Eric Tangradi: A Bust At Age 23?
When Ray Shero was loading up for a Stanley Cup run with new interim head coach Dan Bylsma in 2009, he made two huge moves at the trade deadline (or thereabouts). The most exciting one was acquiring Bill Guerin from the New York Islanders to guide the young team through the rigors of playoff hockey. Then he sent much-maligned defensemen Ryan Whitney to the Anaheim Ducks for left winger Chris Kunitz. The acquisitions joined Sidney Crosby on the ice form a potent scoring line throughout the postseason. But that trade with the Anaheim Ducks also netted the Penguins 19-year-old Eric Tangradi, a huge power winger who was at the time playing for the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League.
It feels like Tangradi has been with the Penguins forever, and some fans are getting impatient with his development. In three seasons of NHL appearances, he’s managed a paltry five points in 40 games. These aren’t the point totals you expect from a young player who is supposed to be destined for Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin’s wing. The refrain from Tangradi’s defenders has been his AHL dominance (even if his scoring is a little streaky), his steady improvement, and the fact that power forwards take a longer time to develop into NHL players.
“Power forward” is a bit of a vague term, but we’re going to use it as a term for any strong, physical forward with reasonable scoring ability, and we’re going to see where Tangradi is compared to some established NHL players who fit that description
Again, Eric Tangradi appeared in one game (no points) as a 20-year-old, 15 games (3 points) at age 21, and 24 games (2 points) at age 22.
So where were the best power forwards in the game at that point in their careers? Rick Nash played in the NHL at ages 21 and 22, and amassed a whopping 111 points in those two seasons. Wow, sure puts Tango to shame. Jarome Iginla, in three seasons from 20-22, scored 146 points. Nathan Horton had 171. It’s safe to say Eric Tangradi isn’t on the same pace as those superstars.
But there are other offensive stars like Shane Doan or David Backes. Backes first cracked an NHL lineup at 22, when he scored 23 points in 49 games. Doan averaged five goals and ten assists per year in his early twenties. Not eye-popping numbers from the veteran star.
Then again, maybe he won’t be a superstar who carries his team’s offense. He doesn’t need to if he’s with the Penguins. He could be more of a complementary player, like the man he was acquired with. Chris Kunitz, though not terribly large, plays a robust physical game. And when he was 22 years old… he wouldn’t even play in his first NHL game for two more years. At age 24, Chris Kunitz scored 6 points (all assists) in 21 games with the Mighty Ducks. Obviously, he has blossomed since then and has established himself as an integral part of a good hockey team.
Other players who fit that mold include guys like Dustin Penner, who scored 7 points in 19 games as a 23-year-old, or Ryane Clowe, who played in 18 games at the same age and managed two whole assists. All of these players have gotten better since those meager beginnings.
Age 23 seems to be a popular coming-out year for this sort of NHL players. Eric Tangradi is 23 right now. The Penguins have an open spot in their top six. Given that Tangradi already has more NHL experience than half of those players did at his age, how do you not give him an extended chance to play alongside two of the game’s greatest players at this point in his career?
Maybe he’ll click and it will be his breakout performance in the NHL. Maybe he’ll falter and be relegated to bottom-line checking duties or sent back to the AHL. But given the history of players like him in the recent past, it should be clear that Eric Tangradi has yet to define his young career. He should have his chance when the NHL comes back.
I have a hunch he might make the most of it.
Brian can be found on Twitter, @BlitzburghBrian