Eric Gelinas was recalled by the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday due to Bryce Salvador returning home because of a death in the family. It’s a great opportunity for Gelinas, who had a great camp, but don’t expect him to stick with the big club.
Gelinas had a great preseason, showing all the necessary tools to be a reliable NHL defenseman. Poise, physicality, speed, long reach and awareness. He looked like a 10-year NHL veteran when he was on the ice. Everything he did looked smooth. That’s a great sign. He has a shot to be the best all-around defenseman the Devils have had in years because of his raw talent. I’m not saying he’ll be exactly like him, but his stature, build and traits appear to be in the mold of a Zdeno Chara. Devils fans can only hope he’ll be close to his caliber.
He’s been tremendous with Albany this year. In five games, he’s got a power play goal and two assists. The Ontario native has hammered 20 shots to boot, tops on the team. The 22-year-old is a plus-two as well. There’s no question he can provide a lift to a team that lacks quality defenseman and a top-notch power play shot.
That said, don’t expect him to stick. The defensive core you have seen up to this point will continue to be the main guys.
Andy Greene was their best defenseman by far last year. He’s a part of the solution in New Jersey and he’s not going anywhere.
Anton Volchenkov is making too much money to be traded or be benched. He has two years left on his deal after this one. Love him, hate him or be apathetic, the big Russian will be in the lineup for most of 2013-14.
Bryce Salvador is another guy that has drawn the ire of Devils fans. He’s going to play every night he’s healthy as well. He’s the captain. I don’t see a Jamie Langenbrunner situation playing out here. No one is going to trade for him. A late 30s defenseman making $3+ million whose best hockey is behind him is not a marketable attraction come trade deadline.
Marek Zidlicky is a fascinating player. For years, Devils fans begged GM Lou Lamoriello to get a “puck-moving defenseman”. Lou did that finally during the 2011-12 season. In his first two seasons, playoffs included, Zidlicky posted 36 points in 94 games. Solid. The first nine games this year? Oh yeah, he leads the team with seven points. He does get caught out of position a lot and is not completely sound in his own end. Fans have torn into him pretty good over the course of his tenure in NJ for that. While he seems like an ideal trade chip, he has a no-trade clause. You can pencil him into most every game this year as well.
As long as the team continues to see Peter Harrold as a power play option, he’s going to stay with the big club. Yes, ideally he would be the team’s seventh defenseman. The coaching staff and management have taken a strong liking to him and his steady play the last two seasons has built up enough trust for the team to keep playing him through his early struggles this year.
The team is still trying to figure out what it has in Mark Fayne and Adam Larsson. Fayne had strong moments in 2010-11, was OK in 2011-12 and really fell off last year. It’s been tough to grade him in his three games thus far. Larsson is still very young and while he was very reliable in his rookie year and for the beginning of last year, he took steps backwards at the end of 2013 and early this campaign. For whatever reason, whether it’s his youth or something he doesn’t like in his game, he’s been the guy Pete DeBoer has benched first in favor of other options.
And there lies the biggest roadblock for Gelinas. The first five guys we mentioned are essentially locks. In theory, Gelinas is battling Larsson and Fayne for that sixth spot. Perhaps the organization feels it should give a shot to a top draft choice in Larsson, and a guy who has been in the organization longer, in Fayne.
Realistically, Fayne shouldn’t even be in the conversation. He was a fifth-round pick and he’ll be 27 come May. His ceiling is limited and he’s a replaceable part. He’s an unrestricted free agent at the end of the year.
Larsson and Gelinas still have the potential to be first or second pairing guys. They’re both restricted free agents so they’re not going anywhere. One would have to assume since Larsson was drafted higher and there are more expectations for him, that the young Swede will be given the nod over Gelinas.
Lou and DeBoer will give the veterans as much of a chance as possible to succeed. Also throw in the fact that Lou has publicly stated he doesn’t want a one-way NHL contract heading down to the AHL. The two guys who don’t fit into that category? Gelinas and Larsson. Now, if Gelinas has a goal and an assist and dominates in the defensive end on Thursday night, it would be very difficult for the Devils to send him back down right away.
You may see Gelinas pop up once in a while, but he’s not sticking with the team for a long stretch. Not yet, anyway.