When Penguins shuffle lineup, Derek Grant doesn’t mind being right
From the moment center Derek Grant signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins on July 19, he knew he might play some games on the wing.
Given the team’s depth down the middle, there was a good chance two of the six NHL-caliber centers on the roster would have to make that adjustment. He was prepared for it.
The left-handed Grant might not have realized, however, a move to the right wing might be in the cards.
Yet that’s exactly where he was during Thursday’s practice in Cranberry. With Daniel Sprong out on a day-to-day basis with a lower-body injury, the fourth-line right wing spot opened up and Grant filled it.
He wasn’t rattled. He said he spent a few games playing on the right side in Anaheim last season. No big deal.
“Once you get out there and the puck drops, everyone’s kind of filling in for each other all over the ice,” Grant said. “It’s kind of been that way for a lot of years for me. Wherever you get the chance to play, it’s the same game out there. You just gotta go out there and make the most of it.”
Last year in Anaheim taught Grant an important lesson about life in the NHL: When lineups are being drawn up, players must be ready for anything.
In the blink of an eye early in the season, a series of injuries down the middle forced Grant to bump up into the top six for the Ducks. He responded by posting five goals and 11 points in a 15-game stretch through October and November. He hadn’t scored a single goal in the first 86 games of his NHL career.
“It was good for me to be able to play all four lines last year,” Grant said. “It rounds out your game and allows you to learn new things and play with different players. Anytime you have the chance to do that, it’s beneficial.”
One other notable oddity about the line Grant played on in practice Thursday: It was made up of three centers. Matt Cullen was on the left wing while Riley Sheahan played in the middle.
It’s not unusual for an NHL line to include two centermen. It is a bit odd for it to have three.
“If that’s the thing, it’s always a good thing to have,” Grant said. “If a guy gets kicked out of a faceoff, it’s always a good back-up to have. I think we’re comfortable playing all over the ice.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.