Robert Bortuzzo is one of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ top defensive prospects, and has shown that he has the skill set and maturity level of many of his counterparts such as Olli Maata and, to a lesser extent, Simon Despres.
Why then, has he been a healthy scratch the last two games, in addition to a handful of games at the beginning of the year? It’s a question that has continued to baffle more and more Penguins fans as the season has gone on, myself included.
In his 15 games played this year, Bortuzzo has no points, 16 penalty minutes, and a -3 rating, and while that’s not the most impressive stat line, it’s not much different than the man that has been playing largely in his place: Deryk Engelland.
By comparison, Engo has three points including two goals to go along with his 23 penalty minutes. His -3 is identical to Bortuzzo’s, however most of Engelland’s offensive output is a result of him playing forward on the fourth line when he replaced the now demised Dustin Jeffrey. It’s a roster move that no other coach in the league besides Dan Bylsma would make, and it’s one that is contradictory to several other decisions he has made regarding ‘D’ pairings this year.
Both Bortuzzo and Engelland are known for their physical presence on the ice as well as their ability to drop the gloves if need be, however Bortuzzo is an actual NHL-caliber defenseman who can match up with the oppositions top lines. On the flip side, Engelland’s usefulness does not extend much beyond his ability to fight. His hands are what you’d expect from a 31-year old third pairing defenseman, and his skating stride looks a lot like Barney Rubble in a pair Easton EQ 50’s.
Ironically, it is these exact traits that Bylsma feels are necessary to keep Engelland in the lineup night after night. Instead of going with a gritty, young defenseman with some degree of offensive upside, Bylsma has instead opted to go with enforcement, keeping Engelland out to ‘enforce’ and keep the other teams tough guys at bay, at least for his fifteen minutes a night.
In Bylsma’s defense, the decision hasn’t really come back to hurt him yet, however anyone who watched the playoffs against Boston will tell you that the Penguins need as much youth and speed as they can get, especially on the back end.
Hopefully Dico Dan comes to his senses and makes the right decisions come playoff time.
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