One of the bright spots for the New Jersey Devils heading into this season was the potential of their young core of NHL defensemen. The performances of the defensemen have been mixed thus far, but one player who has had significant struggles is Eric Gelinas. The big 6'-4" defenseman has looked uncomfortable and even overwhelmed at times this season, which does not bode well for a player in his third NHL season. Even on the power play, where he has made a lot of hay to this point in his career, he seems to be having trouble to start 2015-16. At 24 years old, Gelinas may still be on the younger side, but he is reaching a point in his NHL career where he will have to start addressing his shortcomings in a hurry or he could find himself out of the league.
Gelinas has been maligned for his defensive play in the past couple seasons and the first few weeks of the 2015-16 have done little to quell those criticisms. Gelinas has had issues with coverage in his own end and seems to get lost far too easily. He has also seemed to struggle in one-on-one situations and continues to be a bit of an all-around liability in the Devils' own zone. He's also had mental lapses in his game elsewhere and with a lack of awareness, his below-average mobility becomes easy to expose. These developments shouldn't exactly shock anyone, but I think the hope has been that Gelinas might elevate himself to a serviceable level of defense so that he could be trusted with bottom paring minutes at five-on-five. That way, he could stay in the lineup and be used as an offensive specialist and power play difference-maker. There's now another issue with that thought, though.
That issue is that Eric Gelinas, Offensive Difference-Maker hasn't exactly showed up thus far this season. He has looked tentative on the power play and been mostly non-threatening in the offensive zone in general. He has seemed reluctant to unleash his best asset, that bomb of a shot, and his game is that much more troublesome because of it. He's also had a couple painful decisions with the puck, including one that directly sprung Mika Zibanejad for a breakaway shorthanded goal against Ottawa. Perhaps teams have made some adjustments to account for Number 44's big time shot, but he has passed up what has felt like more than a few good looks at the net this season.
John dubbed Gelinas' shot "The Truth" back in 2013 for a reason, and it's a part of his game he most certainly should not be abandoning. It's debatable whether the Gelinas from the past couple years is a bona fide NHL defenseman but if you take away The Truth, there isn't even a debate to have. On a Devils power play which, despite a currently solid conversion rate, sometimes looks like it's unsure what sport it's playing, a shot like Gelinas' should be getting used whenever possible. So far this season, Gelinas has just one point in seven games overall and perhaps more importantly, has only attempted two measly shots on the power play, with only one reaching the net (it was a goal, for what its worth). His lack of effectiveness early on has earned him a significant reduction in his role on the power play, with a total of less than three minutes in the past three games. If Gelinas continues to go away from the weapon that saw him break out in a big way in 2013-14, he risks getting a one-way ticket out of town. Simply put: The Truth shall set you free, Eric (or at least extend your NHL career beyond this November).
Stats-wise, one could point to Gelinas' seemingly strong possession numbers (#1 in CF%) as a sign that things aren't all bad, but he has been sheltered considerably, with one of the highest o-zone start percentages and lowest qualities of competition on the team. It is good that Gelinas is seeing a good portion of the attempts go his way at evens, but any optimism there has to be tempered by the knowledge of how he is being used. The most concerning stat for Gelinas, though, goes back to his shot. He's only put up 7 shots in 7 games so far, way off the roughly two-shots-per-game pace that he had for his career coming into this season. And, as mentioned, his two attempted shots in 14 minutes of time on the power play are not a good sign. If the Devils are going to shelter him in the way they do, they need him to contribute to the offense, something he has yet to do in a meaningful way in 2015-16.
So for Gelinas, a rough start in his 3rd NHL season does not bode extremely well for him. We do need to keep in mind that its early and that this is a season where the Devils should exhibit patience with their players but if a player like Gelinas, who has lots of trouble in his own end, stops being a factor on offense, the clock will be ticking for him, regardless. If he wants to have a chance to stay in the lineup, he needs to find a way to be the impact player he once was on offense and the power play, specifically. And making a few more sound decisions with the puck probably wouldn't hurt either. Gelinas remains a fairly young player, but the team won't wait for him to figure it out forever.