Penguins' Tangradi learns his lessons
Blackhawks defenseman Simon Danis-Pepin battles with Penguins forward Eric Tangradi in a rookie tournament game Tuesday at the John Labatt Centre in London, Ont.
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LONDON, Ontario -- There are lessons to be learned when a player breaks into professional hockey.
Sometimes, painful ones.
Like the one winger Eric Tangradi of the Penguins absorbed last fall, just three games after making his debut with the Penguins' American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre.
"I'm a power forward, and one night in Wilkes-Barre, where I kind of let my guard down as a power forward, I ended up spraining my AC [acromioclavicular] joint in my shoulder," he said.
"You have to bring your game every night because it not only affects your play, but it can put you in the stands."
Tangradi recovered from that separated shoulder and went on to put up 17 goals and 22 assists in 65 games with the Baby Penguins. And to get a good sense of the game, and his place in it.
"He learned a lot about what pro hockey is all about, what it means to be a pro player," said Tom Fitzgerald, the Penguins' assistant to the general manager. "What his foundation was.
"Strong on the wall, a net-front presence, [he] moved [his] feet out of the corners, [he] used [his] body. It's not a coincidence that he went to stand in front of the net and tipped a couple of pucks in. About January, he realized what we were talking about, when it came to foundations."
Tangradi, 21, built on his foundation and put together a pretty solid rookie season. That, coupled with his size -- 6 feet 4, 225 pounds -- and hand skills have positioned him to compete for a spot on the NHL roster when the Penguins open training camp this weekend.
"I'm going into camp thinking that I want to make the Pittsburgh Penguins," said Tangradi, acquired from Anaheim in a 2009 trade. "I'm going to go in there and try to push some of the veterans and push myself to levels I've never reached."
Tangradi's intent on doing that was evident last month, when he paid his own expenses to train in Pittsburgh.
"This summer, I worked the hardest I ever have in my career, to get stronger and get faster," he said."
While the effort he put in was not necessarily reflected in his stats during the rookie tournament that ended with a 9-5 loss to Chicago Tuesday at the John Labatt Centre -- he had a goal against the Blackhawks to go with two assists in earlier games -- Tangradi still is a candidate to earn a spot on the NHL roster for the regular-season opener Oct. 7.
"I think he's going to be in a competitive environment and push for a spot," Fitzgerald said. "Why can't he?"
Tangradi, like several other minor league forwards, has had his challenge compounded because the Penguins have 13 centers and wingers on one-way contracts. Those deals generally come with at least a little job security, if only because teams do not like to pay major league salaries to guys working in the AHL.
The Penguins, however, will be looking for someone to replace Bill Guerin as the net-front presence on the No. 1 power-play unit. Tangradi figures to get serious consideration.
"I've played the net front last year in Wilkes-Barre," he said. "If you look at my goals over the past three years, a lot of them have been around the net, in the blue paint."
Tangradi focused on upgrading his strength and speed during the offseason; Fitzgerald believes that it is equally important for him to continue to improve his consistency and practice habits.
"The biggest thing we emphasize in our organization are those habits, details of the game," he said.
Tangradi seems to be learning that, along with a lot of other things, since skating his first pro shift.
"It was an education," Fitzgerald said. "He was taught a lot. He thought, because he was such a good junior player, he would come into the American League and just pick up right where he left off.
"The American Hockey League is the second-best league in the world. It was an eye-opener. But, when he stuck to those foundation keys, he kept developing. Now, he realizes that."
NOTES -- Geoff Walker, Simon Despres and Casey Pierro-Zabotel (two) also scored for the Penguins against Chicago. Penguins goalie Mattias Modig, in his North American debut, allowed seven goals on 19 shots before being replaced by Patrick Killeen. ... The Penguins finished the tournament 2-1.
First Published September 15, 2010 12:00 am