Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Eric Tangradi positioned himself atop the Hershey crease as teammate Beau Bennett looped behind the Bears goal and into the low circle. Bennett snapped a shot toward the net through a screen provided by Tangradi. Bears goalie Dany Sabourin made the save. However, Tangradi located the puck between his skates and lifted it over Sabourin’s shoulder and into the goal for a power-play score to tie the game late in the third period.
Plays like that have become very typical for Tangradi this season. He leads WBS with 10 goals on the season, but his biggest area of contribution has been on the man-advantage. Tangradi tops the club with six power-play goals, many in a similar fashion.
“He’s scored most of his goals within five feet of the net,” WBS head coach John Hynes said. “He’s done a great job of creating traffic, creating screens and from those screens and rebound situations he’s been able to score. He has quick hands and a high compete level.”
Tangradi has molded himself into a perfect net-front presence on the power play. He certainly has the frame for it, standing at 6-foot-4, 232 pounds. But just having a big body doesn’t make a player a strong net-front presence. There are a lot of intangibles that go with that role, and Tangradi has learned and improved in those small arts.
“Before I thought having a net-front presence was just screening the goalie,” he said. “Now I think it’s important to win those battles behind the net and release pressure for guys up top. I think that’s a part of my game that’s improved and has made our power play more successful.”
Tangradi joined the Penguins organization in a trade from Anaheim that included forward Chris Kunitz in exchange for defenseman Ryan Whitney in February, 2009. Kunitz helped the Penguins win their third Stanley Cup title in team history and Tangradi, the Ducks’ second-round pick (42nd overall) in the 2007 NHL Draft, was a highly touted prospect.
Tangradi, a Philadelphia native, was a force in the Ontario Hockey League while playing for the Belleville Bulls. In his final season in 2008-09 he posted 88 points (38G-50A) in 55 games and an amazing 21 points (8G-13A) in 16 postseason contests.
The following season Tangradi made the jump to pro hockey with WBS. Over the past three-plus years he has been a regular in the team’s lineup, and has even appeared in 40 games in the NHL over that stretch with Pittsburgh.
“I’m a fourth-year pro. I’m very familiar with pro hockey at this point,” he said. “In the past I’ve excelled at a few things and hadn’t been up to par in others. I’m finally confident that I rounded my game off a little bit. Playing with that confidence has helped me in all areas of the ice.”
Tangradi was red hot to start the season with six goals in his first eight games. Although his production hasn’t quite kept that incredible pace, he has continued to improve in other facets of his game.
“His goals are a bonus, but the way that he plays the game, he’s been very consistent,” Hynes said. “He’s using his assets. He’s a step faster. He has a lot of drive to his game. He’s very strong on the puck. He’s getting in on the forecheck. He’s a physical presence. He’s got a great attitude and has a leadership role on the bench. It’s a combination of what he brings to the table. He brings a different level of commitment and maturity. That's been the biggest difference this year.”
"I feel like my skating has gotten better. My awareness on the ice is in a good spot right now,” Tangradi said. “I got off to a good start personally, playing the way I like to play, straight lines up and down. For a while I was slumping a little bit, hadn’t gotten on the board. That’s an element of my game that I’d like to improve."
Tangradi understands that while scoring goals are important, doing all the little things and rounding out his game are equally important and often result in more production.
“What I’ve learned is that when I do all the little things right, the production does come,” he said. “When I try to think about goals and assists then my game declines. When I’m playing simple hockey, a north-south game, that’s what makes me affective and will make me score goals.”
Tangradi's play has caught the attention of the coaching staff in Pittsburgh.
“He’s been dominant down low,” Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma said. “He’s been hard to handle around the net. You’ve seen that materialize in the power-play goals that he’s gotten and leading the team in goals. I think if you watch the games, he’s really distinguished himself as one of the better power players (in the AHL). You see that almost night after night. He’s been a real leader in that regard.”