LAS VEGAS — When the Vegas Golden Knights assembled their initial roster at the expansion draft on June 21, at least one member of the NHL’s newest franchise didn’t have to worry about finding a new home. A veteran of eight NHL seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Calgary Flames, defenseman Deryk Engelland has called Sin City home since being assigned to the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers in 2004. In a conversation with ESPN, Engelland, 35, talked about bringing the NHL to his adopted hometown, helping his new teammates get settled and, of course, his favorite Vegas show.
ESPN.com: How much have you been helping other players find their way around town since they got to training camp?
Deryk Engelland: A little less now, probably. Now it’s more [about finding] spots to eat. Most of the guys have found houses, or are looking. I think it’s safe to say most of the guys have been looking close to the practice rink, where we’ll be all the time. That part has been easy. There was more of that in the summer, when guys weren’t here yet. Just the little things. Guys with kids need babysitting or schools, things for [their kids] to do.
ESPN.com: It must be interesting for the guys who are staying at the hotel nearby and walking through the casino to get to the rink.
Engelland: Usually you have to go out to get to a casino. It’s not in the hotel you’re staying at. It’s a little different feeling. If you’re going to go and gamble, you’re going to go and do it anyways. So it’s a convenience if you want to go and waste a little money.
ESPN.com: Who was the first teammate who called asking for help?
Engelland: Flower [Marc-Andre Fleury], for sure. I go back with him [to their days with the Penguins]. Even before the expansion draft — I didn’t know anything, but he had a good feeling that it was happening. He just asked about how the area was, how the city is for kids. Little questions to help him out and make it a little easier of a transition for him after being in Pittsburgh for 14 years.
ESPN.com: What are the typical questions you’ve been getting?
Engelland: Places to live. Other than that, it’s places to eat, good golf courses, good shows, I guess.
ESPN.com: Do you have a favorite show?
Engelland: I’m a big fan of Absinthe. It’s kind of like a comedy, like Cirque du Soleil. We just took our oldest [child] to the Beatles show. That was probably our favorite Cirque show that we’ve seen, and we’ve seen almost all of them.
ESPN.com: What went through your mind when you first arrived in Las Vegas in 2004 to play hockey?
Engelland: I had been sent down from the AHL. Like every other tourist coming here, obviously, I was a little bit in awe, being 21 and coming into the city. That was my first time in Vegas. I was excited, and a lot of good things came from that first year and a half that I played here. It helped me develop a lot with [then-Wranglers coach and current Calgary Flames coach] Glen Gulutzan. I learned a lot of things back then, on and off the ice. I call [Las Vegas] home now. I’ve been here 14 years, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
ESPN.com: The Vegas Wranglers played their home games in the Orleans Arena at The Orleans Hotel and Casino. What was the atmosphere like in the building back then?
Engelland: I want to say we averaged about 5,500 or something a game. The atmosphere was great. The Orleans was, for the [ECHL], a great rink. The setup couldn’t be better. It got all the guys together at one spot. Everyone hung out at the pool.
ESPN.com: What was your welcome-to-Vegas moment?
Engelland: That was a long time ago. Just the first flight in and seeing the Strip and all the lights. I’m pretty sure that’s everyone’s thought when they fly in.
ESPN.com: Would you get a lot of calls from teammates during the offseason while you were living here?
Engelland: Once in a while. Probably more once I got to Pittsburgh. A few guys came out for vacation. Even now, guys I played with a few years ago call when they come into town. It’s a good place to go. It’s a little harder, with kids now, to meet up at the Strip, but whenever we can, we try to meet up with them.
ESPN.com: Who would visit most often?
Engelland: Probably Sid [Crosby] because he’s here for the NHL awards every year. He’s the guy I see every year.
ESPN.com: Could you ever predict when you first got here that you would someday be playing for an NHL team based in Las Vegas?
Engelland: No. I definitely wouldn’t have thought there would be an NHL team here when I started. I probably wouldn’t have thought there would be one here six or seven years ago, either. Seeing the whole process — the ticket drive, how many tickets they sold so fast and the hype around the city — has been amazing. Not knowing what was going to happen in the expansion draft and then getting taken was kind of surreal.
In the back of my mind, when they announced the team, [being taken in the expansion draft] was kind of a possibility. You never know, you’ll see how things play out. With the Calgary Flames [for whom Engelland played the past three seasons], I didn’t know if there would be a contract there. To be able to come here and play at home … my family gets to stay here, it’s just a dream come true. It’s an honor to be a part of this expansion team, and I’m very much looking forward to putting on the jersey for that first home game.