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Grant took the long road to the NHL

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

To make the jump to the NHL, forward Derek Grant, who signed a one-year deal with the Penguins on Friday, needed to adjust his game.

In his youth, Grant was a first line scoring centerman, piling up points with Langley of the British Columbia Hockey League - 123 over two seasons en route to being the fourth-round pick (119th overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft of Ottawa.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound forward followed that by totaling 63 points in 76 games for Michigan State in two collegiate campaigns. But as Grant made the transition to the pro game, he needed to adapt his style of play.

"When I turned pro I had to learn my first couple years in the American Hockey League to be a defensive player," Grant, 28, said. "I actually took on a third-line checking role and took a lot of pride in that and learning that part of the game."

Grant, 28, played parts of five seasons with Ottawa and Binghamton while honing his defensive skills. He was even a member of Binghamton's 2011 Calder Cup championship team.

"Having played up and down from the two leagues and different positions in both leagues it's rounded my game to the point where I'm comfortable playing in any situation," he said.

Grant has learned to play his natural position of center as well as wing. But he's also flexible enough to appear on all four lines, power play and penalty kill units.

"For me, that's something I've tried to be is versatile up and down the lineup," he said. "I've learned to play an offensive role, a defensive role, center and wing position. As a natural center iceman it is easier to go from center to the wing, as opposed to wing to center. It's an adjustment. It doesn't take too long. I've done it enough over the last few seasons."

All of that experience finally paid off during the 2017-18 season with Anaheim when he set career highs with 12 goals, 12 assists, 24 points and 66 games played.

"I think the path that I've had in my career prepared me for last year. I'm thankful for it," Grant said. "Last year in Anaheim with the injuries that we had I was forced to play in pretty much every different role and situation.

"I was surrounded by some pretty good players, getting an opportunity early on in the season to play up in the lineup. For me it's getting ice time and gaining confidence as you go. The coaching staff there showed great confidence in me early on in the season. I was able to get some bounces and put a couple of those in early."

The Abbotsford, British Columbia will now bring his size and versatility to the Penguins' lineup.

"I was very excited when I got the call from (Penguins general manager) Jim (Rutherford). It's an organization that if you get a chance to come play for you want to jump on that opportunity," Grant said. "It's a special group of guys here. I'm just excited for the opportunity."

Grant has worked long and hard to make it to the NHL. It's been a long road, but it's all finally started to pay off.

"It's probably not the way you think about it when you're coming into the league or growing up," he said. "But I'm thankful for where it's gotten me and I'm excited for the opportunity to come (to Pittsburgh) and excited to get the season going."

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