The NHL career of Eric Gelinas is a mere six games old, but he has already shown those who have seen him play that the New Jersey Devils may have a future building block on their blueline for years to come. The fans have been itching for him to get an extended chance to play with the NHL team after he spent the last two seasons in the AHL; mainly because the 22-year-old stands 6’4” tall (210 lbs.) and his slap shot from the point is impressive — its hard and generally accurate.
After his first game this season (second career game) Jaromir Jagr said, Gelinas was “the best player on the ice” in a 3-2 shootout loss to the Vancouver Canucks. The rookie defenseman netted his first career goal that game with a laser shot from inside the blueline that beat Roberto Luongo (video below). Jagr went on to praise Gelinas, who is from Vanier, Ontario: “He was skating with the puck. He’s got a good shot and poise to make the passes. He’s not afraid to make a pass to make a play. That’s what we need.”
Martin Brodeur told us back in the preseason he liked what Gelinas brought to the team, adding a dimension they haven’t had since Scott Niedermayer and then Brian Rafalski left as UFAs with his strong, on-target shot from the point. Just because he is big, doesn’t mean he isn’t fast and although no one will say he will be winning any Fastest Skater competitions, his decision-making is usually well executed on passes that start good breakouts. “You control the game when you have the puck on your stick,” Jagr went on to say. “You don’t have to react because you have it. The other team has to react to what you’re going to do.”
Recently the Hockey Writers sat down with Gelinas to discuss his first extended taste of NHL experience, what it’s like to play with two NHL Living Legends and other topics.
The Hockey Writers: You’ve played a couple of games now in the NHL (5 this season) are you feeling more and more comfortable everyday?
Eric Gelinas: Yeah, I think I’m starting to get the feeling of the league and I think I’m getting comfortable with the players a little bit more. I think the team is playing well, we just have to find a way to win some more games.
THW: What’s been the toughest adjustment making the transition to the NHL after spending the last two seasons in the AHL?
EG: I think the speed of the players that we are playing against is a lot faster, they are a lot more skilled than the players you face in the American League; they’re the best in the world. I think it’s only a matter of adjusting to the speed and the skill level. Other than that it’s still just hockey.
THW: Is it overwhelming at all for you to be playing on the same team with legendary players like Martin Brodeur & Jaromir Jagr? Do you catch yourself in moments of awe?
EG: Yeah (smiles). They are the guys that we all watched as kids when we were growing up, they’re future Hall-of-Famers. They’ve been around for twenty-something years; they’re the best that ever played. It’s really fun to see guys like them playing (on a daily basis) and it’s interesting to pick up some tips from them.
We asked Martin Brodeur (who has played behind some of the best defensemen to ever play the game) about Eric Gelinas after a recent game and here’s what he had to say about the rookie defenseman:
“He brings a different dimension that we haven’t had (here in a while). I don’t think he is scared of shooting the puck; he’s got a really, really hard shot. He’s a good skater and he’s going to learn more and more, as he goes, with playing a little better defensively. When you’re young, it’s normal – that stuff takes time. I think having Gelly in the lineup really helps (Adam) Larsson also; he’s been playing really well. I’m really comfortable having Gelinas in front of me (during games) that’s for sure.”
Every hockey player has a nickname and the Devils all call Eric Gelinas ‘Gelly’ like when Brodeur referred to him above. Sherry Ross, New Jersey’s analyst on radio telecasts came up with this funny tweet last week:
THW: Was there a defenseman that you liked when you were growing up, someone that you maybe patterned your game after?
EG: I’ve heard that I play a similar game to Jay Bouwmeester (of the St. Louis Blues). I didn’t really have a favorite growing up though; we all have our assets and I think everyone is different or unique in their own way.
THW: Is there any defenseman on the Devils that has helped you out the most or have they all helped you collectively?
EG: Everyone here has been really helpful; they know I’m young and they are older & more experienced players. They all try to help me out as much as possible – on the power play (Marek) Zidlicky talks to me a lot and tries to give me some clues.
Everyone remembers their first NHL goal and you can bet Eric Gelinas will always remember his against Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks:
THW: You have a pretty heavy shot, in tonight’s game you snapped one of your sticks on a shot attempt; is that something that happens pretty often with the power you have in your shot?
EG: (laughs) Actually it hasn’t happened in a long time. It was a brand new stick too, so I’m surprised that it broke like that. It was unfortunate because I had the perfect shooting lane, and it was a perfect pass by Jagr; I was a little upset that it broke on that shot.
As much as Brodeur praised Eric Gelinas earlier, coach Peter DeBoer had a different assessment of the rookie’s play through his first extended opportunity in the NHL:
“I thought he was really good early, I thought the last couple of games he’s taken a couple of steps backwards. Like all young defensemen that happens; we have to push him to re-find his game again.”