Lacing Up: Down on the Farm
The late Ashley Gallant was the originator of “Lacing Up,” and its reincarnation is in her honor. Each week, Matt Bodenschatz, Zach Boslett, and, at times, guest writers will hold a week-long email discussion, which will be published on FF.
Zach Boslett: So the winning streak is over in Pittsburgh and 24/7 has debuted. What else is there to live for? Jason Iacona from Chirps from Center Ice is here to help pass the time until the next Penguin game by discussing some of the players we will be seeing in Pittsburgh over the next few years.
So Jason, the “Big Dog” Eric Tangradi has come alive has he not?
Jason Iacona: I think his hat trick vs. the Toronto Marlies on December 8 was his breakout game. Before that game, Tango only had 4 goals. Since, 7 goals. I think he was buying into the hype that many in Pittsburgh believed, that he was NHL ready at the start of the year. I think personally the AHL demotion stunned him a bit. After the NHL hangover of sorts wore off, he is a scoring threat nearly every time he steps on the ice for Wilkes-Barre. Something that will get him back in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.
Zach: Was it an attitude problem that could become an issue in the future or was it just an adjustment period?
And what more can be said about Dustin Jeffrey? He is an all-world player at the AHL level but he has not quite impressed at the NHL level even with a 2 point game in his first game this season. What are your thoughts on him? Can he become a top 6 forward on the wing at the NHL level?
Jason: Adjustment probably. Eric is an extremely smart player. He is doing what is asked of him here in Wilkes-Barre, paying his dues so to speak. I think he would certainly be in the NHL if he wasn’t in Pittsburgh’s system.
I think that if you score a NHL goal in your first game on call-up you have impressed. Dustin’s biggest problem isn’t that he lacks skill or size, rather it’s the fact that he still is on an entry level contract with Pittsburgh and is just buried on the depth chart as a matter of happenstance. If the guys in front of him get banged up or under perform, then Jeffrey is most likely the first call-up. If you ask me right now who on Wilkes-Barre is most NHL ready, I think Dustin Jeffrey is first on the list every day. As far as him being a top 6 in The Show, that is all up to him. I certainly think that he has the skill set because in the games I have watched him play in Pittsburgh he has not looked out of place.
Zach: Interesting that you bring up the fact that Tangradi would be in the NHL in another organization… but don’t the NHL Penguins need young, skilled players on the wing? Should Evgeni Malkin really be playing with Matt Cooke and Arron Asham night in and night out? Is that fair to a player of his skill level to be playing with grinding agitators?
Shouldn’t Jeffrey/Tangradi be able to break into the NHL on a team like the Penguins that is so starved at wing easier than another team with more balance at the forward positions?
Jason: For sure. Which is why I am bracing myself for next year here in Wilkes-Barre knowing full well that neither Tangradi or Jeffrey will be here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I think that it’s all veteran stability in Cooke and Asham vs. what two untested rookies can do. Make Tangradi and Jeffrey prove they can dominate a step below the NHL and then bring them in full time in 2011-12. Just like what they did with Alex Goligoski a few years ago.
Zach: Would it hurt to try Jeffrey at wing with Malkin for more than a few shifts? I notice he did get some penalty killing time which is fitting for the AHL leader in shorthanded goals.
What about Robert Bortuzzo? Do you think he has a chance to beat out Despres for a roster spot next year? I am not content with the Engelland/Lovejoy combination as the 6th defensemen so I was curious what your thoughts were for that situation come next season. Obviously Bortuzzo has more offensive upside than Engelland and more nasty to his game than Lovejoy… thoughts?
Jason Next time Jeffrey goes up, I think so. Trial by fire. See what Dustin can do with talent better than him.
Was hoping you’d ask me about Bortuzzo. It is an absolute joy watching Robert develop. I think that within the next two years Bortuzzo will be a mainstay on the defensive blueline for Pittsburgh.
With Andrew Hutchinson out of our lineup now due to injury, Bortuzzo has been the best defenseman night in and night out. For your readers who may not be familiar, he is a defensive defenseman. He is not going to fill up the score sheet, but will usually be on the ice when a goal is scored for Wilkes-Barre. His +11 is second on the team so far.
Contracts being what they are, don’t be surprised if Pittsburgh brings in a veteran defenseman again next year to let Bortuzzo continue to hone his skills on the farm. As far as Despres goes, I have not seen him play live yet so I can’t give you an assessment on his skill set yet.
Zach: Good to hear on Bortuzzo. Do you think he would be an upgrade on Engelland/Lovejoy as early as next year?
Any other players you want to give a shout out to that have greatly improved?
Jason: Question becomes can Bortuzzo take in true NHL heavyweights? He did fight Binghamton’s Francis Lessard this year, but by his own admission did not know of Lessard’s fight card. So as an upgrade to “enforcer” which is a role I see Engelland filling, no. An upgrade over Lovejoy? I cant really say.
Joe Vitale is a guy you will see eventually in my estimation. Tim Wallace is way overdue also. In a few years Keven Veilleux will also turn heads in Pittsburgh. Nick Johnson I think can be as good or better than Jeffrey if you just give him time.
Zach: Do you really think Johnson at almost 25 years old will get more time than the 22 year old Jeffrey when Jeffrey has accomplished much more and has stayed healthier? I personally don’t see it.
Jason: See if Johnson can stay healthy, I think he can be as good as Jeffrey if not better. When Jeffrey was up in Pittsburgh, it was Johnson who carried the lion share of work in Dustin’s absence. He scored 3 goals.
At the beginning of the year, Johnson was more NHL ready in my opinion than Jeffrey. Do I still think that now 30 games in? Not necessarily but it still makes a great barstool conversation that given the opportunity, he could be.