Eric Tangradi has had a rough past two years.

Two years ago this spring, Tangradi cut open his hand in a Memorial Cup Playoff Game shortly after being traded to the Penguins. He missed the rest of the playoffs and most of his offseason training after getting surgery to repair damage to his hand.

At prospect camp at the end of July, Tangradi could barely hold his stick and could not attempt a slap shot.

As a result, Tangradi was entering his first professional season at a disadvantage by being 4 months behind his competition in his training and starting his pro career with a weak hand.

Shortly after starting his season, Tangradi hurt his shoulder and missed some time and took a long time to heal. Then, just as he was heating up, he got cross checked from behind into the post and got a concussion.

Tangradi eventually returned and was the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ best forward in their disappointing playoff series against Albany.

This season, Tangradi started the season in the NHL after having a good preseason playing on a line with Mike Comrie and Evgeni Malkin. Comrie and Malkin both got injured early on and Tangradi was eventually relegated to the 4th line and eventually the AHL.

He then takes some time to re-find his game and earned a spot on the AHL All Star Team. The injury bug struck Pittsburgh and Tangradi found himself in the NHL once again and looked much better – more physical, stronger, confident around the net and with the puck.

Then, as we all know, Trevor Gillies took it upon himself to end his season.

Now the fickle Penguin fan may be exasperated with Tangradi but one must realize that having 3 severe injuries resulting from fluke plays and cheap shots can slow any player down – just ask Sidney Crosby.

Penguin fans are a spoiled bunch. They have seen Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, and Staal all break into the NHL at the age of 18. They now have a 23-year-old Norris Trophy Candidate in Kris Letang. These players are the exceptions – not the rule.

Prospects need time to hone their craft in the AHL or college in order to succeed at the NHL level. Power forward prospects like Tangradi take even longer to develop. Look at Ryan Malone. He was considered a disappointment until his breakout season next to Malkin and Petr Sykora.

Tangradi can now go one of two ways: the Matthias route or the Pacioretty route.

Matthias Route: entered the NHL before he was ready and it ended up stunting his development. Coaches played him in a 3rd and 4th line role and as a result his upside has been limited to just that – a depth player. He was once believed to be a top line player. See also: Anthony Stewart, Gilbert Brule, Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Viktor Tikhonov, Jiri Tlusty, Nikita Filatov… the list goes on.

Pacioretty Route: Pacioretty played 34 games in the NHL during his first professional season. He played 52 the following season. He scored a total of 6 goals in his first two seasons in NHL. Montreal decided to take a step back and have him find his game in Hamilton of the AHL to start the year. Once he was truly ready he was promoted to Montreal and scored at a 30G pace until Chara ended his season.

Tangradi is being brought along the correct way by Penguins’ management. If it weren’t for some unlucky injuries, Tangradi may be NHL ready now. But Shero and Co. are willing to wait until that is a reality.

Dustin Jeffrey played almost three full seasons in the AHL and he has just now earned an NHL job despite outscoring Tangradi in the AHL.

Tangradi will soon prove that patience is a virtue and good things come to those that wait.