Engelland provides Penguins flexibility with ability to play both ends of the ice

| Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, 8:33 p.m.

EDMONTON, Alberta — Deryk Engelland played at home Friday, which is a study in geography more than his place in the lineup.

The Edmonton native pops up at right wing and on the blue line — sometimes in the same game — but, one way or the other, seemingly has found a permanent place in the Penguins' lineup.

Engelland played right wing on the fourth line Friday against the Oilers.

‘A factor in many ways'

Coach Dan Bylsma is delighted with the flexibility Engelland provides as the physical defenseman has adapted nicely to playing forward.

“His ability to play both positions has allowed him to be a factor in many ways,” Bylsma said.

When injured defenseman Paul Martin returns to the lineup, which should happen later this month, the Penguins figure to use Engelland primarily at forward. Their preferred top-six configuration on the blue line includes Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi, Martin, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and rookie Olli Maatta.

With Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres providing defensive depth — and with the reality that the Penguins are thin on their third and fourth lines — Engelland's move to forward seems sensible.

“It's a unique versatility that he's giving us right now,” Bylsma said. “The situation that he is playing in — playing forward, playing defense and even playing defense on the penalty kill in games he's playing forward — is very unique, as is having the mindset to be able to do that.”

A long trip to the top

Engelland's path to the NHL was an unusual one, and it's an indication of his determination.

He played 243 junior games and 486 minor league games — a total of 729 — before reaching the NHL at age 27.

Four years later, he's thriving in an unusual but valuable role.

In recent games, even when Engelland is playing right wing, the Penguins shift him to defense in penalty-killing situations.

Bylsma and assistant coach Todd Reirden like using the duo of Engelland and Brooks Orpik, two of the team's most physical players, in front of the net while killing penalties.

The plan is working as the Penguins' penalty-killing percentage of 88.8 percent is the second best in the NHL and would be the best in team history if it holds.

“Deryk has really done a very good job for us,” Reirden said. “He's gotten better and better this season.”

Making mark at forward

Engelland has scored two goals while playing on the right wing this season and has surprised many in the organization with his success in the offensive zone.

Aside from the goals, Engelland has meshed nicely with the fourth line and adds a physical dimension.

“I get more comfortable the more I play at forward,” Engelland said. “It's still a learning process.”

Incidentally, focusing so much of his time on learning a new position hasn't affected Engelland's work when he must play on the blue line. Rather, the coaching staff recently has asked him to play significant minutes against the opposition's best players.

He has thrived, rarely giving a poor performance.

“The reliability which he has shown is impressive,” Bylsma said. “It's a difficult request.”

Homecoming in Edmonton

Another difficult request was getting tickets for the Oilers-Penguins game Friday.

Many of Engelland's friends and family members wanted to see him play in his hometown, regardless of which position he manned.

Edmonton generally isn't a popular destination on the schedule for NHL players, but for Engelland, having three days in his hometown has been special.

“I'm so happy to be here right now,” Engelland said. “It was so lucky for me to get two full days here. It was lucky for me, maybe, even if the guys (teammates) didn't all think it was great.

“It gave me a chance to spend a lot of time with friends and family members who I haven't seen in quite a while.”

Engelland, who grew up cheering for the Oilers, will do whatever it takes to play in the NHL. His recent opportunity to play against some of hockey's best forwards on a regular basis, in his opinion, has helped him take a step toward becoming a better player.

“I've been asked to play in some tough situations against good players, and I think I'm happy with how I've done,” he said.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter@JoshYohe_Trib.

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