With Ray Shero admitting that Eric Godard will not be re-signed and Mike Rupp seemingly on his way out of Pittsburgh, the Pens seem to lack that big, heavyweight winger who can go toe-to-toe with the Trevor Gillies' of the NHL. Sure, re-signed Aaron Asham (all 5'10" and 196lbs. of him) can handle his own against the likes of Zenon Konopka, but against the likes of a Colton Orr, he's not an even tilt.
This leaves one man in the heavyweight division for the Pens: Deryk Engelland. And I'm fine with this under a certain scenario as described below:
Typically, a defenseman doesn't fill the role of enforcer simply because - with the usual compliment of only 6 defensemen on the bench - each is expected to log at least 10 mins. of ice time on a regular even-strength shift. That's difficult if you're regularly sitting in the box for 5 minutes (or in the case of added misconducts, 15 mins.) at a time.
Sometimes, however, teams dress 7 defensemen for a game. This can sometimes be due to injuries to forwards (particularly when there isn't time for a call-up). Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher regularly plays with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen for a number of reasons:
First, injuries: "I always find defensemen are always the ones to fall quicker than forwards because they are more subjected to some pounding, so it gives you more liberty in terms of a buffer for injuries," Boucher said. "If you have a defenseman who is injured and wants to play and can play, though we're not sure to what extent, then having that extra defenseman gives you the liberty to feel it out and see if your guy is good enough for an entire game."
Next, the power play: "You can have a specialist if you want. Sometimes a guy who is a power-play guy has more trouble five-on-five. So, it gives us a liberty to have a guy like that in the lineup."
And flexibility: "When you have an injury during a game, you're down to five defensemen. If you have a guy in the penalty box, you're down to five defensemen again. So, if you have an extra defenseman it levels the playing field because you have six and aren't stuck with playing five for two periods or whatever it is."
Bylsma's done this on occasion as well, though it's not his standard lineup. One noticeable occurence was on January 6, 2011--yep, the game after Sidney Crosby's second concussion. There was no Crosby and no Cooke, either, so Bylsma dressed his typical third defense pairing of Goligoski-Lovejoy, but added Engelland. However, there was one important tweak:
• Defenseman Deryk Engelland played a little bit of forward with Crosby and Cooke being out of the lineup. He saw time on the Penguins' fourth line with Mike Rupp and Craig Adams, telling FSN’s Dan Potash during the second intermission that he hadn’t played forward since his time with Las Vegas of the East Coast Hockey League.
And there's the opening. Now, I'm not suggesting Engelland make a permanent move to the wing. He's a solid, physical defender who does a good job on the blueline for 12-15 mins. a night. But if Bylsma moved to a seven-defensemen lineup, Engelland could either be thrown on the ice (1) as a defender without the fear of hurting his team by sitting in the box, or (2) as a 4th line winger a few shifts a game to mix it up with the opposition blueliners.
I can think of another defenseman in recent years who could similarly jump back-and-forth: Christoph Schubert. Schubert certainly wasn't an enforcer, but his 6'2", 210 lb. frame was used both as a defensemen and as a regular fourth-line winger to add size. In 2008-2009, Schubert landed 102 hits in only 50 games played. Engelland could similarly be this type of player, but with obviously heavier hands.
Just some food for thought heading in to Friday's UFA free-for-all. If Shero decides not to follow my suggestion and sign All-American Hero Cam Janssen, I won't panic.