During the offseason, The Hockey Writers will be doing a ten-part series on the success stories of the 2013-14 New Jersey Devils. Despite missing the postseason for the second consecutive spring, the Devils had a memorable season. The first success story is about rookie defenseman Eric Gelinas.
Entering the 2013-14 NHL season Gelinas had one NHL game on his resume. He had compiled excellent stats with the Albany Devils in the American Hockey League over the previous two seasons. In 132 games Gelinas tallied 22 goals and 37 assists for 59 points. Eleven of his goals were scored on the power-play where he was able to use his most destructive weapon, his slap shot.
The 6’4’’ 210-lbs defenseman started the season in Albany and in five games picked up a goal, on the power-play no less, and a pair of assists. Then he got the call to join the parent-club. He made his season debut with New Jersey on October 24 and the only negative was the result, a 3-2 shootout loss. On this night Gelinas took a pass from center Travis Zajac and blasted home his first NHL goal (also a power-play goal) past Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo. He played 16:27 for the game.
Two nights later Gelinas played in his first road game in the NHL. The Devils were winless in their prior seven road contests to start the season and quickly fell behind the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins 2-0. A short while later the Devils got the man-advantage after Johnny Boychuk of Boston took an interference penalty. Gelinas got hold of the puck at the point on the ensuing power-play and took a shot towards Tuukka Rask. Rask stopped the initial shot but could not control the rebound that Adam Henrique eventually buried. The goal would help turn the game around and the Devils prevailed for their first road win of the campaign, 4-3.
Gelinas would play a season-high 24:58 three games later in a Devils shutout loss to the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center. From November 7 through November 10 Gelinas picked up an assist in three consecutive games. His three-game point streak was his longest of the season. The Devils won two of the three games including a 5-0 clubbing of the Nashville Predators at the Prudential Center. On November 20 Gelinas picked up a goal and an assist, his first multi-point game in the NHL, as the Devils rallied to defeat the Anaheim Ducks in overtime 4-3.
Then on December 7 Gelinas and the Devils visited Madison Square Garden for the second and final time during the 2013-14 season. The Rangers opened the scoring and led the Devils 2-0 before the Devils responded with three unanswered goals. However, Chris Kreider knotted the game at 3-3 with 22 seconds left in regulation. In overtime Ryan Callahan of the Rangers took a double-minor high-sticking penalty after clipping Andy Greene. The Devils wouldn’t need four minutes to score. All they needed was thirteen seconds. Jaromir Jagr sent a cross-ice pass to Patrik Elias who fed Gelinas for a one-timer. The shot eluded the glove of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and Gelinas made his first mark in the Hudson River Rivalry by notching his first career overtime goal, also his first career game-winning goal. Gelinas played a total of 23:22, his highest amount of ice time since the game at Minnesota.
Watch as Eric Gelinas blasts home the game-winner in overtime on December 7 against the New York Rangers:
Gelinas brought a physical presence to the lineup and helped Adam Larsson develop as well. The young Swede struggled early in the season but when paired with Gelinas during late October into mid-November the two became one of the Devils strongest defensive pairings. Larsson would end up landing on the IR with an injury after the game on November 23 against the Sharks.
From that November 23 game until December 10 when the Devils visited the Columbus Blue Jackets Gelinas never played less than 19:32 during a game which showed the strong confidence the coaching staff had in the rookie. Following that stretch Gelinas started to struggle but began to turn it around towards the end of January.
Gelinas made his second trip as an NHL defenseman to Montreal on January 14 and would not leave without leaving another mark in the goal column. After his first slap shot went wide during a Montreal penalty in the second period, Gelinas teed up for another attempt and was loudly successful as it went in off of the post. The goal would hold as the game-winner in the Devils 4-1 victory over the Canadiens in what could still possibly be Devils legend Martin Brodeur’s final start in his home city.
Three games later Gelinas notched his first and to date only three-point game of his young career in a home contest against the St. Louis Blues. Gelinas picked up a pair of assists as well as a fluke third period goal that found its way past Blues net minder Jaroslav Halak. On an intended dump-in from just inside the center-ice red line the puck redirected off of a Blues defender and bounced beyond the goaltender for the final goal of a Devils 7-1 win.
Gelinas scored his last goal of the season against the New York Islanders on Nassau Coliseum on March 1. He also registered an assist. Gelinas would finish his first NHL season with 7 goals, 22 assists, and 29 points. Five of his seven goals were scored on the power-play. He ended up tied for third among rookie defensemen in the entire NHL in points. His 5 power-play goals and 17 power-play points were second among rookie defensemen behind only Torey Krug of the Bruins.
Gelinas averaged 16:55 in ice time per game and his 2:25 average ice time on the power-play per game was second on the team to Marek Zidlicky’s 2:51. Gelinas was on the ice for 22 of the Devils 47 power-play goals.
Only 22 years old the future is bright for Eric Gelinas, one of the Devils success stories of the 2013-14 season. With the Devils eliminated, Gelinas will look in build on his strong rookie year in the NHL by once again suiting up for Albany during the A-Devils chase for the Calder Cup. Gelinas will be joined in Albany by Larsson and Jon Merrill, another rookie defenseman for the Devils that had a successful opening act in the NHL. Gelinas prowess on the power-play will be vital for Albany’s success as they prepare to battle the St. John’s IceCaps. While Gelinas hopes to lead Albany to a Calder Cup, the entire Devils organization is hoping the playoff run will further help the development of the Vanier, Ontario native.