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Although his defensive play makes him the subject of scrutiny and a popular scapegoat in this (and recent) seasons, defenseman Marek Zidlicky’s days in New Jersey could be numbered as the trade deadline approaches. When the Devils acquired him in 2012, he was the first definitive offensive defenseman the team’s had since Brian Rafalski left. With the emergence of Eric Gelinas however, it’s frustrating to watch as Zidlicky continues logging heavy minutes on a nightly basis while Gelinas struggles to earn a regular lineup spot over veteran journeymen like Peter Harrold and Mark Fraser.
Whether it’s to showcase his services to prospective trade partners, a coach’s preference (especially if the coaches think they can reassert the Devils back in the playoff race), or a matter of seniority, seasoned veterans on this team like Zidlicky are prioritized over developing youngsters like Gelinas. The comparison between Zidlicky and Gelinas is important when examining his current role; and projecting where Gelinas fits in the Devil’s long term plans because they’re mainly the same type of player. Both are considered one-way offensively minded defenseman whose productivity outweighs their ineffective (and burdensome) play in their own zone. If the Devils, a team whose past success stems from their illustrious history of developing homegrown talent, it would make sense to believe that Gelinas will succeed Zidlicky as their next full-time offensive defenseman.
Having always emphasized the importance of defense, the Devils never had room for more than one offensive defensemen that didn’t play responsibly in their own end; at least not for an extended period of time. This could partly explain the current constraints on Gelinas’ ice time.
The Devils took their time with Gelinas since drafting him 54th overall in 2009. After the recent parade of ineffective youth that’s come from the pipeline like Nick Palmieri, Mattias Tedenby, Matt Corrente and players yet to fulfill expectations like Jacob Josefson and Stefan Matteau, many of whom may have jumped the gun with their development, it should be refreshing for Devils fans to see the steady course Gelinas has taken. It’s also worth reiterating Gelinas has yet to reach 100 games and is only in his sophomore season; as we are understandably anxious to see him fully utilized after seeing what he can do.
Zidlicky’s anticipated departure from the team is the next logical opportunity Gelinas will have to advance his NHL development. In the meantime, if we compare Gelinas’ usage in this early stage of his career to the seasons over which the first 100 games of some current and former Devils defensemen were played, it could shed some light on whether Gelinas is just following the same course as his predecessors, or if he has a more individualized situation.
Below is a chart that compares the average ice time over Gelinas’ first two seasons with the average ice time of the seasons in which the first 100 games of current and former Devils defensemen were played.
Player Name Seasons GP Average Ice Time
Like Gelinas, the chart shows that Sheldon Souray, the last defenseman the Devils drafted that most closely resembles Gelinas, struggled to play regularly in the first two seasons, over which his first one hundred games were played. Whenever he got in the lineup, Souray was used tentatively by the coaching staff. While the Devils defense was understandably difficult to crack back then, especially at a time when the team was more zealous about defense-first play than they are now, Souray didn’t become the offensive hard-shooting defensemen we came to know until he went to Montreal in 2000. If Souray is any indication, players of his and Gelinas’ caliber are given a reasonable but limited window to integrate their skill set with the team’s playing philosophy.
Players that show their efficiency early-on in defensive situations such Paul Martin, Colin White, and even Jon Merrill, were quickly recognized by the coaching staff and set the tone for the roles they had on the Devils during their time here. While White was more of the rugged stay-at-home defenseman, Martin possessed a two-way game. Both of them played heavy minutes in all situations during their time in New Jersey.
We all know how Adam Larsson’s play was hindered after the opportune start to his rookie season. Citing his shaky defensive efforts, he struggled until just before Pete DeBoer’s firing to earn regular playing time. Larsson’s current defense partner, Andy Greene, faced the same struggles over the first three seasons his first 100 games were played in. When he broke into the league, Greene’s defensive play was lacking, which along with injuries, made for an adversarial path Greene took to get where he is. Larsson and Greene can cite their willingness and ability to conform their style of play into a defense-oriented manner before establishing themselves as integral parts of the Devils defense.
Gelinas, like other highly touted defensive prospects that preceded him, has and will be given every opportunity to become a regular for the Devils. It’s a combination of his own willingness to make the necessary changes to his game that fit into the Devil’s playing philosophy, and his ability to prove himself capable of being a reliable resourceful player the coaching staff can call upon. When do you think that Eric Gelinas will get back into the lineup, and what does he have to do to earn his spot for good? Share your thoughts with us!