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The Golden Knights are asking too much of Deryk Engelland

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Vegas’ unofficial team captain is being used like a top-pair defenseman, but that just isn’t a suitable role for the 37-year-old.

Los Angeles Kings v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

George McPhee and Bill Foley sit behind a desk, side-by-side, at the 2017 NHL Awards. Many months of hard work and endless planning led to this moment — at last, it was time to announce the first players to ever dawn a steel and gold sweater.

Fifteen selections had already been announced. Cody Eakin, Jonathan Marchessault, Brayden McNabb and James Neal, among others, were all officially members of the NHL’s newest franchise.

Finally, it was time for McPhee to announce his selection from the Calgary Flames.

“From Calgary, the Vegas Golden Knights sign Vegas resident Deryk Engelland,” says McPhee as cheers rain down from all in attendance at T-Mobile Arena.

It seemed inevitable. Engelland, a long-time Vegas resident and former member of the Las Vegas Wranglers ECHL club, became an immediate fan favorite. The veteran blueliner was about to receive an opportunity unlike any other, and he knew it.

At 35 years old, the eldest member of Vegas’ youthful squad recorded career highs in goals (5), assists (18) and points (23). Engelland’s first season as a Golden Knight was nothing short of a smashing success.

Unfortunately, 2019 hasn’t been as kind to the Knights’ unofficial team captain. And despite his struggles to drive play, the soon-to-be 37-year-old continues to average nearly 20 minutes per game (only Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore average more ice time), which is suboptimal as the Knights prepare for another trip to the postseason.

Engelland is no offensive savant. This is evidenced by his career high 23 points from Vegas’ inaugural campaign. Of the eight defensemen to play a game for the Golden Knights this year, Engelland’s play-driving numbers are by far the worst of the group. At 5-on-5, Engelland owns a 50.34 Corsi For percentage — the second-worst of all 27 Golden Knights skaters this season.

He isn’t the only one who’s numbers are suffering, though. His deficiencies in the offensive zone have negatively impacted two of the Golden Knights’ best blueliners this season. Recently, Engelland has been playing with Schmidt on Vegas’ top pair, and the results have not been pretty. When Engelland and Schmidt are on the ice together, the duo averages a 46.46 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5. Away from Engelland, however, Schmidt’s 5-on-5 CF% rises to 52.81.

The same can be said about Theodore, who Engelland was paired with for the majority of the season. Together, Engelland and Theodore average a solid 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage of 53.54. Separated, though, Theodore’s 5-on-5 Corsi numbers skyrocket to a ridiculous 59.72 as Engelland’s sink all the way to 44.15.

Schmidt and Theodore aren’t alone, either. This is a common trend with just about every regular Golden Knights defenseman this season.

Deryk Engelland’s Effect on Defensive Partners

Player CF% With Engelland CF% Without CF% Without Engelland
Player CF% With Engelland CF% Without CF% Without Engelland
Brayden McNabb 27.5 51.18 53.69
Colin Miller 40 49.97 55.58
Jon Merrill 32.56 51.92 58.71
Nate Schmidt 46.46 50.74 52.81
Nick Holden 50.89 51.98 56.25
Shea Theodore 53.54 44.15 59.72
Statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

It’s obvious that offense isn’t Engelland’s strong suit. This is why he’s so heavily relied upon in the defensive zone. Only four Knights players have been on the ice for more defensive zone faceoffs this season, and that isn’t an accident.

Unfortunately, Engelland’s struggles are also evident even in that portion of the ice. As shown in the images below, the Golden Knights are far more likely to allow quality scoring chances when Engelland is on the ice as opposed to when he’s on the bench.

While the figures aren’t exactly inspiring, Engelland does currently lead the Golden Knights with 95 blocked shots and, aside the occasional lapse, is fairly responsible with the puck on his stick. He’s only coughed up the puck 24 times all season.

Still, while a role as a top-pair defenseman may not be ideal for Engelland, a reunion with Shea Theodore could be a step in the right direction. After all, Engelland and Theodore are quite familiar with one another — Theodore has spent the majority of his NHL career paired with Engelland and compliments No. 5’s skills rather well. Where Engelland struggles (skating, engineering controlled zone exits and creating scoring chances), Theodore excels. Though it’s not the ideal pairing, it may be the best option going into the postseason.

There’s no doubting the impact Deryk Engelland has made in the locker room since being selected in the expansion draft. The seasoned veteran has already solidified his legacy as one of the founding fathers of hockey in Vegas, and his presence in the lineup does more good than the numbers show. But at this stage of his career, it’s fair to wonder if his role as a top-pair defender is an appropriate one. Given what’s shown on a game-by-game basis, it’s justifiable to assume otherwise.

Statistics courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.