Tangradi's chance looms with Penguins, but so does lockout in NHL
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Eric Tangradi has looked over the depth chart and recognizes the opportunity it could give him.
He just has no way of knowing when -- or whether -- it will happen.
The Penguins roster, as currently constituted, looks to be down at least one top-six winger, likely on Sidney Crosby's left side.
That's a role Tangradi would like to get a chance to fill, but if the league locks out its players in eight days, as seems virtually certain, his aspirations would go on hold, just like everything else associated with the 2012-13 season.
"I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life and I'm coming off a pretty positive season, really earning some [NHL] games, earning some time in the lineup," Tangradi said Thursday. "The way the depth chart looks, it looks like there's a good opportunity, if I show the coaching staff, to play here."
Tangradi said coach Dan Bylsma and his assistants haven't informed him of their plans, but unless there is a major acquisition before training camp opens, he should be in line for an audition.
To this point in his NHL career, Tangradi's most impressive statistics are his vital ones -- he's listed as being 6 feet 4, 221 pounds.
He clearly has the size to be a power forward and has been touted as such since long before the Penguins acquired him, along with left winger Chris Kunitz, from Anaheim for defenseman Ryan Whitney in 2009.
He has had a limited impact at this level, however, with just one goal and four assists in 40 NHL appearances. That has prompted some segments of the fan base to dismiss his chances to be a significant contributor in coming seasons, even though he is just 23.
To put Tangradi's age into perspective, consider that Kevin Stevens -- who went on to become a 55-goal man in the NHL -- spent 45 games with Muskegon in the International Hockey League when he was 23.
The success Stevens had in subsequent seasons obviously doesn't guarantee that Tangradi has a few 50-plus goal seasons in his future, but Stevens' career arc reinforces the idea that bigger players sometimes need more time to develop than others.
That reality hasn't stopped some blogs and other non-traditional media outlets from writing him off as an underachiever who never will merit more than a footnote in the organization's plans.
Tangradi acknowledges having read some scalding critiques, and said, "I'd be lying if I told you I haven't felt that pressure," that comes from being a target of them. He added that he no longer subjects himself to caustic evaluations of his work.
"I've made a pact with myself that I'm done looking at those things," he said.
Tangradi actually got solid reviews for his two most recent NHL performances, which came in the opening-round playoff series against Philadelphia this past spring.
They were perhaps his most impressive showings in the league so far, as he recorded an assist, three shots, five hits and a blocked shot in less than 16 1/2 minutes of playing time. Tangradi wasn't a dominant presence in those games, but neither was it entirely a coincidence that the Penguins got their only victories of the series when he was in the lineup.
At the very least, Games 4 and 5 against the Flyers provided a template for the way Tangradi can be effective at this level.
"I definitely feel like I was a factor," he said. "In the playoffs, there's always more physicality, less space, and those are areas in which I feel like I excel, being a big body and throwing the body around, being able to drive and create space for other players.
"If I can translate that energy and the way I played in the playoffs to an every-day game, I can see myself being here."
Tangradi's offseason priorities included lowering his body fat and upgrading his quickness, both of which could pay off when games finally begin. That's particularly true of his first few skating strides, which have been a soft spot.
"Those first three steps are always something I can improve on," he said. "If I get those to another level, it could help me, offensively and defensively, in the NHL."
No question about that. The only major uncertainty is when Tangradi will get a chance to measure the progress he has made against NHL-caliber competition.
"It definitely would be a shame if there's a halt to the season," he said. "Because we all want hockey."
First Published September 7, 2012 12:00 am