Home Pittsburgh Sports College Basketball Delivering

Delivering

The presence of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Jordan Staal on the Penguins’ roster is easily its most celebrated characteristic, although few discussions put in perspective precisely how rare this combination of building blocks has proved to be.

Since the modern draft began almost 43 years ago, the Penguins (2003-06) and Atlanta Thrashers (1999-2002) are the only teams in NHL history to draft either No. 1 or No. 2 overall in four consecutive seasons. The Thrashers drafted Patrik Stefan, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk and Kari Lehtonen, but those four played only four games together in Atlanta.

The Quebec Nordiques had the first overall pick three years running from 1989-1991 and sank all the way to No. 4 in 1992, but two of those resulting choices (Eric Lindros and Todd Warriner) never played a game in a Nordiques’ sweater. Between 1993 and 1996, the Ottawa Senators had three No. 1 choices and a No. 3, then sent No. 1 Bryan Berard to the New York Islanders for the man chosen right behind him, Wade Redden. But Redden and the Sens’ other top picks (Alexandre Daigle, Radek Bonk and Chris Phillips) played less than half a season together.

So what the Penguins have these days is unique – and an extra challenge when it comes to keeping the team under the NHL salary cap. Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and Staal take up $26.4 million of the available $64.3 million, or 41 percent, and that comes into sharper focus this summer when Crosby and Staal become eligible for contract extensions.

But there is an interesting counterbalance when it comes to the draft pedigree of the rest of the current roster. Eight of GM Ray Shero’s current players were never a draft day story or only so in their hometown papers: Chris Kunitz, Zbynek Michalek, Pascal Dupuis and Ben Lovejoy were never drafted; Craig Adams and Steve Sullivan were chosen in the ninth round; and Matt Cooke and Deryk Engelland were drafted in the sixth round.

Kunitz and Michalek have since proven themselves to be multi-million dollar players, but relatively few sixth- and ninth-rounders make it to the NHL – and only a fraction of those have the longevity of Adams, Sullivan or Cooke. Which brings us to Engelland.

When it comes to the contributions coach Dan Bylsma (himself a former sixth-rounder) is getting from the guys at the other end of the salary spectrum, the 29-year-old Engelland has a very compelling story. Engelland spent time with six different teams in the AHL (Lowell, Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) and ECHL (Las Vegas, South Carolina and Reading) and was 28 years old before he played a full NHL season in 2010-11.

Remarkably, Engelland wasn’t the first 28-year-old rookie to wind his way through the minors and make an impact in Pittsburgh – remember Warren Young in 1984-85? But while it took Engelland all those years of hard work and perseverance to get here (he was drafted the same year as Brooks Orpik), it hasn’t taken him long to become a consistent contributor on defense. Until his three-game suspension late last month, Engelland and Matt Niskanen were the only Pittsburgh defensemen to dress for every game. And that point Engelland had proven to have a surprising offensive upside (only Kris Letang and Niskanen had more points among defensemen) and was +5, a mark bettered by only four teammates.

Engelland has earned his playing time in the NHL, but it doesn’t hurt that he has assistant coach Todd Reirden behind the bench. Reirden was also a defenseman. He also was drafted late by New Jersey (12th round). He played with an astonishing 11 different minor league teams in three leagues before his first full NHL season with St. Louis at the age of 28. He understands.

It helps an awful lot to have marquee talent, but it takes all kinds to make a successful team. Remember that it was an eighth-rounder who scored two goals at Joe Louis Arena in Game 7 in 2009. Right now, Engelland is bringing that intangible quality to the Pittsburgh roster, and I’d bet this spring he’ll make another step forward and play in his first Stanley Cup playoff game.

Previous articleMalkin takes over as Pens stop Lightning 6-3
Next articleMalkin, Neal lead Pens to shootout victory over Hurricanes