Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland: "Nothing's set in stone, so I've got to play every day and try to get better and stay up here and play as much as I can."
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It has been difficult not to notice Deryk Engelland's fists. They can bring a crowd to its feet in an instant.
But taking on, and beating, NHL heavyweights such as Toronto's Colton Orr and Philadelphia's Jody Shelley in fights is far from the only reason Engelland has at least tenuously grabbed the job as the Penguins' sixth defenseman.
Engelland wouldn't have won a tight competition for that spot over Ben Lovejoy unless he could be effective defensively and in moving the puck up to the forwards. With the team's top seven defensemen healthy at the same time for the first time since the opening week of the season, coach Dan Bylsma identified his lineup of defensemen for the game Wednesday at Dallas as his top six.
Engelland was in that lineup.
Game: Penguins vs. Anaheim Ducks, 10:08 p.m. today, Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.
Probable goaltending:Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jonas Hiller for Ducks.
Penguins: Are 1-1 on four-game road stretch. ... Matt Cooke led NHL with 47 hits before Thursday night. ... Among league leaders in penalty minutes (17.8 minutes per game).
Ducks: Are 3-1-1 in past five home games. ... Have at least 1 power-play goal in each of past 4 games (5 for 14). ... Ryan Getzlaf has 3 goals, 8 points over past six games; Corey Perry has 2 goals, 5 points over past four.
Hidden stat:Lubomir Visnovsky has multiple-point nights in three of Anaheim's past five games.
"I thought he's looked comfortable right from day one," said fellow defenseman Brooks Orpik, who has been paired with Engelland a good bit lately. "He knows what he does well, and he sticks to that.
"The other stuff has probably gotten him the recognition he's gotten so far, but from seeing him day in and day out, he's a guy who's humble and knows he's got to work for everything he's got. That's what's gotten him here."
No one knows that better then Engelland, who played his first nine NHL games last season with the Penguins at age 27 after spending five years in junior hockey with Moose Jaw and most of another six seasons working and fighting his way through the ECHL and American Hockey League.
"Nothing's set in stone, so I've got to play every day and try to get better and stay up here and play as much as I can," Engelland said.
That's true. Bylsma indicated he likely will dress Lovejoy over Engelland at times, depending on the opponent. Engelland isn't a lock to play tonight against the Anaheim Ducks or in any game.
That knowledge has helped shape Engelland, said Penguins assistant Todd Reirden, who formerly coached Engelland with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL and now oversees the club's defense.
"It's a path that he and I have discussed often, as someone that didn't make it to the NHL year one of being a professional," said Reirden, who also was 27 when he made his NHL debut as a player.
"Sometimes it tastes a little sweeter when you've put in time and effort to try to make yourself an NHL player, which is what he's done -- he's made himself a player, as opposed to someone with certain abilities who is a can't-miss prospect."
Engelland, who has played in 12 of the Penguins' 13 games, has no points, a plus-minus rating of minus-3, 25 hits, 10 blocked shots and a team-leading 30 penalty minutes.
The 6-foot-2, 202-pounder has played an all-around physical game, has been sound positionally, uses his stick well to disrupt the puck-carrier and consistently feeds his forwards with peppery passes.
"One of the things I've liked best is, he does not pick his spots at all, whether it's the toughest player on the other team or the highest-end player on the opposing team," Reirden said. "He plays them the exact same way. He's done a nice job against some of the top players in the league, and he's not been exposed defensively."
That's the benefit of learning the system used throughout the Penguins' organization since he signed as a free agent in 2007.
"This is my fourth year with this system. If I went somewhere else and tried to play a different system, I'd be pretty out of it for a while," Engelland said. "It's been a pretty easy jump system-wise. Every game, I think I'm getting more confidence and trying to stick to my game."
That has always included the tough stuff.
"From juniors up, I've been fighting heavyweights at those levels," he said. "They're a lot tougher and smarter up here. Whoever it is, it's part of my job."
But not the only or most important part.
"He's always had the element of standing up for his teammates, but I think it's his overall game that has really helped his cause and put him in the mix to be in the lineup on an every-night basis," Reirden said.
"He's still a work in progress, but he's worked to earn the opportunity he's received so far."