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What Should Devils Fans Expect: Rod Pelley

Rod Pelley went from Lowell .  After appearing for 58 games in 2007-08, looking OK on the fourth line for the most part; he spent the entire 2008-09 season in Lowell.  And after the initial free agent frenzy on July 1, Lou said to Rich Chere that room needed to be made for Pelley.

"It will be status quo to see where our budget is," Lamoriello revealed. "We have to make room for Rod Pelley and a couple of others. And we have to get more ice time for David Clarkson."

But here's where the pressure comes in, as also reported by Chere later that night:

"In John's case a change might be good," Lamoriello suggested. "We really have to get a little younger in certain areas. Rod Pelley is ready to take John's role. We had to look at the dollars to sign John." [Emphasis mine - JF]

Truth be told, I really wish Lou didn't say that - at least not to the media.  John Madden was beloved in New Jersey as an ace checking center, playing with heart, tenacity, and a fire inside.  Of all the UFAs to have left New Jersey, I think Madden left the biggest hole.  Yes, the Devils now only have 3 centers with NHL experience of some sort, which should guarantee's Pelley's spot on the 2009-10 roster.  However, those are some big skates to fill in. 

Now, if Lou thinks he's ready, then fair enough.  I didn't follow Pelley in Lowell.  All I know is that after a 2006-07 season where was called up for 9 games and a 2007-08 season where got an extended stay of 58 games, he wasn't brought up once.  I'm a little confused by that, but again, I didn't follow Pelley in Lowell.  Maybe he used that time to improve his game to the point where the Devils organization feels confident that he can take the next step up. I certainly hope that is the case.

Stepping back a bit, let's look at how he did in 2007-08.  Pelley mainly got fourth line duty, playing an average of 9:18 a night, scoring a grand total of 2 goals off of 59 shots on net and 4 assists in 58 games.   Pelley did take the fourth most faceoffs on the team that season, 321; he won 150 for a winning percentage of 46.7%.  From what I saw of him then, I could tell that he was really developing into a defensive center.  Looking back at Behind the Net's even strength on-ice/off-ice stats from that season, here's some stats about Pelley's limited  role with the Devils in 07-08:  (Note: don't mind the position at BtN, he was a center back then and will be one now.):

  • Pelley faced a quality of competition rated at -0.11 and had a quality of teammates rated at -0.16.  This shouldn't be a surprise as he was on the fourth line; not facing top players and definitely not with the best Devils on his side.
  • Offense ceased when Pelley hit the ice, again, a result of him playing on the fourth line.  The shots for per 60 dropped from 25.8 to 22.4 when Pelley got onto the ice; and the goals for per 60 fell from 2.43 to 0.87 when Pelley got off the bench.  With a CORSI of -3.9 and his meager point totals (6 points back in 07-08 with New Jersey, 15-23-38 in Lowell last season), I think it's safe to say that Pelley will not be an offensive force.
  • While the shots against per 60 went up from 22.4 to 24.3 when Pelley was on the ice; the goals against per 60 dropped from 2.21 to 1.44.  This suggests that while the opposition may be getting more shots, they aren't necessarily high quality shots.  A good sign for a checking center, but I wouldn't read much into it given the weak levels of competition faced on the fourth line.
  • In terms of penalty killing, Pelley did play 21.2% of his ice time on the penalty kill. While he wasn't a mainstay, he did end up averaging 1:55 per game shorthanded.  According to Behind the Net's shorthanded stats from that season, Pelley was on the ice for 8 power play goals against.  However, when he was on the ice, the goals against per 60 was 4.29; an improvement from the 5.97 goals against per 60 when he wasn't on the ice.  Not that Pelley equaled big stops on the PK every time he was out there (he would have gotten a lot more time if that were the case), he wasn't a waste shorthanded.

Of course, much has changed since then.  Pelley is now older, wiser, and (hopefully) more refined and skilled in his style of hockey.  He pretty much has to get into the swing of things quickly on the New Jersey Devils in order for the team to keep performing well.  While much of Brent Sutter's success last season had to do with the possession-style of offense he empahsized among his forwards, the Devils maintained themselves well with constant backchecking and assistance on defense from the forwards.   Pelley will have to pick that up while re-establishing himself in the league and that's certainly a tall order.  Especially if it's Madden's 16:25 per night that he's replacing.

A part of me is still hoping that the Devils will make a trade for another center - either on the second or third line - and allow Pelley to "ease" into the New Jersey roster on the fourth line. There, he wouldn't have to be worry about having to replace John Madden, just ensure the Devils coaches that he deserves to stay in the NHL.  If he performs well, then he can be moved up later.   Yet, as it currently stands, Pelley's the man and so we should focus on him. 

Despite the spot he's going to fill in, I don't think it's fair to really expect a lot from him this season and so I won't.  While he's not technically a rookie, he's still relatively new to the NHL and he's coming up after a full season spent in Lowell.  It's like he is a rookie, in my view. He's a defensive forward so he isn't going to score a lot - that has to be considered as well. In terms of the latter, I would be more than pleased with any contribution he gives - perhaps 10 goals and 20 points at the most. On the defensive side, I'd like to see Pelley win close to half of his faceoffs, avoid taking penalties (less than 60, he had 78 with Lowell last season), and keep up with the opposition.   It doesn't sound like much, but again, I'm keeping the expectations low since there isn't much to go on with Pelley.   One thing is for sure, I certainly don't expect him to be the next Madden - it really is a lot to ask of a young player.

If it were up to me, the Devils need a fouth center anyway, I'd prefer to get someone more experienced as a stop-gap until Pelley really looks ready to take Madden's old spot. But it's not, it's up to Lou, and Lou feels otherwise, given his comment right on the evening of July 1.

Now it's time to have your say.  What do you expect from Rod Pelley in 2009-10?  Should we even expect much at all? Please keep comments about Pelley rather than coming up with trade ideas (especially stupid ones).