"I like to see the young faces and try to put on the leadership role," Tangradi said Tuesday, the first day of on-ice work. "I know in September [at training camp] it's the complete reverse effect -- me being the young guy again."
Tangradi is 23. Of the 28 camp attendees, 15 are teens, including four 18-year-olds selected last month in the NHL draft.
"I don't remember ever being this young," Tangradi said, looking around. "There's a lot of young faces. They look like little kids."
This is the fifth prospect camp for Tangradi, two with Anaheim and three with the Penguins, who acquired him and winger Chris Kunitz in the Ryan Whitney trade in February 2009.
"Being your third year [at the Penguins version of the camp], you're not nervous, and you're definitely more comfortable," he said. "As you get older in these camps, you test better, you play better, you feel better. I think I can translate the comfort I feel to the young guys and try and settle them down a little bit."
Surely, this will be Tangradi's last such camp. Some of the players whose names and faces had become familiar the past two or three years at this camp -- defensemen Brian Strait, Robert Bortuzzo and Carl Sneep, goaltender Brad Thiessen and forward Joe Vitale, among others -- have "graduated."
Tom Fitzgerald, Penguins assistant to the general manager who is helping run the camp, said it came down to needing workable numbers, particularly on defense where there could have been as many as 14 players rather than the nine who are here.
Plus, Fitzgerald said, the club wants Tangradi and a couple of other older players to expand their horizons as players, on and off the ice.
"It's that next step, that leadership component that we're looking for," Fitzgerald said. "That was the message: You guys were the 18-year-old, the 19-year-old before. You know how nervous they are. Make them feel comfortable. Make them feel at ease. Take them under your arm and be a leader.
"Go do what you do, and do it well. Let these 18-year-olds go, 'Wow. He's played in the NHL.'"
Tangradi broke into the NHL with one game in 2009-10, then had one goal, two assists in 15 games last season. He most likely would have played considerably more if his season had not been cut short by a concussion in February. He was able to recover enough to appear in one playoff game.
"I've been working out at full speed all summer and haven't even had a headache," Tangradi said.
He stuck with the Penguins out of training camp last fall, but after playing in nine games he was returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton before Halloween.
The demotion hit him hard and affected his confidence and performance for a spell.
Then, "he really took off," said Wilkes-Barre coach John Hynes, who is overseeing the development camp.
Tangradi had 18 goals, 33 points in 42 games for Wilkes-Barre. A natural left winger, he played some on the right side when the Baby Penguins got hit hard by call-ups because of injuries among Penguins forwards.
"He really earned his opportunity to get back [to the NHL]," Hynes said. "He really became a force at the American [Hockey] League level down low in the offensive zone. He's an excellent net-front presence."
That's just what the Penguins need Tangradi to develop into in the NHL, a top-six forward who puts his 6-foot-4, 221-pound frame to good use, shows some scoring touch and can help on the power play.
Tangradi's next real chance to prove he can do that will come in training camp in September because this week is more about assimilation and systems than it is about statistics and skill -- although nearly the entire front office is watching practices and surely will be glued to the camp-ending scrimmage Saturday.
In the meantime, Tangradi is fielding questions from the youngsters, setting an example and sitting through the same seminars on nutrition, security and media training he has heard before.
"I have to be front row with eyes big, wide open and a big smile. No sleeping for me," he said.
"A lot of it's repetitive, but when you pay attention and show that you're interested -- which I am -- I think other kids start to appreciate that it is a value to being a professional athlete."
First Published July 13, 2011 12:00 am