Eric Tangradi was familiar with the John Labatt Centre — home of the OHL’s London Knights — courtesy of his three years with the league’s Belleville Bulls. As Tangradi attempts to crack the pro ranks with his second NHL club, starting at the recent Toronto Maple Leafs’ NHL rookie tournament in London, ON was a comforting place to start.
“It’s definitely kind of neat. When you move on from your OHL career you never think that you’re going to find yourself playing in one of the buildings again,” Tangradi said. “But London was always one of my favourite places to play and it’s kind of neat that the tournament ended up being played here this year.”
Tangradi, a 6’4 left winger was drafted with the 42 pick overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. He was obtained in 2009 by the Pittsburgh Penguins as part of the return for Ryan Whitney. A year later the second-round draft pick made his NHL debut — and now he’s hoping for a permanent spot on the Penguins’ roster.
“I don’t think things have really changed [since the trade]. Every summer I try to come in and push myself to make the NHL,” he explained. “Last year I was a little held up because of an injury, but this summer I think I’ve done some good things with my body and I’ve really found my game.
“I think coming into this camp it’s been the first opportunity I’ve had to crack an NHL roster and that’s what I’ve been trying to work on.”
Tangradi, who has shown the foundations of a solid all-around game both in the junior ranks and last year in his first professional season at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, said he wanted to work on his off-ice presence to complement his on-ice abilities, which have seen him score 24 and 38 goals in his last two seasons with the Belleville Bulls, along with 17 goals in the AHL last year.
“I think this is the first year that I was able to come in and take a leadership role,” he explained. “Coming in, this is my fourth rookie camp and I’ve been here two years in Pittsburgh and two years in Anaheim, so I feel like I’ve seen it all.
“You’re just trying to pass on to the younger guys what the team expects from you and just keep it simple and show your stuff. That’s been really important to me – to take on a leadership role.”
John Hynes, Pittsburgh’s AHL club’s head coach and coach of the rookie tournament entry, said he’s noticed the impact of Tangradi’s leadership-building efforts.
“First off all his off-ice leadership has been excellent. The players look up to him and even though he’s a highly regarded player in our organization, he’s got a blue-collar attitude,” Hynes explained. “He’s the first guy on the ice and last one off. He’s great in the locker room and he’s given great direction to our younger players.
“On the ice, you can see his physical maturity. Having a year in the American league last year, he got his first NHL game, so he has some confidence and some moxie out there. He’s really bringing his A game and that says a lot about him.”
Tangradi’s spent the off-season working to put more muscle on his 225-pound frame, believing that it will help him solidify his game. Hynes said that strength — and its application on the ice — is the key to his success.
“He needs to continue to get bigger and stronger. His play around the front of the net has gotten better,” Hynes added. “He needs to be bigger and stronger down low and in the corners because he is a bigger body and he’s still maturing.
“Once he continues to grow and play that style, he’s going to be very effective.”
Now that the skates are back on, Tangradi said he wants to ensure that he can be counted on each and every shift.
“First off it’s definitely consistency, but along with consistency I’ve really pushed myself to get my skating up to the next level and to get stronger,” he said. “I don’t think you can ever get too big or too strong, so I’ve definitely worked hard this summer and I’m feeling pretty confident.”
He said he hopes that confidence extends into his appearance at the Penguins’ training camp — and that it results in finding a long-term home on the Penguins’ roster.
“I have to play the same way in camp that I did here,” Tangradi explained. “I have to have that no-fear mentality and believe that I can play in the NHL. No matter who I’m playing with, whether it’s a pre-season game or practice, I just have to show my stuff.
“If I lay it all out on the line and things don’t work out, I’ll still be happy with myself. If I go into camp tentative and scared and I don’t get a spot, only then will I be disappointed.”