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Deryk Engelland completely reinvented himself with Golden Knights

Just about everything that has happened with the Vegas Golden Knights this season has been better than expected. Some of it has been shocking. Some of it does not make any sense.

Even when you take into account the bad decisions several of the league’s general managers made in the expansion draft process, this has still been a team full of players having career years and exceeding expectations, carrying a first-year team to the Western Conference Final (Game 1, 7 p.m. ET on NBC).

The biggest surprise has obviously been the emergence of William Karlsson, 40-goal scorer, a performance that nobody should have or could have seen coming. 

But right behind him in the “how is this happening?” discussion might be the development of the team’s blue line, which probably seemed to be the weakest part of the roster when it was initially selected back in June. There was some potential to be sure thanks to players like Shea Theodore (a first-round pick by Anaheim in 2013), Nate Schmidt and Colin Miller, all of whom have made a significant impact this season and through the first two rounds of the playoffs.

But none of them have been a more pleasant surprise than 36-year-old defenseman Deryk Engelland.

Engelland has become one of the faces of the franchise for a couple of reasons, not all of them related to just what he is doing as a player. Not only was he resident of the city for more than a decade when the team selected him in the expansion draft, but he actually played hockey in the city more than a decade ago as a member of the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers. Before the team’s home opener he delivered an emotional speech in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting in early October, and then followed it up by scoring one of the team’s first goals that night.

He has been a fan favorite and a leader on and off the ice from the very beginning.

He has not stopped making an impact all year and has not only been a surprisingly strong part of the team’s blue line, he has done so by completely redefining what he is as a player.

For the first part of Engelland’s NHL career he was primarily hired muscle. Not necessarily a pure enforcer in the sense that his only role or ability was to fight, but he was mostly a part-time player that would rarely play more than 13 or 14 minutes per game as a sixth or seventh defenseman, he would drop the gloves when needed or challenged, and mostly made a living throwing his weight around playing a physical brand of hockey. That is what he did. That is what he was viewed as.

He did that for parts of five seasons as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins before becoming a free agent prior to the 2014-15 season. It was at that point that he signed a three-year contract with the Calgary Flames worth just shy of $3 million per season, resulting in one of the more memorable Tweets in NHL free agency (“That’s per year”), a shocking and seemingly excessive amount of money for a player with his resume at that time.

What stands out about his performance in Vegas is just how different all of it is from his days in Pittsburgh and Calgary.

Take a look at some numbers throughout his career.

Some observations:

— Instead of being a bottom-pairing defender that barely played when he was given a jersey, he ended up being a 20-minute per night defender during the regular season. The only skater on the Golden Knights that played more minutes than Engelland’s 1,602 this season was Schmidt (1,690).

— He went from being a player that would routinely fight to a player that did not fight one time all season, the first time in his professional hockey career he went an entire regular season without fighting.

— He was credited with fewer hits per minute than at any point in his NHL career, and by a pretty significant margin, meaning his game wasn’t just about “finishing checks” and playing physical.

— When you take into account how much more ice time he received this season, he took fewer minor penalties than at any point in his career.

— Oh, and he also set career highs in goals, assists, and points.

While he has yet to record a point in the playoffs for the Golden Knights, he has ended up playing even more minutes than he did during the regular season (23 per game) and is playing on the team’s top-pairing alongside Theodore, a duo that has a 56 percent shot attempt share during 5-on-5 play and has only been on the ice for three goals against in more than 150 minutes of hockey (via Natural Stat Trick).

There were some signs over the past couple of years in Calgary that his career was maybe trending in this direction (at least in terms of his ice-time and declining hit totals), but things just completely accelerated this season in Vegas.

That it happened in his mid-30s after eight years in the NHL is what makes it so surprising. Players do not usually change that much at this point.

And that is kind of what makes Engelland kind of a perfect representation for what this Golden Knights team is all about.

A player that got a bigger opportunity than he had ever been given before, maybe with something to prove, and then used all of that to put together a career-best season that exceeded every expectation that had ever surrounded him in his career.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• PHT 2018 Conference Finals Roundtable
• PHT predicts NHL’s Conference Finals
• NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Schwartz helps Blues keep pace; Rinne, Rask pick up shutouts

Associated Press
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Three stars

1. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues

There’s a real race for the third spot in the Central Division down the stretch here, with the Blues leading the Dallas Stars by two points for the spot.

Both teams won on Tuesday, and Schwartz led the way for the Blues, scoring a hat trick en route to a 7-2 thrashing of the Edmonton Oilers. Schwartz opened the game’s scoring and then scored in the second and a late third-period marker on the power play to complete his fourth career hatty.

Schwartz hasn’t had the season he would have hope after putting up 24 goals and 59 points last season. He’s now up to 10 tallies this year and 34 points after also grabbing an assist for a four-point night.

2. Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

The Predators are in tough to try and win another Central Division crown. They’re one point back of the Winnipeg Jets but the Jets have two games in hand. Basically, they need to win out and hope for some help.

Part of that help will come from within, and Rinne was on point in the crease on Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, stopping all 22 shots he saw. It’s the second time this season that Rinne has blanked the Leafs.

The Preds neutered the Maple Leafs high-powered offense in this one as the Predators nursed a one-goal lead for most of the game.

3. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

The Bruins put in a complete effort against the Islanders in this one, and Rask only saw 13 shots come his way. But he stopped all 13 to snap a two-game stretch where he was less than the stellar goaltender that he had been. And sometimes those games where you barely see action can be the hardest.

Rask now has four shutouts on the season and 25 wins. He started the season off horribly and likely would have been in the Vezina conversation if not for that. Still, a focused — and well-rested — Rask is exactly what the Bruins need heading into the playoffs.

Highlights of the night

Hurricanes go duck hunting:

Here’s how to make Seth Jones look silly:

Simmons ends drought, scores first with Predators:

Factoids

Scores

Bruins 5, Islanders 0
Red Wings 3, Rangers 2
Canadiens 3, Flyers 1
Hurricanes 3, Penguins 2 (SO)
Capitals 4, Devils 1
Blues 7, Oilers 2
Predators 3, Maple Leafs 0
Avalanche 3, Wild 1
Stars 4, Panthers 2
Flames 4, Blue Jackets 2


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Oilers’ Lucic ejected after dangerous cross-check to Blues’ Sundqvist

NHL
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Milan Lucic is paid a lot of money for a lot of nothing these days, but he may have some of his $6 million per season salary taken away from him after a nasty cross-check on Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues.

With the Blues holding a 6-2 lead with just over five minutes left in the third period — garbage time, as they say — Lucic made his presence felt as he drilled Oskar Sundvist from behind long after he had shot the puck on Anthony Stolarz.

The needless hit sent Sundqvist flying into the boards, who needed some assistance from the trainers before leaving the game. He did not return after favoring his right arm as he skated off hunched over.

Lucic was assessed a five-minute major for cross-checking and given a game misconduct on the play. The senselessness of the hit is likely to land him in hot water with the NHL, too.

The Oilers still have four more years of this to endure, too.

Meanwhile, it’s not the first time this season (if you count preseason games) that Sundqvist has been on the receiving end of a bone-headed and dirty hit.

Tom Wilson got the book thrown at him for this awful shot.

Earlier in the game, Zack Kassian and Patrick Maroon — good friends — went toe-to-toe in a friendship-testing heavyweight tilt.

There were some haymakers thrown in this one.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Capitals prepare for Lightning test with warm-up win against Devils

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The Washington Capitals didn’t have to expend a lot of energy on Tuesday night, and that’s a good thing.

Washington will play the second half of a back to back against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday (live on NBCSN), so the New Jersey Devils were the warmup, and Washington made quick work of them in a 4-1 win.

Washington led just 2:52 into the first period before giving up a goal with one second left in the frame. The late adversity didn’t phase the defending Stanley Cup winners, however. Brett Connolly regained the lead 5:57 into the second with his 20th (which stood as the eventual game-winner) and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson scored a 1:12 apart to ice the game with a period to play.

The rest of the game was a cure for insomnia.

Pheonix Copley got the start in this one as the Caps rested Braden Holtby for Wednesday’s big game. Copley made 19 saves for his sixth straight win. He barely looked like he broke a sweat.

With the New York Islanders losing 5-0 to the Boston Bruins, the Capitals moved two points ahead of their Metropolitan Division rivals for first place. The Caps have won nine of their past 11 as they try to win another division title.

Much of the game was centered around Alex Ovechkin and if he’d hit 50 on the night.

He came into the game with 48 career goals and faced a mouthwatering matchup against a poor Devils team. But Ovi was held at bay, collecting just an assist in the game on a nice dish to Wilson.

The Devils have had a rough March thus far.

They’ve won just twice and have been shutout three times as the race for Jack Hughes (or Kaapo Kakko) continues for them. They’re on 63 points, fifth worst in the NHL and entered Tuesday with a 9.5 percent chance of taking down the first pick on April 9’s NHL Draft Lottery.

Kenny Agostino, who scored New Jersey’s lone goal, now has six points in his past six games — in a bright spot in a lot of darkness this season for the Devils.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Fight involving Bruins’ Chara plays out exactly as one might expect

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Ever try to punch a giraffe in the face? Me neither, but New York Islanders forward Matt Martin has a story to tell.

Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara is a man few want to fight. He towers over everyone in the NHL and his reach is close enough to double that of his nearest opponent that the best you can often open for is a good shadow boxing practice because the odds of connecting are so terribly low.

Martin got exactly that when he and Chara dropped the glove just four seconds into the second period off the opening faceoff.

The two exchanged rights before Chara threw a nasty, downward-directed bomb that caught Martin flush, knocking him to the ground. To Martin’s credit, he bounced back up and tried in vain to hit Chara. He had no such luck.

Chara ended the scrap by basically stiff-arming Martin to the ground followed by the congratulatory pat on the back from the 6-foot-9 man.

It’s respectable that Martin wanted to try and give his team a boost, although they were only down 1-0 at that point of the game. Ambitious, but respectable.

Chara, meanwhile, just turned 42 on Monday.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck