Penguins: Tangradi will flourish in AHL
TAMPA, Fla. -- Late on Monday afternoon, left wing Eric Tangradi returned a phone call from Tom Fitzgerald, and the Penguins' top prospect and assistant to the general manager talked about the future.
That future will continue in the AHL.
Tangradi and defenseman Andrew Hutchinson were re-assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton yesterday morning. Those were moves made to clear salary-cap space for the recent return of defenseman Brooks Orpik and the regular-season debut Wednesday night of right wing Arron Asham against Tampa Bay.
Hutchinson, who was with the Penguins on an emergency basis, is a veteran familiar with the back-and-forth life of an NHL fringe player.
Going to the minors only a few weeks after convincingly winning a roster spot with a stout training camp is a new experience for Tangradi. It is one Fitzgerald planned to put into proper context during their chat.
"He mirrors my career," Fitzgerald said, referring to 23-, 19- and 27-game stints he played with the New York Islanders before becoming an NHL regular in 1991.
"I didn't like being sent down, but playing in those situations the Islanders couldn't play me in because they were fighting for playoff spots really helped get me ready to play in those situations when I became a regular in the NHL."
Consensus within the Penguins' hockey operations front office is that Tangradi showed during training camp and over nine regular-season games that he will be an everyday player at the highest level - and sooner rather than later.
"He had enough success to know he can play at this level and play an important role, but more importantly he also gained awareness of how competitive it is on a day-to-day basis," said Dan MacKinnon, the team's director of player personnel.
"For him to be able to go (to the AHL) and contribute as a first-line player will probably help him. It's all part of the process you see with teams lucky enough to have our depth, teams that really make use of sending young players down."
That model has worked wonderfully for the Detroit Red Wings, whose current starting goalie, Jimmy Howard, spent parts of four seasons in the AHL -- with only spot starts in the NHL -- before replacing veteran Chris Osgood as the No. 1 last season.
Tangradi, 21, scored a goal and played several games on a second scoring line to open his second professional season. That experience is one the Penguins hope will lead him to a dominant showing with a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton squad that early in the AHL season has looked like a Calder Cup favorite.
"At camp he was excellent in bringing his game every night. He was a factor in front of the net. He wasn't deferring to the people he was playing with. He was driving to the net, taking the puck there with purpose," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
"That's got to be his focus every game, every shift he gets. His play probably got a little tentative in the regular season, but that's not uncommon with a young player."
Four years ago, neither defenseman Kris Letang nor winger Tyler Kennedy began the season with the Penguins after strong camps. Their promotions came during that season.
General manager Ray Shero said Tangradi can look to the experiences of those players as a blueprint for how to handle this portion of his young career.
"There are no red flags with him," Shero said, adding he was impressed with Tangradi's decision to spend his summer in Pittsburgh to train with the coaching staff.
"He earned his way onto our team, and he will earn his way again."Additional Information:
Demotions can help
Left wing Eric Tangradi was re-assigned to the AHL on Monday. He can look to these former Penguins as examples of prospects who starred for the team after early-career demotions:
Loaned four times to Muskegon (IHL) during 1988-89 season, playing 45 games in the minors after starting and finishing with the Penguins.
He became an NHL regular in 1989-90, scoring 29 goals in 27 games that season. The next year he began a run of four straight 40-goal campaigns.
He split his first pro season with Muskegon (IHL) and the Penguins, playing only 15 games in the NHL in 1988-89.
He became an NHL regular in 1989-90, finishing second among league rookies in goals (30) and third in points (67). The next season he scored 30 goals and recorded 113 points for the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
Sources: Pittsburgh Penguins media guide archives; Hockeydb.com
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