Deryk Engelland experienced a lot of things during his 17-year professional hockey career that took him from the ECHL to the American Hockey League, and eventually, to an 11-season run in the National Hockey League.
Not only did he begin his pro hockey days playing in Las Vegas with the ECHL’s Wranglers, but he also ended his career in the same city, suiting up for the Golden Knights in their first three seasons in the NHL before announcing his retirement in December.
The Edmonton native entered the pro ranks after spending his junior days with the Moose Jaw Warriors in the Western Hockey League. Getting his career started in the ECHL went a long way to helping Engelland grow and develop as a player.
“I don’t think I was anywhere near ready to play professional hockey after leaving juniors,” he said. “It was a little bit of a wake-up call when I got to AHL camp, and then even after getting sent down to the ECHL. Playing in the ECHL helps you develop, getting that extra playing time in key situations definitely helped me grow and become more confident as a player.”
In addition to getting to play in different situations during his time in the ECHL, Engelland also benefitted from playing under some successful coaches in each of his stops, who all went on to success at higher levels.
His head coach in Las Vegas, Glen Gulutzan, has served as an NHL head coach in Dallas and Calgary, and is currently an assistant coach with Edmonton. In South Carolina, Engelland played for head coach Jason Fitzsimmons, who is a pro scout with the Washington Capitals, and assistant coach Jared Bednar, who is now head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, while his head coach in Reading, Karl Taylor, was the 2019-20 AHL Coach of the Year with the Milwaukee Admirals.
“The coaches I played for in the ECHL were in the same boat we as players were,” he said. “They’re early in their careers, and trying to move up to the next level. In order for them to advance, they have to show that they can move players up. So, they put in that extra time helping us develop, which in turn, helps them reach their goals too. I still keep in touch with those guys, and it created great friendships.”
Playing in the ECHL for three different teams over the course of four seasons left Engelland with some memorable moments of his time in the league.
“It was great times in the ECHL. You’re 21, coming to Vegas, that was pretty exciting just flying in,” he said. “The midnight game here in Vegas was unique, and looking back, you kind of see that the Wranglers made it into a show for the fans then, and the Golden Knights have obviously taken it to another level here.”
Engelland finally hit the big time when he made his NHL debut with Pittsburgh during the 2009-10 season. He spent four more seasons with the Penguins, and then three seasons with Calgary, before his career came full circle, and he returned to Las Vegas when the Golden Knights selected him in the 2017 Expansion Draft.
“Playing with the Wranglers, and meeting my wife here, it was home base for us for a lot of years,” Engelland said. “We came back here every summer, and when they started talking about a team here, we kind of got our hopes up and saw a little glimmer of hope. To come back here and play three years, which were the most magical and special years of my playing career, was amazing and fun to be a part of. For me to end where it started, it’s something I’ll never forget.”
Over the course of the ECHL’s 33 years of existence, 683 players have reached the NHL after playing in the ECHL. But, there may be no better player who personifies the ECHL’s goal of developing players than Engelland. He is the only player to play in at least 100 ECHL games, 300 AHL games and 600 NHL games during his career. Taking that path has afforded Engelland the opportunity to give advice to other players who are on the same track.
“It’s a pretty cool distinction to be the only player to have that accomplishment,” he said. “I think it goes along the lines of people in life, in general, mature at different ages and not everyone at 18 years old is going to be Connor McDavid or those guys. It’s going to take more time and more work. You have to put the work in and to play in the ECHL, you’re playing 20 minutes a game every night compared to being in and out of the line-up in the AHL, playing 8-10 minutes a night. I think that goes a long way at a young age to get those minutes in as a player to play in different situations where you might not get to at a higher level.”
As Engelland steps away from his playing career, he will transition to the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation as the special assistant to owner Bill Foley. He will support the Golden Knights, the foundation and Foley's other charitable efforts through community outreach.
“I’m looking forward the new challenges and being at home more, not travelling every couple days to different cities,” Engelland said. “My boys and 8 and 4 and my wife’s here, and I’m excited to have those days you might not get with the grind of playing during the regular season.
“Going from playing to getting an opportunity to work for the team, I didn’t want to wait,” he continued. “It will keep me busy and keep my mind going. Just like hockey, you want to better yourself and whatever my role entails, you want to keep getting better at it.”
Based on the on-ice success of Engelland’s career, it seems clear that he will embrace his new role and continue to make the Golden Knights a success in the community.