by Samantha Wood || for NHL.com
For Eric Gelinas, the numbers don’t lie.
From his professional debut with the Albany Devils on Oct. 8 through Dec. 21, Gelinas registered three goals and two assists for five points and a minus-9 rating in 29 games.
Since Dec. 26, he has quadrupled his output, with 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points and a plus-7 rating in 28 games.
“Before Christmas, I think I was just trying to adjust at the speed and getting comfortable with the players,” the 20-year-old New Jersey Devils prospect said of his improvement. “But I’ve stepped up and since then I’ve been playing well, so I hope to keep going this way.”
The second-round draft choice (54th overall) by New Jersey in 2009 admits that he is a long way from his junior hockey days in his native Quebec (where he moved as a child from the Vanier neighborhood of Ottawa, Ont.). Gelinas spent four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey and won the Memorial Cup with Saint John last year.
“I think the main differences [between junior and AHL] are the speed, the size of the guys, their strength, and the skills too,” he said. “Here everyone’s good so you’ve got to play at the top of your game all the time.”
Now a fixture on the Albany power play, Gelinas seems to have no trouble staying at the top of his game. His seven power-play goals for the season rank him first among his teammates, and his 13 goals overall are tied for the lead among all AHL defensemen.
“Lately our power play’s been good, and everyone’s been getting the puck on net,” he said. “I think I’ve been used to shooting a lot… I think my role is to be a shooter guy.”
On Oct. 22, in a 5-2 victory over the Adirondack Phantoms, Gelinas proved his mettle as a power-play mainstay, notching two goals with the man advantage and then assisting on a third.
The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Gelinas, who is among the largest players on the Devils, doesn’t let his size affect his speed.
“As a big D-man, I think I’m pretty mobile,” Gelinas said. “I have a big shot and I think I can move the puck really well. Those are probably my strengths. I’m not an overly physical guy, but I always finish my hits.”
As his Devils occupy seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 18 games remaining in the regular season, Gelinas has no doubts they’ll find more success in March.
“We’re really tough to play against because everyone’s a hard worker,” he said of the Devils’ strengths. “I think all the way from the first to the fourth line, everyone has skills. We’re big, we can skate, we can put the puck in … I think that’s why we’re tough to play against.”
Gelinas is also looking forward to replicating his junior success from last spring with his new squad on a larger scale.
“It was really fun and I got to enjoy it,” he said of last year’s championship run. “I just want to do the same thing this year – help the team to stay in the playoffs as far as we can go.”
As he makes waves in his rookie year, Gelinas continues to improve his game with the attitude of a consummate professional preparing for a long career.
“My goal is to really get ready for every season and every game,” he said. “That’s what I control. What I don’t control is where I’m going to play.
“I just need to be ready every shift, every game.”