2017-18 Player Review: Deryk Engelland was a leader on and off the ice for the Golden Knights

The veteran defenseman turned out the best statistical season of his career in Year 1 with Vegas.

In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. Note: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.

When Deryk Engelland was selected in last summer’s expansion draft, he was quickly and somewhat affectionately labeled the “mascot” of the Golden Knights, and it appeared he was chosen primarily because of his ties to the city of Las Vegas. Engelland was one of four players who actually appeared on stage at the expansion draft, and he was seen as someone who might serve as a veteran leader in the locker room without making much of a contribution on the ice. But that was not what Engelland had in store.

Season in review

Engelland, now 36, did not become a full-fledged NHL defenseman until he was 29 years old, after many years spent in the AHL and ECHL (he played for the Las Vegas Wranglers, which is how he met his wife and why he calls Vegas his home). He then spent parts of five seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but his time there did not overlap with any of the organization’s Stanley Cup wins. He signed a three-year contract with Calgary in the summer of 2014 with an AAV of $2.9 million, which caught many by surprise.

That’s because Engelland was known as more of an enforcer than a skilled defenseman, someone who would throw the body around and drop the gloves when necessary but who had limited offensive capabilities. With 22 goals in eight NHL seasons, Engelland was not expected to contribute much of anything offensively in Vegas.

But there must have been something in the water, for Engelland set career highs in goals (5), assists (18) and points (23) as one of 11 Knights to have a career season in the inaugural campaign.

He played a much larger role for this team than anyone expected, and his style changed along with it. Instead of playing the bruising enforcer who saw 13-15 sheltered minutes a night, Engelland was a legitimate member of the Knights’ top four, taking on difficult assignments and significant minutes while shattering previous career highs in most statistical categories.

Additionally, his 1.01 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 was the second-best rating among Knights defensemen and best among those with at least 500 minutes of ice time. Of his 22 points scored at 5-on-5, 17 were primary points, which ranked first among Vegas defensemen, as did his 0.78 primary points per 60 minutes.

While his possession numbers weren’t stellar, they were certainly improved over previous seasons.

Engelland stat comparison in last five seasons


Even though he had his highest offensive zone start percentage with Vegas, he still started more shifts in the defensive zone and faced better competition while doing so. He had the most ice time and most ice time per game of his career, averaging more than 20 minutes a night for the first time. His penalty minutes were significantly down (including a 61-minute reduction from 2016-17), and he didn’t take one fighting major the entire year, which was another first on his NHL resume.

Engelland spent the vast majority of the season paired with Shea Theodore, whom he mentored in Theodore’s first full season in the NHL. The two played nearly 800 minutes together at 5-on-5.

Engelland and Theodore at 5-on-5

DefensemenTOICF%SF%GF%SCF%HDCF%HDGF%On-ice save %Off. zone %
Engelland w/ Theodore794:1049.3150.1249.2149.7244.0353.5792.3853.6
Engelland w/o Theodore536:2747.2247.495048.0247.554.2990.7839.07
Theodore w/o Engelland222:4657.9357.55053.7444.4444.4491.1857.84

Theodore had better possession numbers without Engelland, though his offensive zone start percentages were higher when paired with other defensemen. Even so, Engelland’s calming presence on the back end helped Theodore’s game and allowed him to jump up into the play and follow his offensive instincts to generate offense.

Engelland was by no means Vegas’ best defenseman, and there were flaws in his game. He faced the third-best competition at 5-on-5 among Vegas defenders, but even considering his offensive zone start percentage, his heat maps do not paint a pretty picture (unless of course you’re looking for a lot of red).

But he was a steady top-four rearguard, something no one could have expected when he was selected in the expansion draft and promptly signed to a one-year, $1 million deal last summer. He was rewarded with a $500,000 raise as he signed a one-year extension in mid-January, a smart and low-risk move for a player who brought surprising and unanticipated value to the Golden Knights in many ways.

The value kept coming as the season progressed, as Engelland’s possession stats were much stronger in all but one category in the postseason, though his offensive zone faceoff percentage was slightly higher.

Engelland 5-on-5 stat comparison: regular season vs. postseason

Engelland in theCF%SF%GF%SCF%HDCF%HDGF%On-ice save %Off. faceoff %
Regular season48.4449.0749.5749.0245.5153.9791.7348.4

He also was one of Vegas’ leaders from the start of the season as one of six players to wear an “A” on his chest, though he made an even bigger difference off the ice.

Engelland became a face of the franchise in the aftermath of the Oct. 1 tragedy, and he started the Engelland’s Vegas Born Heroes Foundation to honor local heroes in the Vegas community. He was the Knights’ nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership and humanitarian contributions, and he was also one of three NHL players nominated for the Mark Messier Leadership Award, which he won.

Standout moment

The speech Engelland delivered during the emotional pre-game ceremony prior to Vegas’ home opener not only set the stage for the season but more importantly sent a direct message to the larger Vegas community that the players and organization would do whatever they could to help the city heal following the Oct. 1 tragedy. The entire ceremony was moving, but Engelland’s speech was particularly poignant.

The speech was all the more powerful because Engelland scored just over four minutes into the first period, giving Vegas an early 2-0 lead.

It was an unforgettable evening, and the pre-game ceremony was one of those moments that transcends sports. Engelland, who asked to speak, was a huge part of it.

KOI composite grade: B

Knights On Ice awarded Engelland a composite grade of B, with individual grades ranging from C+ to B+.

It would be a stretch to say that Engelland “revitalized” his career, but he took major strides and played very well for the Golden Knights. When considering pre-season expectations, Engelland excelled considerably last year. The fact that many believe and continue to express that Engelland should be the franchise’s first-ever captain says a lot. Not every captain is a superstar, but not every captain is a 36-year-old defenseman who was never an elite defender and who really has no future with this team.

Engelland brought so much more to the Knights than anyone could have predicted, and he raised the bar to become a stable presence on the blue line, especially as part of a young defense corps. His play further improved in the playoffs despite facing more difficult competition in tighter games. While he wasn’t nearly as productive as he had been in the regular season, he still managed to set career highs in postseason assists (2) and points (2).

Clearly, his speed remains his greatest weakness. He was on the ice for more goals against (59) at 5-on-5 than anyone else on the team, he was out of position and victimized on many occasions and he and Theodore had some ugly shifts in the postseason. Plus, don’t forget about his own goal to top it off.

But all things considered, Engelland did an admirable job last year. He not only brought value to Vegas’ blue line as a top-four defenseman and to the team as a whole as a veteran leader on and off the ice, but he also helped Theodore along as the 22-year-old (now 23) made the transition to full-time NHL status. Theodore is expected to become an integral part of this club moving forward; Engelland took a lot of pressure off his shoulders, which could prove to be invaluable.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

Engelland is on the books for one year at a cap hit of $1.5 million. At 36 years old, Engelland is nearing the end of his career, and it’s quite possible the 2018-19 season could be his last in the NHL; if not, it’ll more than likely be his last in Vegas. But he will again be looked to by Gerard Gallant to handle challenging minutes, especially with Nate Schmidt’s looming 20-game suspension. Also, if some of the young defensemen in the system get a look with Vegas at some point this year, Engelland could be the one to show them the way as he did with Theodore. In all likelihood, his offensive numbers won’t carry over, but that was never in his job description anyway. He could eventually see some time on the bottom pair, but Engelland should continue to give Vegas valuable minutes and be a trusted voice in the locker room.

How would you grade Engelland’s 2017-18 performance?

C- or below0