Golden Knights’ defenseman Deryk Engelland is in his ninth season in the NHL and turns 36 in less than two months, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him on the ice.
Engelland barreled through the Oilers’ defense during the first period of Thursday night’s game at T-Mobile Arena, carving his way to the crease where he fired a backhand shot at goaltender Cam Talbot.
Talbot made the save, but Ryan Carpenter buried the rebound to give the Golden Knights a 1-0 lead.
With the assist, Engelland notched a career-high with 18 points on the season with 25 games still to play.
“I for sure knew it,” Engelland said about the record number, after tying his career-high with an assist in Tuesday night’s win over the Blackhawks. “It’s a big accomplishment, but I wouldn’t have dwelled if I didn’t get it.”
The veteran defender is three years older than any skater on the Golden Knights but is playing the best hockey of his career. He has jumped into the offense with regularity, and Thursday night he helped spark the Golden Knights in their 4-1 win over the Oilers.
“He plays our system real well. He joins the rush a lot,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “I think he’s been good all year, solid all year and that’s good for him.”
Engelland attributes his spike in points to the additional playing time he’s received with Vegas. He is averaging 19:58 of ice time per game, which is four minutes more than his career average of 15:40.
“It’s easy to play with confidence when you’re just rolling six defensemen and everyone is playing with confidence,” Engelland said. “That’s a big part of the game. When you play with confidence, you make those little plays that you might not otherwise.”
He’s on pace to shatter his career highs for shots on goal and total shot attempts, and said he feels as fast as he's ever been.
“Foot speed has been important for me in my career, so I try to work on that a lot in the summers and try to get faster,” Engelland said. “With the game changing, getting younger and faster, you have to change to stick with it.”
Engelland has also spent significantly less time in the penalty box this season. He averaged 69 penalty minutes per season over the past seven years, topping out at 123 in 2010-11, but only has 20 this season.
“There aren’t as many guys to fight in the league anymore,” Engelland said, laughing. “I’m just trying to be a physical presence out there and still have that part of my game, but haven’t gotten in a single fight this year.”
As a team, the Golden Knights have only been involved in seven fights this season, which is tied for second fewest in the NHL.
They were tied with Winnipeg for the fewest league-wide until Colin Miller dropped the gloves Thursday night against Edmonton’s Jujhar Khaira.
“(Fighting) is not a big part of our game,” Gallant said. “We will stand up for ourselves, but it’s not a big part of our game. We want to play the game hard and fast.”
Vegas also averages the second fewest penalty minutes overall per game in the NHL.
“We have guys that can answer the bell if need be, but we just try to play hockey,” said forward Erik Haula, who scored his 22nd goal of the season to give the Golden Knights a 4-0 lead in the third period.
Stellar play is another reason the Golden Knights, and Engelland, haven’t been involved in many fights.
“When teams are up the guys don’t want to fight and give up momentum,” Engelland said.
Vegas is 23-3-0 this season for an NHL-best .884 win percentage when scoring first. The Golden Knights are also 20-2-1 when leading after two periods.
When General Manager George McPhee chose Engelland in the expansion draft, he knew he was getting the only current NHL player with a residency in Las Vegas. Even he couldn’t have expected him to have the best season of his career.
“I feel great,” Engelland said. “I think this is by far my best year all around and hopefully it continues that way.”