|Top prospect Eric Tangradi has picked up 11 goals and 27 points in 47 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguin.
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Forgive Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins rookie forward Eric Tangradi
if he felt a bit jaded earlier in the 2009-10 season. After overcoming more serious injuries over a seven month period than he had his entire career, could you blame him?
Tangradi, a prized power-forward prospect whom the Penguins acquired from the Anaheim Ducks along with Chris Kunitz
in exchange for Ryan Whitney on Feb. 26, 2009, has battled back from his injuries and is playing his most consistent hockey of the season.
Tangradi’s rash of injuries began when he suffered a major forearm injury while playing for the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey league during the 2009 postseason. A tendon just below the thumb on his left hand was severed when he was cut by a skate. The injury ended his season prematurely, while also hampering his offseason training regimen.
“I was only able to get two months of workouts in, and I usually get three or four,” Tangradi said. “It was a little bit of a setback. I was able to adjust and had a really good two months at the end of the summer. It definitely set me back a little bit.”
After working hard the entire offseason, and having a great training camp with the Penguins in September, Tangradi promptly was knocked from the lineup three games into his rookie campaign with a shoulder injury.
Instead of dwelling on his luck, Tangradi used his experience on the sidelines as a positive. He says it definitely taught him that you can ever let your guard down on the ice, something he feels might have contributed to the shoulder injury, which occurred when he was hit and landed awkwardly in the corner of an Oct. 10 game versus Bridgeport.
“I have had more injuries the past seven months than I have had my entire career,” Tangradi said. “It was definitely tough on me. It helped me become mentally stronger from it. My preparation is a little bit different for game.
“Playing against bigger and stronger players, you can never let your guard down for even a single second during your shift or things like that can happen. It has taught me to remained focus and dialed in on every shift.”
Since his return in early November, Tangradi has improved his offense and his play away from the puck exponentially as he has gotten more and more used to playing in the professional ranks.
“It has been a big adjustment because at times I was able to have my way in junior and now I am up against men,” Tangradi said. “You always have to be tough and sharp every night.”
After bouncing around the lineup at the beginning of the season as WBS went through various injuries and call-ups, Tangradi has spent a majority of the second half of the season playing with fellow rookie Joe Vitale
and veteran Tim Wallace. Tangradi says it’s the perfect trio because they all play a similar north-south game.
“They are really good guys to play with because they play a simple game,” he said. “We play a crash and bang brand of hockey and try to score dirty goals whenever we can. We have been able to contribute as of late.”
Tangradi’s contributions on the season include 11 goals and 27 points in 47 games, the seventh-best total on the team. More importantly, his numbers have improved each month as he has become more and more comfortable at the AHL level.
Since Jan. 1, Tangradi has picked up points in 15 of 21 games, including four goals and 17 points. Tangradi credits his improvement to coming to the rink and not worrying about his personal statistics, but instead focusing on improving all facets of his game each day before the leaves the rink. He adds that it also helps that having a half-season of experience under his belt has helped teach him what parts of his game he can carry over from junior.
“I didn’t know how I was going to be mentally or physically,” Tangradi said. I’m starting to figure out that I can do things in the offensive zone that I was able to do in juniors. There are different ways to adjust your body and get in front of the net. I am starting to learn how to use my body.”
That’s something that has to be music to Penguins’ management’s ears because at 6-foot-4, 221 pounds, there are few hockey players with the size, strength and hands combination possessed by Tangradi, who tallied 38 times in 55 games last season with Belleville.
Some of Tangradi’s best work with Belleville came on the man-advantage, where his big frame was an asset down along the goal line and on the top of the crease, where smaller defensemen had trouble clearing him away.
“I think I did my best work along the goal line back in junior,” Tangradi said. “I think I am pretty effective there. I am a guy who likes to spin off defenders and create chances where I can beat defenders one-on-one.”
At WBS, Tangradi has been used more to create traffic in front of the cage, which he says might be more where he belongs long term, especially when he gets to Pittsburgh.
Speaking of Tangradi playing in Pittsburgh, fans have been dreaming of him one day flanking Sidney Crosby
ever since the Penguins acquired him. These are expectations Tangradi does not shy away from.
“It is definitely some added pressure, but to be able to add that to your motivation is huge,” Tangradi said. “When people think that about you, it just motivates you to live up to the hype and try to become that player. It doesn’t come over night so you have to work at it and stick to the game plan.”
Crosby and Tangradi gave a brief glimpse of just how lethal they might be together down the road when they played together on the same line in the Penguins’ exhibition opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sept. 15. Tangradi set up two Crosby tallies as the Penguins overcame a 3-0 deficit to win 5-4 in overtime.
“From practicing and playing the game with him, I think we got off to a great start,” Tangradi said. “Hopefully sometime down the road we can build a chemistry for a few years to come.”Make sure to check PittsburghPenguins.com next weekend (Feb. 27-28) for updates on your favorite Wilkes-Barre/Scranton prospects as we spend the weekend with the Penguins’ top minor-league affiliate.