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Lemaire's presence takes Rolston to new heights

Monday, 12.14.2009 / 10:28 AM / Player Profiles

By Chuck Gormley - NHL.com Correspondent

Brian Rolston heard all of the talk over the summer about how the New Jersey Devils were a one-man team with an aging goaltender primed for a rude awakening.

He knew better.

At 36 and coming off a 15-goal season, his lowest goal total since 1995-96, Rolston heard all of the talk about how his career was headed in the same downward direction.

Again, he knew better.

Rolston already knew something the rest of the NHL is now beginning to find out -- reports of the demise of the New Jersey Devils were premature and the reason is Jacques Lemaire.

"He's one of the best coaches in the league, if not the best," Rolston told NHL.com. "You can call it boring or defensive or whatever. His system is all about positioning and it works. He's proven it."

Rolston should know. When he broke into the NHL in 1994-95, winning a Stanley Cup as a rookie with the Devils, Lemaire was his coach. When he signed with the Minnesota Wild in 2005 and enjoyed three-straight seasons of 30 goals or more, Lemaire was behind the bench.

So when the Devils reached back into their past and hired Lemaire to lead them in a new direction with an entirely new roster than the one he coached back in 1998 -- save for Rolston, Brodeur, Patrik Elias and Jay Pandolfo -- Rolston knew they'd be in the thick of this year's playoff race.

Through their first 30 games, the Devils were tied with the Penguins for the most wins in the NHL (21) and were tied for second in the NHL in goals allowed (67), behind only the Sabres.

"Jacques hasn't changed much, but he has mellowed a bit with age," Rolston said. "He does a lot more teaching now. When he came back here he needed to implement a whole new system to players who have never played it."

Rolston said it doesn't take a whole lot of convincing for players to buy into the system. Any doubts are wiped away by the fact Lemaire, now 64, has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup 11 times – eight as a player, two as an assistant general manager and once as a coach.

"Everywhere he's gone, he's won," Rolston said. "His system is all about not playing out of position and giving up too many odd-man rushes. I've been very fortunate to have had him as long as I have. I think he extended my career because I learned at a young age how to play the game efficiently."

Taken with the 11th pick of the 1991 Entry Draft, Rolston spent two years at Lake Superior State and another season with the U.S. National Development team before turning pro and winning a Stanley Cup as a rookie with the Devils in 1995.

A sturdy 6-foot-2, 210 pounder, he spent parts of six seasons in New Jersey, but missed a chance at a second Stanley Cup when the Devils dealt him to Colorado a few months before winning the Cup in 2000.

When the Avalanche traded Rolston to the Bruins the same season, his reputation as a goal scorer took root. He averaged 24 goals a season in four years with the Bruins, then averaged 32 goals a year in three seasons under Lemaire with the Minnesota Wild.

When he became a free agent in the summer of 2008, Rolston received interest from 17 different NHL teams. He agreed to return to the place his NHL career began, signing a four-year deal worth $5 million a season.

Many wondered if the Devils, who also brought back aging veteran Bobby Holik and re-signed relic winger Jay Pandolfo, had made a huge mistake. And when Rolston managed just 15 goals last season, it appeared the final three years on that contract might become a salary cap albatross.

Rolston proved otherwise and entered the weekend as one of the NHL's hottest players. Playing on a line with Elias and either Jamie Langenbrunner or Vladimir Zharkov, Rolston had 5 goals and 3 assists in his last seven games and was second on the Devils in goal scoring with 11, four behind team leader Zach Parise.

"It seems like when Patrik came back, that's when I started scoring more," Rolston said. "That's probably it."

"He contributes every night. Is he talented? Yes. But he's not going to dance around everybody on the ice. His work ethic is superior to everyone else's. When I see these young guys getting called up, I tell them, 'If you want to be successful, watch him.' With the things he does every day at practice and every night in games, you can't go wrong."
-- Brian Rolston on teammate Zach Parise

Rolston said he is also taking full advantage of playing against team's second defensive units. The No. 1 pairings are almost always assigned to Parise's line with Travis Zajac and Langenbrunner.

Touted as one of the NHL's brightest young stars, Parise has gained the respect of the Devils veterans with his work ethic as much as his talent.

"He contributes every night," Rolston said. "Is he talented? Yes. But he's not going to dance around everybody on the ice. His work ethic is superior to everyone else's. When I see these young guys getting called up, I tell them, 'If you want to be successful, watch him.' With the things he does every day at practice and every night in games, you can't go wrong."

Rolston said it is players like Parise that keep him excited to play every night and provides reason for him to want to keep playing into his late 30s.

"As you get older you need to balance your work and your rest," he said. "I work out pretty hard all summer and with the (compressed) schedule the way it is this season, it's important for us older guys to get their rest. Fortunately, it's been working out."

Of course, Rolston knew it would. He's been around long enough to know better.
Quote of the Day

It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players