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What Should Devils Fans Expect: Patrik Elias

Up until Zach Parise, I'd go as far to say that Patrik Elias was the best forward in franchise history.  Who else was as skilled and productive as Elias?  He was the star of the A-Line, putting up 96 points in 2000-01.  Of the A-Line, Elias was the only one retained as a Devil, leading the team in scoring even with downturns in his production.  Throughout this decade, up until the 2007-08 season, Elias led the Devils in scoring except in 2005-06.  That year was cut short due to a battle with Hepatitis A, but even so Elias made a come back in the second half of the season like none I've ever seen before.  In 38 games, Elias wasn't on fire, he was an inferno - lighting up opponents with 16 goals and 29 assists and further propelling the combination of Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta.  Since then, Elias continues to remain a feature of the Devils' offense.  

On March 17, 2009, it wasn't just Brodeur who broke a record - Elias became the franchise scoring leader with his 702nd point (now at 706), joining his other franchise-setting records as the leader in goals (295 and counting), assists (411 and counting), game winning goals (60), playoff scoring (40 goals, 72 assists, 113 points in 133 games), and overtime winning goals (15 - and he's tied with Jaromir Jagr and Mats Sundin for the league record).  Needless to say, Elias has made his mark as a New Jersey Devil legend.

But again, the best left winger on the team is currently Zach Parise, whom I expect to lead the Devils' offense in 2009-10.  This is not to say that Patrik Elias is to be written off. In fact, Elias had a great 2008-09, finishing 20th in the league in scoring and a point-per-game rate. Based on how his career has progressed, there's reason to believe that Elias will still be a key contributor to the Devils' offensive success.

2008 - Patrik Elias 77 31 47 78 18 32 12 2 6 0 247 12.6


Here is a table detailing Elias' career, right from when he got his first taste of the league over a decade ago:


There's quite a bit to notice here.  First, the goal scoring.   If you want direct proof of how well Elias did last year, then 31 goals really says it all.  It's the first time Elias broke 30 goals since 2003-04 and only for the fourth time in his career.  Elias has consistently got shots on net on a given night over the past few seasons; but he was certainly more accurate (and fortunate) last season than usual. Even so, Elias has averaged at least 3 shots per game since 2002-03 - proof of Elias' making an effort every night to score.


Second, the playmaking.  Even with the illness-shortened 2005-06, Elias has been exceptional at setting up players for goals.  He tends to be able to find an open player to fool the defense (and sometimes that player); making passes through spaces so tight it could thread needles.  As a result, it's no wonder that he tends to get most of his points that way.  I wouldn't go so far as to say he's only a playmaker, as he has goal scoring skills as well; but it's his most consistently productive area of his game. You'd have to go back to 2002-03 for a season where Elias did not have at least 10 more assists than goals. 

Third, and most importantly, is the trends in scoring.  This graph really illustrates the points-per-game rate in each of the seasons of Elias' career:


Now, this is a very curious trend!  From 1998-99 onward, Elias raises his production rate to a peak over the next two seasons seasons before declining to a relatively low rate of production over the next two.  Elias is actually on the rise again, posting a 1.01 point per game rate - similar to his 1.00 point per game rate in 1999-2000 and 0.99 point per game rate in 2003-04.  Were this trend to continue, then Elias is going to have an excellent season and perhaps challenge Parise for the scoring lead!

That said, I do not expect Elias to actually peak his point per game rate as high as he did in 2000-01 or 2005-06 next season.  I mean, we would be talking at least 90 points and I'm not confident Parise will get that many.  As stated earlier, Elias is not the top left winger on this team anymore - Parise is.  Parise is on the first line, he'll get more ice time in even strength situations, and he already has two linemates that we all know work very, very well with each other. Therefore, Parise will have the prime scoring situations that Elias had in those other two seasons.  In contrast, Elias will be on the second line; and it's not certain who his linemates will be, though, I would have to think it's Brian Rolston and Dainius Zubrus - a combination that was only tried 46 times last season according to Dobber Hockey's line combination tool.   Elias has played with each before, but as a full line, it's still unknown as to how well it will work on the ice.

But I definitely do think Elias can do very well for himself next season.  There's still factors in Elias' favor:

  • Power Play - This is a bit of a reach, but Elias looked really good on the first power play unit with ZZ Pops. Elias picked up 12 goals and 19 assists on that unit - leading the Devils in power play scoring last season.  While I'm not sure if Jacques Lemaire (or John MacLean) will put four forwards on the power play, I do think Elias should definitely remain on the team's top power play unit.  If he gets to play with Parise and Zajac up front on said unit, then look for Elias to repeat or improve 
  • Individual Success - Elias put up 42 points on the second line, regardless of Dainius Zubrus' inconsistent production and Brian Gionta's frustrating 20-goal season.  Over his career, Elias has had multiple linemates and been switched many times - while still leading the Devils in scoring or being the second highest scorer on the team.  It's why he's the franchise leader in so many categories for scoring. Is there any reason to think Elias will suffer significantly if this happens in 2009-10? History tells us no.
  • Clutch Play - You could say that these are important goals and points.  Is Elias clutch? 60 game winning goals, 15 overtime winning goals, and a career 0.85 point per game rate in the playoffs all say "yes."  This is one area where we should all expect Elias to continue to thrive.
  • Brian Rolston -   With Lou revealing to Gulitti on Friday that the current plan is to place Rolston at wing, I would think that means he'll replace Gionta's spot on the second line.  Should Brian Rolston step up and score more goals than Gionta - and I think he certainly can and so do most of you - that could have nothing but a positive effect for Elias' points.  On paper, it's exciting; but as mentioned earlier, we'll have to see how well it will work on-ice.
  • Health & Age - Elias has missed a few games here and there in each of the past three seasons, but only for minor reasons. In fact, the only ailment to sideline Elias for a significant length of time was when he fought Hepatitis A in 2005-06. And in coming back from that, well, he clearly showed no signs of still being ill on the ice. He has been reliable for at least 74 games per seasons since and as such, we should expect him for 75-80 games.  Elias is only 33, which isn't old at all in the NHL - at least not anymore. Given his skill set and that he hasn't had a major injury outside of Hepatitis A, it isn't unreasonable to still think he's an impact player.

Ultimately, I expect Elias to still play like he has been for his entire career.  As far as what type of production to expect, I feel that if Elias can put up about 70 points next season, that would be more than fine.  65 points wouldn't be too bad, but I expect Elias to keep up his point per game rate close to 1 based on what he can do and the other factors in play. Could he repeat his 2008-09 performance? Sure! My expectations are only a little less than that.

Now it's time to have your say.  Perhaps you feel Elias won't be as good and therefore are expecting less. Perhaps you think Elias is as good as he always was and will continue his scoring trend to put up a ton of points. Perhaps you are in the middle like I am.  Either way, let's discuss the issue in the comments.