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Tangradi Trades Black and Orange for Black and Gold

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins
Photo by Getty Images
Eric Tangradi, like most hockey youths, tailored his game after his favorite NHL player, which would be Keith Primeau in his case.


“He’s the same size as me,” Tangradi said. “Growing up I always cared about defense because Keith Primeau cared about defense. I always wanted to be a leader because he was a huge leader. I tried to take little things from his game and added it to my game when I was younger.”

Tangradi will never forget May 5/6, 2000. That was when the then 12-year-old Philadelphia native watched the Flyers and Primeau, prevail in a five-overtime playoff contests against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I have a T-shirt that explains that game,” Tangradi said. “I think I fell asleep off and on though.”

That’s understandable considering the game was played well beyond midnight, but he was awake at the 12:01 mark of the eighth period to see his idol, Primeau, net the game-winner.

“Five overtimes, I saw the goal,” Tangradi said. “It was awesome. That’s the one memory I’m sure Pittsburgh fans have of Keith Primeau.”

Fast forward to 2009, Tangradi, 20, now finds himself on the other side of that heated Pennsylvania rivalry after the Penguins traded for the highly-touted prospect. He is the “reverse R.J. Umberger.” Umberger grew up in Pittsburgh but played for Philadelphia. Like Umberger, Tangradi has no qualms about trading allegiances.

“Once you’re drafted you kind of leave your favorite behind and worry about the team that has your rights,” Tangradi said. “The neat thing is that half of my family are huge Penguins fans and the other half are huge Flyers fans. My uncles are trying to drag the whole family into the Penguins’ scheme now. It’s kind of neat. I’m bringing them all together.”

Once you’re drafted you kind of leave your favorite behind and worry about the team that has your rights. The neat thing is that half of my family are huge Penguins fans and the other half are huge Flyers fans. My uncles are trying to drag the whole family into the Penguins’ scheme now. It’s kind of neat. I’m bringing them all together. - Eric Tangradi
Tangradi, Anaheim’s second-round pick in 2007, was a key figure in the Penguins’ late February deal. Pittsburgh picked up Chris Kunitz and Tangradi from the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for defenseman Ryan Whitney.

Tangradi joins Dustin Jeffrey and Luca Caputi in the Penguins organization, giving the team three 20-year-old prospects at the wing position for the future.

“He’s a guy that is really raw,” General Manager Ray Shero said. “But he’s got big time physical ability, really good hands and hockey sense. To add that type of player to our prospect pool I think is very important for us and was a big part of the deal.”

“When I first heard the news it was kind of a shocker and hit me out of nowhere,” Tangradi said. “It’s real exciting news. Pittsburgh is a lot closer to home. I was excited because my family will be able to better track my career down the road.

“When you’re first traded you kind of have some negatives like your one team didn’t want you. At this point, the positives are that Pittsburgh wanted me that much. I’m real comfortable with all the scouts and management there. They all seem like great people.”

Tangradi, who also played for Team USA at the World Juniors Championship, had an impressive season with the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League, finishing eighth in the league in scoring with 38 goals and 50 assists for 88 points despite playing only 55 games.

“He’s a big left winger,” Shero said. “He’s one of the top scorers in the OHL. He’ll be ready to turn pro next year. We’ll take a look at him at development camp but you don’t want to rush these kids too quickly. We’ll see.”

Tangradi is built like a prototypical power forward. He’s stands at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, and uses his size to his advantage. Tangradi likes to play physical, fight for the puck and park himself in front of the net.

“I’m going to play really physical night in and night out,” he said. “My game is to wear defensemen down for 60 minutes and capitalize on my opportunities playing tough and strong.”

“If he’s not playing in a power forward role then I don’t think he’ll be the player that he could be,” Bulls General Manager/Head Coach George Burnett said. “He’s the type of guy that has to be moving in a straight line. He can carry the puck, drive wide on defensemen, take pucks off the cycle and drive to the net. Those are the things that he does very well.”

He’s the type of guy that has to be moving in a straight line. He can carry the puck, drive wide on defensemen, take pucks off the cycle and drive to the net. Those are the things that he does very well. He’s a power guy. When he’s driving, cycling, changing direction and taking the puck hard to the net, he dominates. - George Burnett
“He’s a power guy. When he’s standing still and trying to be a fancy hockey player, he doesn’t have success. He doesn’t do that very often. When he’s driving, cycling, changing direction and taking the puck hard to the net, he dominates.”

Burnett had the pleasure of watching Tangradi mature from an adolescent into the hockey player and man that he is today.

“He came as a 16-year-old kid that didn’t know anything about our league or our team,” Burnett said. “He was living away from home for the first time, learning about physical fitness and how to work and prepare every day. There’s a transition when you come into any league. It’s a new school, new family life, new teammates. He was a key part of a veteran team as a young guy while still finding his way and learning what the league was all about, how hard he had to work and compete every day, how hard he had to practice to prepare. It does take time regardless of how talented you are. He made some great strides.”

“When I came into the league I was more of a perimeter player,” Tangradi said. “I was able to bring all my pieces together. George took me under his wing from start to finish. He tried to turn me into the power forward I could be. I’ve been working harder and harder and was pushed harder and harder by the coaching staff. They’ve made me into the player that I am now.”

Tangradi grew up during his tenure in Belleville and is the Bulls’ captain. His work ethic and experience have helped Tangradi build strong leadership skills.

“He understands the commitments that are necessary,” Burnett said. “He is our captain. He’s our leader both on and off the ice. The guys filter to him and look for his direction. He’s the guy our team follows.”

Photo by Getty Images
Now Tangradi will lead the Bulls in the OHL playoffs. The team faces the Sudbury Wolves in the opening round.

“For Eric, knowing him as I do, I think he’s anxious to lead us to a championship this year and deep into the playoffs for the third year in a row,” Burnett said. “He’s been a big part of each one of those teams. He wants to go out a champion and challenge for Pittsburgh next year.”

Just the thought of possibly playing alongside the talents of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Jordan Staal is inspiring the 20-year-old prospect.

“I’m using that as motivation,” he said. “If I have any inspiration to work this summer, it’s that. They have such a young core of guys, an exciting team and exciting franchise. When you’re in the gym on Monday you can say, ‘Hey, I’m a part of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.’ That will get you through your tough workouts.”

“He’s a guy with a very bright future,” Burnett said. “I think he has a tremendous opportunity and a chance to perform at the National Hockey League level. He has to change his colors from Black and Orange to Black and Gold.”

Tangradi echoed that sentiment:

“I’m over Philly. I’m excited to be in Pittsburgh.”
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