Éric Gélinas’ season in the Montreal Canadiens organization was marked by extreme highs, and then dreadful lows in the AHL this year. He originally joined on in the preseason on a try-out deal for the Canadiens preseason games, and with his booming shot and physical presence he caught many fans eyes as a potential depth add this year. He was instead offered just an AHL deal, and joined what looked like an extremely promising defensive group in Laval.
For Gélinas, his game is made of of a very obvious strength, and a very glaring weakness, he can dominate the offensive zone like few others in the AHL. On the defensive side however, he looked lost at the best of times and played a major role into the Rocket’s struggling penalty kill issues all year.
Gélinas is very good at one thing, and that’s putting the puck on net and doing so with a great amount of force. His 162 shots rank sixth among AHL defenders, and that’s with less games played than those that are leading him. While averaging a little over two and a half shots per game, Gélinas did well to get pucks on the net, and even better at using his cannon of a shot to put them in the back of it.
His 13 goals ranked him fifth in the AHL for goals, and his prowess with the puck is a big part of what made the Laval power play so lethal, even when Chris Terry missed time with an injury. In a similar style to the Canadiens man advantage, the cycle seemed to be built around Gélinas’ powerful shot, especially from the area around the lower faceoff circle, or the half wall.
And this one is the hat trick goal for Gelinas, great feed from Tom Parisi. pic.twitter.com/sLU3ze0WEs— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 10, 2018
Being paired alongside a great puck distributor in Matt Taormina or Tom Parisi alleviated the pressure on Gélinas to be more than he was for the Rocket too. While he isn’t incapable of creating chances for teammates, his strength lies more as a finisher of plays, than a starter of them.
Unfortunately when the puck isn’t the offensive zone it’s an entirely different story for Gélinas. His defensive play left a lot to be desired, especially given the struggles of the team as a whole, especially on the penalty kill over the course of the season. He struggled to recognize threats in the zone, and often lost track of the man he should have been marking resulting in open looks for opposing teams.
Part of that comes from his lack of foot speed, and another part just due to awareness in general.
Colby Cave blows by Eric Gelinas and opens the scoring for Providence. pic.twitter.com/dCOAMQRq0w— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 8, 2018
The above goal is a microcosm of Gélinas’ flaws overall. If he was caught in transition he more often than not was beaten back to his defensive zone, leaving his netminder out to dry. Even if he did have the right angle, more often than not he would secede the blue line and give opposing forwards all kinds of time to find their shot.
Varone makes it 4-1 Phantoms pic.twitter.com/eXc7Ch82IZ— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 18, 2017
Perhaps the biggest flaw in this is that Gélinas was utilized like a top pairing player for most of the season in Laval, and it was rather apparent that he wasn’t up to snuff in that department. Being deployed against top lines night in and night out yielded the same results, poor defensive coverage resulting in goalies having to be superhuman, and failing to do so. As stated above, Gélinas’ strength lies in his heavy shot in the offensive zone. While Matt Taormina isn’t going set the world on fire defensively, he has the smarts and skating to make up for his deficiencies. Gélinas doesn’t possess those same assets, and the coaching staff needed to realize that.
Earlier in the year, head coach Sylvain Lefebvre never wavered on keeping Gelinas in the lineup, despite the results not trending in his favour, while rookie Simon Bourque sat on the sideline not playing for long periods of time. If Gélinas is brought back next season, then the coaching staff whether it be new or returning needs to utilize him better. Less minutes, heavy offensive zone push, and the team should reap the benefits of his talents, just because he’s an experienced player doesn’t mean that he’s going to be the best option to eat up minutes every single night.
He’s a flawed player, and with the influx of younger talent coming, it might be wise to move on from Gélinas unless they can rotate him in without taking away development time from any actual prospects. In the end, if the season was judged solely on what Gélinas did in the offensive zone, he’d be a major contender for the MVP of the Rocket, but hockey is a 200 foot sport, and when you can only play in one-third of that space, you’re going to end up hurting your team at some point. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him return for the Rocket as a veteran player, but moving on is likely the best for both parties, as right now it doesn’t look like Gélinas will crack an NHL roster, even with Montreal’s flawed defense.