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The Veteran

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Eric Tangradi may be just 22 years old. But this week, he’s an old soul.

That’s because Tangradi is currently attending his third Penguins prospect development camp (and the fifth of his career, as he participated in two similar camps with Anaheim in 2007 and 2008), which began today and runs through Saturday at CONSOL Energy Center.

Eric Tangradi played in 16 games with Pittsburgh last season, and hopes to mentor his fellow prospects with the knowledge he's accumulated over the years. (Credit - Getty Images)
With a smorgasbord of familiarity with situations like these, the young winger is relishing the role of experienced veteran.

“There’s a lot of new young faces, and with this being my third year here, I think it’s my job and my role to be a leader,” he said. “I’m just trying to make them comfortable and make them feel good about the whole situation.”

It’s been a few years since Tangradi attended his first camp, but he vividly remembers the anxiety that came along with it – after all, being invited to a camp run by an NHL organization is a huge step in most players’ careers.

There’s plenty of pressure that comes with being unwaveringly watched and evaluated by those within the Penguins organization while simultaneously adjusting to unfamiliar people and surroundings and processing a whole lot of information on how to be a professional hockey player.

“I know how I felt when I first came in,” Tangradi said. “I didn't know anybody. You’re nervous and you’re worried. So you just try to calm the kids down and just let them know that this isn’t a tryout, it’s just kind of like an orientation.”

Last season, Tangradi made Pittsburgh’s roster out of training camp and played the first eight games of the season with the Penguins before being sent back to WBS.

He later earned another opportunity to join the parent club in February, and although he was sidelined for 16 games with a concussion shortly after, Tangradi remained in Pittsburgh for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs.

He spent that entire time watching how his teammates in Pittsburgh conducted themselves both on and off the ice. Now Tangradi will get the chance to take all of that accumulated knowledge and experience and use it to mentor his fellow Penguins prospects, like camp roommate Josh Archibald, the organization's sixth-round pick (174th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach John Hynes, one of the instructors at this year’s camp, emphasized how beneficial it is for young players like Tangradi to undertake such prominent roles at camps like these.

There’s a lot of new young faces, and with this being my third year here, I think it’s my job and my role to be a leader. I’m just trying to make them comfortable and make them feel good about the whole situation. - Eric Tangradi, on his role at this year's prospect camp
“We like that those guys are going to be leaders,” Hynes said of Tangradi and the other experienced camp attendees. “It’s a different role for them, because if they’re younger guys that come up to Pittsburgh, they have the experience of learning from (Sidney) Crosby, (Brooks) Orpik, (Evgeni) Malkin, (Kris) Letang and all of those types of players on what their work ethic is like, how they practice, how they approach the game and how we play.

“This is a good opportunity for a guy like Eric Tangradi, who has been through the camps and understands how we want to do things and what type of systems we want to play. But more importantly, (he understands) the attributes we want to have in our players. It’s a good situation for him to take on that leadership role and be able to lead by example on and off the ice.”

So although he's been through all of this numerous times, Tangradi certainly isn't snoozing through any of the seminars. He knows the Penguins have high expectations for him and he wants to fulfill them to the best of his ability.

“I have to be front row with my eyes wide open and a big smile,” he joked. “So no sleeping for me. A lot of the information is repetitive, but when you pay attention and show that you’re interested – which I am – I think the other kids start to appreciate that it is a value of being a professional athlete.

“Any time you put the sweater on, you’re representing the organization and yourself. I think today went very well. I had my testing, and I think that’s an indicator of how much I want to be here. As far as the skates go, as long as I progress throughout the week I think I’ll be happy and I think they’ll be as well.”

But when it’s all said and done, what’s Tangradi’s main message to the other prospects?

“That everyone in this organization is not going to be satisfied unless you play in the NHL,” he said. “I mean, every single guy from (assistant to the general manager) Tom Fitzgerald to (general manager) Ray Shero – they picked you (to be here) for a reason. You’re here for a reason, and that’s to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins. So it’s nice to know that there are people around you whose ultimate goal is to get you in the NHL.”
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