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Can Eric Tangradi make the leap for Pittsburgh?

Sep 11, 2011, 3:15 PM EST

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Eric Tangradi Getty Images

When Eric Tangradi joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Ryan Whitney-Chris Kunitz trade with Anaheim in 2009, the former 2007 second round pick seemed like a bonus steal. After all, the Penguins got what they needed in Kunitz, a useful left winger, and made room for other defenseman by sending Whitney to the Ducks, but Tangradi offered hope of adding their first power forward at left wing since Kevin Stevens.

Last season saw its ups and downs for Tangradi as he spent most of the year in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and when he did get a shot with the Penguins, he was knocked out of action with a concussion thanks to a reckless and dangerous elbow from Islanders forward Trevor Gillies. After recovering from that injury and with training camp ready to go, Tangradi has the opportunity to make an impression in camp and to prove he can play full time in the NHL.

NHL.com’s Erin Nicks caught up with Tangradi to see how he’s doing after his head injury and what his thoughts are heading into training camp.

“There have definitely been no side effects from the injury,” he said. “If anything, it’s made me stronger and more aware when I’m out on the ice. You have to keep your head up at all times. You never know where contact is going to come from. Situations like that, you can’t really dwell on it. You have to learn from everything that the League throws at you and it was an unfortunate situation, but it’s something that I’ve tried to turn into a positive and make better.”

Meanwhile, Tangradi still has to show the Pittsburgh staff that he’s ready to make the next step, and he’s aware of the improvements still required.

“I have such a big frame and I was a bit passive on the perimeter,” he said. “I really have to make an effort to get to the net and owning the blue paint a little bit more. And if that means banging in rebounds or distracting goalies, that’s all part of the plan.”

Playing that sort of role in Pittsburgh could help make Tangradi the thing of legend in the Steel City. With the addition of Steve Sullivan to the Penguins this season, it’s clear the Pens are still looking for guys to step up and complement Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby (eventually), and Jordan Staal. While they’ve gotten solid work from Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, and James Neal getting a little bit extra never hurts.

While Kunitz plays a slick game and Neal is a smooth scorer, Tangradi could provide the muscle and drive to the net the Penguins are lacking from their other forwards. At just 22 years-old, Tangradi is still awfully young and could still start the year in the AHL, but at 6’4″ 220 pounds that kind of forward bulk with a nose for the net is hard to find. If Tangradi can become that power forward, the Penguins will just have another weapon at their disposal. Just what the rest of the league was hoping to hear.

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