By Mark Madden
When NHL teams pick their final rosters, factors besides talent count. Fit. Two-way contracts. Waiver eligibility. The cap. For young players, the picture gets even blurrier. Intangibles are considered. What benefits the player most in the long run?
If the Penguins picked their forwards based solely on ability, winger Eric Tangradi would be a lock.
But the prevailing opinion is that Tangradi will begin the campaign in the American Hockey League. That additional seasoning in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton would be best.
I disagree. Tangradi should make the Penguins.
Tangradi strikes me as a player who will produce as much (or more) in the NHL as he does in the AHL. Tangradi is the guy who gets the last touch. Talented teammates maximize his production, even more so than most players. Evgeni Malkin is a better setup man than Dustin Jeffrey, n’est-ce pas?
Tangradi also fills a specific need: In front of the net on the power play. The Pens haven’t had the proper element in that spot since Ryan Malone packed up his tattoo kit and went South.
There is no alternative. Tangradi is the only option. Jordan Staal has the size, but not the predilection nor the touch. Staal won’t be playing for at least four more weeks, anyway. Tangradi’s ability at that job is one of the main elements of his promise.
Management seems to underestimate the PP’s importance. Maybe they’re just trying to shrug off the unit’s futility.
Considering the talent on hand, piling up goals on the power play seems the best way to A) negate the lack of scoring depth and B) make hard games easy. Last year, the Pens’ man-advantage unit ranked 19th in the NHL. Hard games stayed hard.
Losing quarterback Sergei Gonchar means a pretty dramatic adjustment. Omitting Tangradi reduces the power play to a bunch of perimeter shooters. Screens and second chances would be at an unfortunate premium. No nastiness. No distractions.
I understand how important Tangradi’s proper development is. But wouldn’t making him a contributing member of a well-functioning PP unit hasten that development, and help the Pens?
He’s 6-4, 221. In many ways, he’s just what the Penguins need. If he’s not ready, he’s close enough. Let him learn as he goes.
Eric Tangradi should make the Penguins. Let the Big Dog eat.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).