Most of the players that have been featured in this series to date have well known backgrounds, but now we're starting to see some lesser known players show up. Eric Tangradi of the Pittsburgh Penguins is a solid prospect, but he's not really a star in the making, and his bio at this point in his career is pretty thin on details: He was born in Philadelphia, played high school hockey in a private preparatory school outside of Wilkes-Barre Pennsylvania called Wyoming Seminary, before joining the Ontario Hockey League's Belleville Bulls for his draft season. As a rookie in Belleville, he didn't exactly shine: his totals were a modest 5 goals and 20 points for the regular season, but in the playoffs he stepped up in a big way. During a long postseason run, he had 17 points in 15 games, and as a result of his strong finish, to go along with his impressive size at 6'3", 200+ lbs., he shot up the draft rankings to be selected in the 2nd round, 42nd overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2007. The Ducks already had selected one of his Belleville teammates the previous year in Matt Belesky, which probably helped him get noticed by their scouts. In his two years to complete his junior career, Tangradi played more like the playoff breakout star than the struggling rookie, notching 148 points in 111 regular season games, plus 39 in 37 playoff games to finish his career. In his final year, he was named captain of the team, succeeding Belesky, while also participating in the 2009 U20 World Junior Championships on Team USA, where they finished fifth. He had definitely established himself as a player to notice in the junior ranks, and so it may not have come as a surprise that one of the Pennsylvania based NHL teams had him on their radar.
At the 2009 NHL trade deadline, Anaheim traded Tangradi's rights to Pittsburgh along with winger Chris Kunitz for defenseman Ryan Whitney. In the trade, Pittsburgh hoped they had secured a winger to play with Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin for both the present and the future, and the team went on to win the Stanley Cup just months later. Tangradi turned professional, but he wasn't NHL ready just yet. That knowledge of the Wilkes-Barre area from prep school came in quite handy: he was assigned to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League, where he had a solid rookie season with 17 goals and 39 points. He got into the last game of the NHL regular season, against the New York Islanders, on April 11, 2010, as a reward for his efforts. Heading into training camp this season, he was tabbed as a likely candidate to crack the roster with the team, which he did (even though there was some bizarre, salary cap related moves that had to happen first). He got his first career point in Pittsburgh's first win of the season in New Jersey (their 3rd game), and with the team struggling to get their first win at the brand new Consol Energy Center, Tangradi needed to get on the scoresheet again.
And as they say, just put the puck on net, and good things can happen:
The Penguins would go on to win the game in overtime on a goal by Alex Gologoski. While it was a huge moment for Tangradi, the moment only afforded him a temporary reprieve: after nine games, he was sent back to the familiar confines of Wilkes-Barre. It might be for the best of his career, as getting cut after an extended trial like he had is something a lot of long term NHL players have to do. He's yet to dominate at the AHL level, so perhaps that will be the next step before he can take a spot alongside one of Pittsburgh's elite centres. Tangradi has that tempting combination of size and offensive skill that could turn that Kunitz for Whitney trade into a real laugher for the Penguins. He may have kept his skill set a secret to NHL scouts until the most opportune time, but the true tests are what lie ahead for Eric. He'll have to show he can use that skill set on a nightly basis in order to make the jump for good.