In his second pro season, Abbotsford native Derek Grant has grown into the most lethal penalty killer in the American Hockey League.
The Binghamton Senators centre is the runaway league leader in shorthanded goals with five – only two other players have as many as three.
He’s generated most of the highlights for an absurdly potent Binghamton PK – their 11 shorties are tops in the league, and they manage to produce that offence without sacrificing defence. They snuff opposing teams’ power plays at an 88 per cent clip, good for second overall, trailing only Grant’s hometown team, the Abbotsford Heat (89.5).
“I think it’s just the style that we use,” Grant analyzed. “Obviously other teams, on the power play, are looking to score goals themselves, and they often have forwards back on the point. Every time we get a chance, we try to take advantage of that.”
After leading the NCAA’s Michigan State Spartans in scoring as a sophomore, Grant turned pro in the Ottawa Senators’ organization, which had picked him in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL entry draft.
He helped Binghamton win the Calder Cup in the spring of 2011, but endured a playoff-less campaign with the club in 2011-12.
The Baby Senators are back on the upswing this season, though – they’re currently tied for first overall in the AHL at 28-12-4, and Grant has been a big part of that.
In the preseason, Binghamton coach Luke Richardson asked Grant to centre the third line, with a primary focus on shutting down other teams’ top offensive forwards. The 22-year-old had been relied upon for scoring in his junior and college days, but he’s made a seamless switch to the more defensive-minded role, while managing to post 13 goals and six assists to go with a plus-five rating in 43 games.
“I was always that go-to offensive guy in juniors and college, but I actually enjoy this,” he said. “You’re out there against other teams’ top lines in all the important situations, and it’s something I take pride in.
“There’s all kinds of offensively skilled guys, but there’s not a lot of guys who like to do what I do. . . . Hopefully it takes me to the next level.”
Grant spent his 16-year-old season with the Abbotsford Pilots, and he believes his time with the local junior B club helped form a solid foundation for his hockey future.
“It was a big deal to play against older guys, and I think it did push me to boost my compete level,” he said. “Playing against those older guys helped me adjust to the next level of junior A, and from there, you move on to college. It’s probably helped me all the way along, even in my adjustment to pro hockey.”