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Tangradi confidence soaring under new regime in Winnipeg

| Thursday, April 3, 2014, 7:42 p.m.
Winnipeg Jets' Eric Tangradi (27) gets the puck poked away by Phoenix Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23), of Sweden, as Coyotes' Mike Ribeiro (63) looks on during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — If Eric Tangradi can survive this past winter, maybe there is hope for him yet.

Tangradi, the former Penguins left wing who once was considered a legitimate option to play alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, has endured an eye-opening few months with the Jets. And through it all, he has emerged in perhaps the best form of his NHL career.

“It's time for winter to end,” Tangradi said, referencing the multiple feet of snow still on the Winnipeg ground.

Technically, winter has ended, but Tangradi has had to overcome plenty. He wrecked his automobile numerous times on the Winnipeg roads, and his car battery died three times during the winter.

And then, Winnipeg replaced coach Claude Noel with Paul Maurice. As a player still attempting to establish himself in the NHL, Tangradi said he badly wanted to impress his new coach, but the power forward from Philadelphia came down with a severe case of the flu.

“It was pretty hard for him to get an assessment of my game,” Tangradi said.

Tangradi's game, though, is finally starting to mature.

He has scored two goals in his past eight games and has started using his body more, something the Jets have made a priority for the 6-foot-4, 221-pound winger.

Along the way, Tangradi has grabbed Maurice's attention.

“He was faster, more physical,” Maurice said of Tangradi's performance after returning from a 20-day absence because of the illness.

“He is starting to differentiate himself from that pack we had competing for the fourth line.”

Left wing Chris Kunitz goes back longer than anyone on the Penguins with Tangradi. The two were traded together in 2009 from Anaheim in return for defenseman Ryan Whitney.

Kunitz barely knew Tangradi in Anaheim — Tangradi still played for Belleville (Ontario Hockey League) then — but Kunitz believes the 25-year-old still possesses potential.

“He just can't go far away from where he needs to be,” said Kunitz, explaining that the simpler Tangradi keeps his game, the more effective he will be.

“He's got that big body.”

Tangradi said the coaching change to Maurice has been positive.

“With Claude, it was a lot different,” Tangradi said.

“Pittsburgh played the game a lot faster than we used to (under Noel). But I think I've always been someone who, when I'm forced to play quicker, it makes me a better player. This system forces you to play fast.”

Expectations for Tangradi aren't what they once were. The Penguins, at one point, believed Tangradi had the ability to become an impact NHL power forward.

Winnipeg's coaching staff isn't sure how high Tangradi's ceiling is.

“He's forechecking hard and controlling the puck in the offensive zone,” Maurice said. “He's capable of doing that, rattling bodies and making plays, and that's what we want.”

Tangradi doesn't particularly like the Winnipeg weather, but he likes playing for the Jets and thinks he has found a home. He feels like his game is better than it has ever been, too.

“I think I've got the most confidence I've had in a while,” he said.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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