After failing to mesh with Penguins, Derek Grant finds success with Ducks | TribLIVE.com
Penguins/NHL

After failing to mesh with Penguins, Derek Grant finds success with Ducks

Seth Rorabaugh
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AP
Ducks forward Derek Grant played in 25 games for the Penguins during the 2018-19 season.

Derek Grant did what he typically does this past summer.

He went fishing.

In his home province of British Columbia, Grant scoped out the Fraser River in search of sturgeon, a type of marine life that can grow to be larger than some personal water craft.

He also did something this summer he wasn’t able to do the previous offseason.

Re-sign with the Anaheim Ducks.

After a breakout 2017-18 campaign in which he set career highs with games (66), goals (12) and points (24) while helping replace some of Anaheim’s injured centers, Grant appeared set to receive a substantial contract for the first time in a nomadic career that has taken him all over the continent.

Instead, he lingered on the free agent market and remained unsigned until July 19, 2018, well after most free agents agreed to new deals after the opening of the signing period July 1.

The Pittsburgh Penguins took a flyer on Grant and signed him to a one-year deal worth $650,000, the NHL’s minimum salary at the time.

Any hopes Grant had at showing he had a higher value went unfulfilled with the Penguins as he appeared in only 25 games and scored five points (two goals, three assists) while mostly filling a bottom-six role. He also played five games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton over two different assignments to the American Hockey League.

Grant was overshadowed by the Penguins’ considerable depth at center, headlined by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

“Two of the top centermen in the league,” Grant said. “Then we had (Derick) Brassard and (Matt) Cullen, who, he’s won how many (Stanley Cup championships) and he’s been such a strong player for so long. Sometimes, it’s hard to get in. When you’re a new guy in the room as well, it sometimes takes a little longer to build a coach’s trust. It happens all the time with guys. It’s one of those things you can’t take personally, and you can’t let it get you down. You just got to go and play where you’re wanted. It worked out for me.”

The Penguins traded him back to Anaheim on Jan. 17 in exchange for journeyman forward Joseph Blandisi. Reunited with the Ducks, Grant enjoyed a moderately inflated level of production by scoring nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 31 contests.

Considering the Ducks didn’t re-sign Grant after his productive 2017-18 campaign, a fairly immediate return was a bit unusual.

“It was definitely a little weird,” Grant said. “It wasn’t a huge surprise, but it’s always definitely a little weird when you leave for such a short time. But it definitely makes things easier going back and jumping into the room and being familiar with 99 percent of the people there. It was a great thing for me.”

A seven-year veteran who also has played for the Ottawa Senators, Calgary Flames, Buffalo Sabres and Nashville Predators, Grant acknowledged Anaheim is where he’s “played my best hockey.” Getting a chance to re-sign with the Ducks on a one-year contract worth $700,000 on June 20, several days before hitting unrestricted free agency, was an easy decision.

“Anaheim needed a guy back,” Grant said. “It worked out that I could go back there, and I could get a deal done. It’s good to go back to a familiar place. I was able to jump in and play again.”

Grant, who has a goal and an assist in three games this season, is centering the Ducks’ fourth line skating with Carter Rowney, another former Penguins forward, and Nick Ritchie. In the Ducks’ season opener, a 2-1 home win against the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 3, Grant scored his team’s first goal of the season on a rebound.

“(Ducks forward Devin Shore) made a good play throwing it to the net,” Grant said. “I just tried to follow it up. Their goalie actually made a great save on him. The puck just kind of squirted out to me. If I can find a puck in that 5-foot radius, that’s probably how I’ll have my best chance to score. It’s one of those things, I try to play simple and go to those areas and hopefully get rewarded.”

The Ducks, who entered Thursday’s game against the Penguins 3-0-0, are in transition. Former Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry moved on to the Dallas Stars, and long-time coach Randy Carlyle was replaced by Dallas Eakins. Grant is eager to be part of Anaheim’s new approach.

“We still have a good core group of guys there,” he said. “But this year, we knew we needed a restart. There was some changes made. Even little things like having a brand-new practice facility and stuff just has made it feel like a whole new era and new season. It came at a good time for us. Right from the first day of camp, you could notice a change in the culture and everything around the team and the positivity and confidence in our group. It’s carried over to the season.

Follow the Penguins all season long.

Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Penguins
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