The Penguins made quite a splash when free agency opened on July 1, inking top-tier unrestricted free agent blueliners Zbynek Michalek
and Paul Martin
to five-year deals within hours of the offseason derby’s opening.
|Forward Dustin Jeffrey is making his fourth appearance at development camp. Credit - Getty Images |
While general manager Ray Shero’s moves last week no doubt served notice to the rest of the Eastern Conference that the Penguins plan on maintaining their perch at the top of the standings, what the Penguins did in terms of acquiring personnel also sent a message to some of the younger players within the organization.
Because Shero spent most of the Penguins’ available salary cap space upgrading the backline, there will be a tremendous opportunity available at training camp for some of the team’s young forwards – Eric Tangradi
, Dustin Jeffrey
, Nick Johnson and Mark Letestu – to earn top-line minutes out of the gate.
“There’s a time when we have to give these guys an opportunity,” said Shero at a media conference on July 1 not long after signing Michalek and Martin. “We have guys like Tangradi that should be pushing for a spot. Letestu proved he can do a good job last year. We have Dustin Jeffrey
, Nick Johnson. These guys are deserving of some looks.”
Tangradi and Jeffrey begin the process of staking their claim to those coveted openings on Monday when they join several of the team’s top prospects for a weeklong development camp. Both players realize that regular-season roster spots won’t be won or lost in the upcoming week, but they do know they can use this extra ice time to showcase the areas of their game they have worked all summer to improve in hopes of earning a regular National Hockey League shift.
“For a few guys that are coming into this rookie camp I think first impressions are huge,” Tangradi said. “I think every step along the way is going to be a huge factor in who makes the club. You can’t put too much pressure on yourself, but I think you need to work extremely hard and make the organization happy with how your summer has gone.”
“I really think you can make a good impression,” Jeffrey said. “For guys like myself and Tangradi who have played a year or two in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, we have also helped make our impressions during the season. This is a good chance to come in for a week and do some testing and show everybody where we are at.”
Jeffrey, 22, has watched his game improve in many different facets following each of the four camps he has attended.
Last season the 6-foot-3, 199-pound Jeffrey made the successful transition from his natural center position to the wing. The result was an offensive outburst which saw Jeffrey finish the season ranked 11th (tied) in the AHL scoring race with 71 points (24G-47A) as he took on more of a scoring role for the Baby Penguins.
“I think these camps are a huge help in having success during the season because they run it like they do the main camp and they treat you like a professional,” Jeffrey said. “The way they run the practices allows you to see if you are up to the challenge of meeting that tempo. If you aren’t, it shows you where you need to be when the main camp rolls around in September.”
Because Jeffrey has been to several of these camps before, this year he will once again be asked to serve as one of the unofficial leaders for the younger players who might be nervous attending for the first time. It’s a role Jeffrey, who addressed all of the campers early in the week last year, eagerly welcomes.
“Having been through two full seasons in WBS and four development camps, I think for sure I am going to be among the guys they are going to look for to push the younger players,” Jeffrey said. “There are a lot of guys who haven’t been around the organization before and sometimes it’s easier to ask a peer than a trainer or coach.”
Tangradi will be making his second consecutive appearance at development camp. He credits last year’s camp, which was his first organized team activity with the Penguins organization following his February 2009 acquisition from Anaheim, as one of the key factors in his having a good offensive season this past season with the Penguins’ top minor-league affiliate in WBS.
The 21-year-old Tangradi, who projects as a power forward at the NHL level thanks to an impressive 6-foot-4, 221-pound frame, is coming off of a rookie campaign which saw him improve dramatically throughout the course of a season where he put up 17 goals and 39 points 65 games with WBS.
“Coming to camp last year helped me because it showed me how they practice in Pittsburgh and in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton,” Tangradi said. “It’s nice because you get to meet your teammates and they also have expectations waiting for you right off the bat. It’s a great learning experience before you officially become a part of the organization.”
Tangradi, who scored five goals over his final 10 games and made his NHL debut in the Penguins’ season finale against the New York Islanders, believes the off-ice training and seminars that are a significant part of development camp helped prepare him for the grind of his first professional season.
“The team sets you up with as many off-ice resources as they can and I think that is important, especially for the young kids coming in because they haven’t experienced the media and the full effect of the mental aspect of the game,” Tangradi said. “I think those things open some eyes and give you a sense of what the NHL is really like.”