Penguins’ Derek Grant reaps benefits of travel, versatility
The first time new Pittsburgh Penguins center Derek Grant put a puck in the net in an NHL game, officials stopped the game for 10 minutes.
Not to celebrate, although the game was in Vancouver and people in nearby Abbotsford, British Columbia, were poised to cheer for Grant, their homegrown hero.
Actually, it took league officials and referee Ghislain Hebert that long to determine the goal didn’t count.
On Jan. 17, 2017, Grant was playing for the Nashville Predators and was part of a scrum in front of Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller. After several seconds, Grant shoved the puck across the goal line, triggering a protest from Miller.
After disallowing the goal, the NHL issued a statement that said Hebert “was in the process of blowing his whistle to stop play when Miller covered the puck with his blocker before the puck crossed the goal line.”
Oh, well, said the affable Grant, “That’s my hometown. It would have been kinda cool.”
Grant, who scored 99 goals in seven AHL seasons, played in 46 games that season for the Buffalo Sabres and Nashville without recording a goal. Last season, while playing for the Anaheim Ducks, he had another goal disallowed when he was ruled offside before he deflected the puck into the net.
Finally, on Oct. 20, 2017, he scored twice against the Montreal Canadiens’ Carey Price, his first goals after 92 NHL games. He scored 12 goals for Anaheim before signing with the Penguins in July as a free agent. Pittsburgh is his sixth NHL city after he was drafted in the fourth round in 2008 by the Ottawa Senators.
“It’s not ideal,” said Grant, 28, “but sometimes that’s the way the game works. I’m getting used to it. You want to find some place where you fit in and can stay there for a long time. I haven’t found that yet. But I’m happy to be here.”
Grant’s one season in Anaheim might have been the most significant of his career to date.
“The opportunity I had to play up and down the lineup (center and wing), I think that built a new confidence in me and allowed me to learn different parts of the game and allowed me to build my game.” he said.
With the Penguins, Grant is part a deep center position that includes Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan and Matt Cullen. But Grant’s ability to play wing increases his value to the Penguins. Plus, Sheahan (lower-body injury) and Brassard (illness) have not practiced in camp, opening up additional opportunities for Grant.
“It’s always helpful if you play two positions,” Penguins assistant coach Jacques Martin said. “He has played on the power play and done some penalty killing.”
Grant’s size (6-foot-3, 215 pounds) is a plus, too.
“He’s a player who brings a physical dimension to our club,” Martin added. “He’s good as a net front. He’s got good hockey sense.
“He had a good season last year in Anaheim. We felt that maybe we didn’t have the depth at center last year that we wanted. This year, we really feel good about our depth at the center position, knowing some of our centers can also play on the wing.”
Said Grant: “It’s a long season. I guarantee that there will be times when we need guys in the middle and guys on the wing. It’s a good problem to have, for sure.”
Grant has been centering a line with wingers Carl Hagelin and Jimmy Hayes, but he planned to be with Jake Guentzel and Daniel Sprong on Tuesday night in an exhibition game against the Sabres.
“It’s a nice thing when you come to training camp, and you’re playing with guys who’ve been around,” he said. “It’s nice to be on this side of the logo, for sure. I’ve played a lot of games against this team. It’s always been a fun team to watch. I’m happy to be on this side and, hopefully, make another push for the Cup.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.