Engelland exceeds expectations for Penguins

| Monday, Dec. 5, 2011

Defenseman Deryk Engelland left during the second period of the Penguins' 3-2 victory in Raleigh on Saturday night with a lower body injury, and the team certainly hopes he will return to the lineup Monday night against Boston.

After all, the Penguins never could have projected just how valuable he would become.

Engelland, once viewed as a feared physical presence but only marginal talent, continues to thrive and has made believers out of many in the organization.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma first saw Engelland play in Hershey six years ago and has witnessed his improvement.

"From watching him play then until now," Bylsma said, "Yeah, he's exceeded expectations."

Last season, Engelland emerged as a legitimate No. 7 defenseman and one of the league's premier fighters. He has elevated his game significantly this season. Engelland's mighty right fist remains, but the belief that he is only a marginal defender is dissipating.

Bylsma shakes his head when speaking of the transformation in Engelland's game.

"We watched Deryk play for Hershey in a limited number of games (in 2005)," Bylsma said. "I liked him for his toughness at the American League level. When he played for us in Wilkes-Barre, he continued to improve, continued to get better, continued to show he could play against other teams' best players."

He's still playing well against other teams' top players, only now, they're some of the world's best.

With defensemen Kris Letang Zbynek Michalek out of the lineup in Washington last Thursday, Bylsma called on Engelland to play much of the evening against Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. Engelland thwarted numerous Ovechkin rushes and plastered the star into the boards on one such occasion.

"He played him perfectly," right wing Pascal Dupuis said. "You can see the confidence that he is playing with right now. He's always been a terrific teammate, and he's just playing some great hockey for us right now."

Engelland has always realized his limitations and has made mandatory his simple style of play. And yet, he has displayed an ability to aid the Penguins' offense that many did not expect.

Engelland ranks third among Penguins defensemen with nine points.

"I think the big surprise is the confidence he has shown with the puck," Bylsma said.

The coach cited a recent goal against Ottawa. Center Sidney Crosby set up left wing Chris Kunitz for the Penguins' first goal against the Senators, but it was Engelland who triggered the play with a perfect outlet pass and who gave Crosby a passing lane by driving to the net.

"All along, there were people who thought he couldn't play at the next level," Bylsma said. "They didn't think his skating was good enough. That's a moot point now. He moves so well."

Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan, who coached Engelland in Las Vegas (ECHL) seven years ago, always believed in him.

"He was a young guy living in Vegas and never got distracted," Gulutzan. "You knew then he had the maturity to be an NHL player."

Engelland still resides in Las Vegas in the offseason. And now, there are no questions about whether or not he can play in the NHL. The only question is, how much better can Engelland become?

"He's shown everyone that he's a good NHL player," Dupuis said.

penguins gameday


When/where: 7:05 p.m. Monday/Consol Energy Center

TV/radio: Root Sports/WXDX-FM (105.9), Penguins Radio Network

Notable: The Stanley Cup champion Bruins overcame two-goal deficits twice at Consol Energy Center last season, winning both games. All four road teams won in the series between the Penguins and Bruins last season.

By the numbers: Penguins defenseman Deryk Engelland continues to improve approaching his 100th NHL game tonight against the Bruins. He's played 686 games in the minors.

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