When the change was initially occurred, it raised a few eyebrows.
Deryk Engelland, a defenseman far more renown for his fighting abilities than any other hockey-related activity involving his hands, would be skating as a forward for a road game against the rival Flyers, Oct. 17.
Since that time, Engelland has done nothing but raise the level of his play as evidenced with several quality scoring chances, two fairly impressive goals and strong play in a key defensive situation late in a tight game against a Metropolitan Division foe.
The two plays which stand out the most are the goals. During the third period of a 4-3 home loss to the Islanders Oct. 25, Engelland scored a go-ahead goal on Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov where he beat New York defenseman Matt Donovan and banged in a centering pass by center Joe Vitale.
Saturday, during a 3-0 road win against the Blue Jackets, Engelland took a pass once again from Vitale and stroked an impressive one-timer by Blue Jackets goaltender Curtis McElhinney from the bottom of the right circle for what proved to be the game-winning score.
Late in that game, with the Penguins defending a two-goal lead, Engelland was on the ice for defensive zone faceoff following an icing. Despite the Blue Jackets playing with an extra attacker with McElhinney pulled, Engelland pressured a point shot by Columbus defenseman James Wisniewski which sailed wide then stole a puck off defenseman Jack Johnson and backhand chopped it out of the defensive zone to allow his team a much needed change.
The process of having Engelland, a lifelong defenseman, adapt to forward wasn't as basic as simply giving him a colored forward jersey in practice and having him just play the position. He has spent time with assistant coach Tony Granato on the ice and in the video room. As head coach Dan Bylsma said, "The intelligence Deryk of which has tackled those situations whether it be practice and skill development in the video session, paying attention to what the forward or the winger is doing... he's been able to adapt to that, not only to be able to just do it, but to be pretty good at those situations."
Earlier today following a practice at Southpointe, Engelland talked about adapting to forward and what it could mean for his future.
What was the initial discussion with the coaching staff about you playing forward?
"There wasn’t a whole lot. They thought I could do a good job up there. The wanted to see what I could. I’m doing alright so far I guess."
How much work do you do with Granato one-on-one to get more acclimated to the position? Are there drills in practice or video work?
"Not too much [video]. Something like the wall play and stuff I’m not used to yet, Tony would do after practice the first few games especially. [Rim plays] and stuff that that [defensemen] aren’t used to doing. We do some drills when we do it in practice. Just trying to get that skill into your game is a little different in a real game than in practice."
What's the most basic difference between being a forward and a defenseman?
"There’s obviously more skating up and down the ice. As a [defenseman], it’s more battling down low. That’s a big difference. And probably just [defensive] zone coverage. Instead of being five feet from the net, you’re 50 feet from the net. Getting in a shot lane is a lot different from up there than in front of the net. Wall play is a lot different looking into the corner and not up ice like a [defenseman]. That’s probably been the biggest challenge."
Is the biggest bonus to being a forward more scoring opportunities?
"Obviously, anytime you score, it’s a bonus, especially for me. It’s been fun. You’ve got to get in on the forecheck and try to create havoc. Run some guys a little bit instead of guys running you. That would be another good part of it."
You played forward for a few games with the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers previously in you professional career. How extensive was that?
"It was …. I want to say … a few games. Two or three or four games. I don’t even remember. It’s been 10 years ago. It’s been a while. We were really short on guys. Me and my [defensive] partner were on a line together. It was a short situation."
In a perfect world, are you always a defenseman?
"Oh for sure. I’ve been a [defenseman] my whole life. I want to continue that. But right now, if I can get in [the lineup] and contribute as a forward, that’s what I’ve got to do. It’s better than not playing at all. It adds a different dimension to my game."
How do you think your toughness plays a factor in the coaches wanting to keep you in the lineup?
"That definitely obviously an element of my game that’s a big part of my game. I’ve got to be out there to stick up for teammate. I’m not going out there to fight just to fight. But if there’s a situation that calls on me to do something, that’s what I’m here for. I want to protect my teammates and do what it takes to win."
You're scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Does playing forward add anything to your value as a player?
"Like I said, it adds another dimension to my game. I haven’t really thought that far ahead. I don’t know if it will hurt me or benefit me. Right now, I’m just taking it day by day and seeing what it will be the next day."
Joe Vitale has had the primary assist on both of your goals this season. How key has he been to your success thus far?
"He’s playing really well. He’s using his speed and his ability to make the pass. The first one is basically a tap-in. The second one, it was a great play by him and [forward Dustin Jeffrey]. He passed it on the tape and I just kind of fired it. He’s playing great and he’s been a big part of those goals."
Do you owe Vitale a dinner for each of those goals?
"I got him an assist. Maybe he owes me a dinner. We’ll discuss that at later terms."
(Photo: Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)