DETROIT -- The Penguins have a player considered to be among the best in the NHL at his role.
OK, probably more than one.
But this player's role draws a different kind of attention than some of his elite teammates attract, and it's one that makes him a heck of a popular player in his dressing room and on his bench.
Eric Godard won't dress for every game -- he never sniffs the ice during the playoffs -- and doesn't log major minutes, but the Penguins are glad to have their enforcer around when they need him.
"He's one of the more well-respected guys in the [dressing] room," forward Mike Rupp said Saturday.
Rupp is a tough customer but he's not in the heavyweight category that Godard and a handful of others around the league are.
Godard, a 6-foot-4, 214-pounder entering his third season with the Penguins, knows there is a widespread perception that his only worth in the NHL is as a fighter, and that there are those who would like to see enforcers and fighting legislated out of the game.
"It's something people talk about, and you see maybe the role get diminished a little bit sometimes, but it always seems to come back," Godard said. "So I don't know if it will go anywhere unless they change the rules to completely get it out of the game."
Some teams -- a noted one being Detroit, which hosts the Penguins in a preseason game today -- don't employ a player in the Godard mold.
That stuns those who embrace the idea of having an enforcer.
"Quite frankly, I'm surprised that the teams that don't have those guys, there's not more liberties being taken," Rupp said. "Maybe there is and I just don't see it on an everyday basis. I'm sure that there are times when you see [Red Wings star Henrik] Zetterburg getting pummeled a little bit."
Mark down Penguins coach Dan Bylsma as being in favor of having an enforcer -- although he's not particularly fond of that label.
"There have been teams that probably played a little frightened but still won hockey games," Bylsma said. "But playing your game and being comfortable on the ice and having room for players is always a factor."
Bylsma said there are several ways a team can create space for its skaters including gritty play and using strong players who can open things up and drive the net.
He is glad one of the Penguins' lane-clearers is Godard.
"He's a tough guy, brings a tough element to our team," Bylsma said.
Godard can be effective from the bench, too, because his reach extends into the minds of his opponents.
"There's a lot that goes into it besides what you see," Rupp said "At certain times, there are guys who will act differently when he's on the ice. Guys aren't going to yap. Guys are going to play more and not try to take liberties.
"It speaks volumes when a guy on the other team acts real courageous and then when you confront him he shows that body language -- slumping shoulders, looks at his laces, doesn't want [to pursue anything]. I think that guy's team doesn't feel very comfortable."
Godard, 30, surpassed 300 NHL games last season. But he's still learning how to pick his spot and opponents for a fight so he doesn't put the Penguins at a disadvantage and how to help the club in other ways -- he has six goals, 15 points and 728 penalty minutes in 316 career games.
"The past few years, it has been easier recognizing the things that it takes to play here," Godard said. "Before, maybe it was like I was running around with my head cut off. Now it's like I can actually see and understand things more in the system."
Not that he's forgetting his primary responsibilities.
"It's a contact sport," Godard said. "You're going to want to be the more physical team. I think when you have teams that play with more of an edge, that's when teams have more success. I feel like I can play with that edge, so I can be there to help with that."
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1721. First Published October 3, 2010 4:00 AM