New Jersey Devils coach Peter DeBoer believes defenseman Eric Gelinas has the potential to be something very special.
Gelinas gave Devils fans reason to get excited about the future after scoring seven goals and 29 points in 60 regular-season games as a rookie in 2013-14.
An injury to captain Bryce Salvador early in the season gave Gelinas a roster spot and an opportunity to showcase his cannon shot from the point on the power play. Gelinas turned out to be a catalyst for the Devils, ranking second on the team among defensemen in goals (five) and points (17) on the power play. The Devils finished ninth in the NHL with a 19.5 percent efficiency and the 23-year-old played a key role.
If Gelinas can prove his first year in the League was no fluke and improve in a few areas, the Devils will certainly be in a much better standing in the Eastern Conference in April.
"He has the potential to be really good," DeBoer said of the 22-year-old. "I recently watched the baseball draft and they talked about five-tool guys. Gelinas is a guy with all the tools. But he's stepping into a position that's arguably the hardest, maybe in professional sports, to step into and excel at an early age. Everybody has to have patience with the process so that he can reach what he's capable of reaching."
Gelinas did experience his share of downs last season, particularly when he was benched for extended periods after pinching at inopportune moments in a game. Then there were times when he should have been pinching and wasn't his usual aggressive self, perhaps a sign his confidence wasn't where it needed to be at this level.
It's for those reasons Gelinas was returned to the Devils' American Hockey League affiliate in Albany on four occasions during the season. DeBoer needs to see improvement and decisive decisions at crucial stages of the game. Only then will he be able to fully trust the 2009 second-round draft pick (No. 54).
"You can't just be a big shot [from the point]," DeBoer said. "I think he's capable of being much more than that. Also, if you're going to have a long career you have to be multidimensional, and I think the other dimensions of his game are the areas he needs to work at. It's not a secret, but it's tough to get 20 or 25 minutes of ice at this level for a young defenseman.
"We're looking at this guy long-term more than shorter-term."
Gelinas averaged 16:55 of ice time, which ranked eighth among Devils defensemen. Rookie Jon Merrill, who passed Gelinas on the depth chart late in the season, averaged 19:13.
"Many of our young defensemen who will be given the opportunity to play must seize the opportunity and become NHL regulars," DeBoer said. "Gelinas is in that group."
Gelinas scored an overtime goal in a 4-3 win against the New York Rangers last December off a shot from the point that prompted veteran right wing Jaromir Jagr to say, "He might be a superstar in this League if he keeps working."
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