Ever since the Vegas Golden Knights began playing in the NHL, Deryk Engelland has been the heartbeat at the centre of it all. The Vegas native was poached from the Calgary Flames in the 2017 Expansion Draft, shortly after which the veteran blueliner signed a one year deal. (from ‘Golden Knights select Deryk Engelland in NHL Expansion Draft’, Calgary Herald, 6/22/17) The rest, as they say, is history. And with it becoming official that Engelland will not be putting on a Knights jersey this season, I thought it would be a perfect time to shine a spotlight on some of the best career moments that have gone into creating the legend of Engelland.
Nine days before the Golden Knights’ home opener, the city of Las Vegas experienced one of its darkest days in history. A man opened fire from his hotel room window onto the Route 91 Harvest Festival, killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more.
Rather than the glitz and glam that had originally been planned to celebrate the arrival of hockey in the desert, the team made the admirable decision to use the night to honour those involved in the tragedy. At the heart of this came Engelland’s speech. 58 seconds for the 58 victims.
After the fact, Engelland admitted to not being much of a public speaker and that his biggest worry was misspeaking on something he knew was coming from the heart. “Playing hockey in front of 18,000 is easy, you do that every day,” Engelland said. (from ‘We are Vegas Strong: Deryk Engelland’s Legacy Includes Opening Night Speech’, Las Vegas Sun-11/30/20) “To stand up there and speak while everyone is quiet and not saying a word was extremely nerve-wracking.” There was nobody in the arena or watching on TV who would have been able to sense the apprehensions Engelland was feeling.
Not only was the speech impactful in the way that it paid tribute to the victims and first responders, but it cemented the relationship between the Knights and their city, something that has undoubtedly been a factor in the Knights continued home ice advantage. What Engellend did that night extended past the rink and into the hearts of every Vegas resident, something he was able to do particularly well being a resident himself.
“Like all of you, I’m proud to call Las Vegas home,” he said then. “I met my wife here. Our kids were born here. I know how special this city is. To all the brave first responders that have worked tirelessly and courageously through this whole tragedy, we thank you. To the families and friends of the victims, we’ll do everything we can to help you and our city heal. … We are Vegas Strong.”– Deryk Engelland
Leading By Example
Engelland’s first season with the Knights saw him reach career highs in goals (5), assists (18) and points (23) while taking on a much different role to what anyone was expecting. Prior to landing in Vegas, Engelland had been known as more of an enforcer than a skill player, someone who would throw his body around without contributing much offensively.
Spending the majority of the season with Shea Theodore, Engelland was a steady top-four blueliner throughout the 2017-18 campaign. Together, their on-ice save percentage was a surprisingly high 92.38, higher than both players without the other (Engelland at 90.78 and Theodore at 91.18). The partnership was particularly beneficial in allowing Theodore’s offensive instincts to grow and mature knowing that the calm, stay-at-home Engelland had his back.
Engelland’s off-ice presence was established with his speech and carried through the season. After becoming the face of the franchise for his speech, he went on to establish Engelland’s Vegas Born Heroes Foundation, set to honour local heroes in the Vegas community. The Vegas alternate captain (one of six players to wear the “A”) he was the team’s nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership and humanitarian work, and won the Mark Messier Leadership Award.
A True Team Player
When the Golden Knights made a coaching change in the middle of the 2019-20 season, Engelland’s role with the team shifted dramatically. Under Gallant, the defenseman was scratched just eight times across 213 games, and never in a playoff contest. With Pete DeBoer at the helm, it was a vastly different story: Engelland was scratched in 12 straight, and 17 of the last 18 prior to the season pause.
Despite the new spot Engelland found himself in, he continued to be the true professional he had come to be known as. When DeBoer was on Fox Sports Radio, he opened up about how Engelland had handled the situation and shed light on just how committed to the organization Engelland was.
“The messaging to me was ‘I just want to be a part of this. When you need me, let me know, and I’ll be ready to go.’ You can’t have enough of that and that’s what makes groups like this special.”– Pete DeBoer
To say that that proves the character the organization had in Engelland would be an understatement. But later in the same season, the veteran once again proved his commitment to what the organization was doing and embodied the idea of a team player.
As DeBoer continued to mould the Knights to his vision, it became more and more clear that Engelland’s spot in the rotation was being given to Zach Whitecloud, and the youngster wasn’t going to give it up. It was looking like the only way Engelland would skate again would be via a trade. His new deal didn’t have a no trade clause, meaning George McPhee and company were under no obligation to ask for the player’s permission before moving him. But they did anyway.
McCrimmon approached Engelland to let him know that a team had expressed interest in acquiring him at the trade deadline, and management were prepared to do whatever the face of their franchise wanted. He wanted to stay, even if that meant he would be watching his team’s playoff run from the suites.
That’s exactly what he did. He spent the two months in the Edmonton bubble with the team as they made their run to the Western Conference Final. Beyond continuing his role as an off-ice leader, Engelland won the team’s poker tournament, organized by their Fun Committee.
While it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Engelland signs with another NHL team in pursuit of a Stanley Cup, I don’t see that being the likely end point. He could also retire and ride off into the Nevada sunset and enjoy a peaceful life post-hockey. However, his involvement with the community and what he means to the city make me highly doubtful of that happening.
Instead, I believe that the most likely next step for Engelland and the Golden Knights organization as a whole would be adding him to the Henderson Silver Knights coaching staff. The staff is currently made up of head coach Manny Viveiros and assistants Joel Ward and Jamie Heward. The specifics of what role Engelland would take on are murky, but it’s hard to deny that the defensive stalwart would add expertise, and more importantly, carry the Golden Knights idea of character through to their AHL affiliate.
Regardless of what the next chapter holds for Engallend, he is without a doubt a pillar of hockey in the desert, one whose legacy will carry on long after he chooses to retreat from the bright lights of the NHL stage. No matter who wears the golden threads in the future, Engelland has set the standard for what it means to pull on that jersey and represent the crest.
Casey is a Canadian Sports Journalism student who focuses on the Vegas Golden Knights. A lifelong sports fan, she developed a passion for telling the stories that are rarely seen in the sports world.