Deryk Engelland’s time in Vegas has taken quite a few people by surprise, myself included.
This is a player who was a UFA at the time of the expansion draft and still found himself selected by the Vegas Golden Knights. A player who topped 20 points just once in his journey across the WHL, AHL, ECHL and NHL (21, Las Vegas Wranglers [ECHL], 2004-05). A player with average time on ice of 16:09 or below in seven of eight seasons. A player who may have been most famous at the time of his selection for being part of a meme.
Calgary Flames forwards Troy Brouwer or Alex Chiasson were available and would not have been disastrous selections.
And yet, Vegas picked Engelland. Not too surprising a decision, considering his Vegas ties thanks to his stint with the aforementioned Wranglers.
Engelland then proceeded to have, by far, the greatest season of his career. The Edmonton native tallied 23 points, all of which came at even strength, and played over 20 minutes a night. His 1602 minutes on ice during the season was second among Vegas skaters to just Nate Schmidt.
You could make a Central Division All-Star back end out of players he outpaced in points per 60 minutes at even-strength (Dustin Byfuglien, Duncan Keith, Colton Parayko, Ryan Suter, Mattias Ekholm and Alex Goligoski).
Add T.J. Brodie, Cam Fowler, Rasmus Ristolainen, Justin Faulk and Ryan McDonagh as players Engo bested as well.
In addition to upping the offense, Engelland also displayed improved discipline taking less than one-third of his career average in penalty minutes (24 in 79 games compared to 87.4 per 82 games entering last season). I should point out, however, that he added another 26 in Vegas’ 20 playoff games.
The Golden Knights’ brass rewarded the veteran blue liner with a one-year extension worth up to $2.5 million (assuming bonus criteria are met).
And that’s where we are today.
Engelland has not been the player he was last year. Not even close, really. Looking at Evolving-Hockey’s Wins Above Replacement metric, Engelland notched a 0.7 WAR mark last year, and has limped to a -0.6 figure in 2018-19 (on pace for the second-worst season of his career).
The points have largely dried up, too. All five of his points this year came in a 10-day stretch, book-ended by 19 and 9-game pointless streaks.
This might be a larger issue with the offense, though, as only Schmidt among returning d-men has scored at an equal or higher rate than they did last year.
Speaking of Schmidt, it would have stood to reason that Engelland would see somewhat of a dip in playing time following the former’s 20 game suspension coming to a close.
Narrator: It did not.
Without Schmidt, Engelland played 19:04. With No. 88 back in the lineup, Engelland is playing 20:24 a night.
Some of this is due to Colin Miller missing the past five games, but not enough to bring the average below 20 minutes. Nice to be right-handed, eh?
Twenty minutes a night, well now, that there’s second-pairing minutes! Engelland’s play suggests that he should be receiving No. 6 minutes. Or no minutes at all. Brad Hunt and Jon Merrill have combined — in just 32 games — to post 0.8 WAR, as per Evolving-Hockey.
Of course, that second-pairing theoretically needs a stay-at-home guy to buttress the defense while Shea Theodore prances around the offensive zone. Unfortunately, Engelland appears to be killing Theodore’s productivity.
In the 434 minutes they have played at 5-on-5, the Theodore-Engelland pairing has a 54.26 Corsi For percentage (CF%). Not too bad, eh?
Engelland pulled apart from Theodore is at 42.64%, while an unshackled Theodore has a mark of 64.08%. That’s an anchor.
Ah, but Engelland plays on the penalty kill too. Can’t forget that!
As it turns out, it might be nice to. Engelland sits 22nd of 28 in CF% on the kill among players with at least 100 PK minutes this year, and 26th in allowing scoring chances.
Nick Holden, by the way, is the best in the NHL as far as CF% is concerned (once you lower the TOI minimum to 75 minutes). Something to think about.
I cannot pretend to speak to leadership and intangibles. You cannot quantify what he means to this team off the ice or this city, especially following last October’s tragedy and his lifting words on opening night.
But as far as his on-ice results have gone this year, he is probably not one of the 10 best defensemen in the Vegas system as it stands today. The other seven currently rostered have been better this year, and AHL Chicago is teeming with young, exciting blue liners.
If this Vegas team makes the playoffs, it would be wise to scratch the aging veteran.