Tuesday, July 08, 2008


Let's Look at the New Guy: Rolston

I've read this little post from Gulitti about the possibility Patrik Elias may be shifting from center back to his standard spot at left wing now that Brian Rolston was signed a few days back. Since then, I've been mulling the possible lines we could see for the Devils. Mind you, the Devils have 13 forwards and I think one of them - particularly the one from Rochester, New York - may be traded. At first glance, this makes sense. Elias has played the majority of his career at left wing, only playing center for significant portions in 2002 and last season. Rolston has been a center for most of his career, but he's been listed as a right wing for last season.

But don't take just my word for it - let's see what the Wild fandom (at least, bloggers who support the Wild) has to say about Rolston. They have seen him a lot more than I have, at least. Wild Puck Banter says he plays in all situations and is a good all-around player. 18,568 Reasons Why seemingly concurs, stating that he's got a great slap shot for the power play, he plays a two-way game while providing the offense, and he's good on the penalty kill. On a more cautious note, Wild View from Section 216 says that Rolston tended to disappear for stretches during the season. Michael Russo of Russo Rants of the Minneapolis StarTribune noted similar praises for his scoring, his slap shot, his penalty killing, and being a "good dude" when his rights were traded. If you want a more objective take, Sportsnet's profile of Brian Rolston concurs with all of this - including his lack of playmaking ability and confidence issues.

This all said, I think it's clear that Rolston is going to be a feature forward for the Devils. Sutter would be crazy not to give Rolston minutes on the top line or on the power play (especially the power play). I can see the penalty killing forwards still remaining as Jay Pandolfo, John Madden, Patrik Elias, and Jamie Langenbrunner; but I'd expect Rolston to work his way in there. Basically I expect and welcome Rolston as a big minute forward in all positions. We know his strengths, we know he can play wing or center, but here's why I don't think Rolston should move to center just yet.

Brian Rolston has not been good at faceoffs recently - and that's a main reason he was listed at right wing for the Wild, winning only 67 out of 165. I think Rolston is definitely worthy of being on the first line; but a 40.6% winning percentage last season doesn't inspire confidence. Elias was even better than that with a 45.6% winning percentage last season. Yes, Elias took a lot more faceoffs; but Rolston has struggled whenever he had to take a draw in all three seasons with Minnesota, winning 46.7% and 45.4% in 2006 and 2007, respectively. I doubt that Rolston will get any better at faceoffs soon. Should he center the first line, don't expect the Devils to keep the puck off the draw. Not that Elias is much better; but he's at least proven as being better than Rolston based on the last season. It explains why the Wild moved him to the side.

And he's been great while he was there - picking up 96 goals in the last three seasons there, while remaining as a solid, all-around forward. What's more is that given his weaknesses - struggling in the middle of the season, not being a playmaker - playing on the wing would be best to offset those. The center generally is a focal point of the offense and say what you will about Elias, but he's got the vision and the passing (most of the time) necessary to make plays consistently at center. Rolston won't have to worry about that.

And if we learned anything about Brent Sutter last season, if a few players are not doing so well on the ice, he will shuffle the lines to get players going. So if Rolston "disappears," so will Rolston's situation in attempts to "disappear" less. Being able to play all three forward positions helps Rolston in this regard, and right wing may be the position mostly in flux. Dainius Zubrus was shuffled around everywhere last season and has looked his best at right wing. Jamie Langenbrunner has had seen better days as a second line right winger (Aside: Please re-unite the J-Line, Sutter!), but he can fill in on some occasions. David Clarkson has been at his physical and tenacious best on the right side. And all three wingers did jump around all four lines last season - the addition of Rolston makes it more interesting and gives the Devils further options. Imagine Rolston with Madden for a bit. Yeah, doesn't that seem exciting - it could even work. It's also further reason to trade Brian Gionta, unless a decision is made to make Rolston play on the second line left wing position (assuming Zach Parise doesn't regress in a horrible fashion). Given how much the Devils are giving Rolston and his past pedigree, I think that would be a waste.

From considering all this, I think it would be best for the Devils to begin with Elias remaining at center and Rolston providing some finish on the right side. We know what Elias can do in the middle and Rolston's past success has came at wing. Given his deficiencies as well, I think that the Devils would be better off now penciling him on the right side of Elias. With Parise on his left, we could see a pretty good first line for the Devils - two finishers and a playmaker who can finish if he could shoot better (and luckier). As always, I could be proven completely wrong - so take all this with some salt.

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I think the biggest wildcard here is going to be Sutter. I would expect the beginning of the season to begin with a line-shuffling frenzy for experimentation's sake, so Rolston is probably going to be matched with every permutation of the scorers for the first month of the season.

As an aside, 98 out of 165 is 59.3%. Did you mean to say that he won (165-98) faceoffs?
I think there is a bigger chance of Langenbrunner being traded...maybe both he and Gionta will go. The team still needs a playmaking center, Elias is a much better winger than center.
The Devils are looking for core players such as Daneyko, Niedermayer, Claude Lemieux, Stevens. Not simply for talent but for the intangible feel of leadership. Elias and Gionta are fantastic secondary, positive talents, but lack that core personality. This is not a slight on them at all, but look at Messier and Stevens - they are leadership types. Langenbrunner has it in him too, but after Langs, who? This team needs leadership. Rolston will provide that (through experience, skill and personality) and so will Holik in his way. The Devils know this about them and that is why they are back. Gionta, Elias, Zubrus et all will have an easier time with them in the mix. They can relax and play without the burden of leadership.
Langenbrunner has a Limited No Trade clause. Don't count on him being traded either.

I don't think Gionta is going to be traded either though unless we get a #1 or #2 defenseman in the trade.
Good catch, I completely made a dumb typo on Rolston's faceoff wins. 98 is actually how much he lost; 67 is how many he won according to the NHL. I misread the columns. I'll edit the post.

I don't think Langenbrunner has the value that Gionta has. Langenbrunner is past the prime of his career and he's looking primed for a third line position from what I've seen of him last season. Gionta is in his prime and can still be a productive scorer - only he hasn't really done it consistently for the last two seasons. I think other teams would bet on turning Gionta around rather than trying to re-juvenate Langenbrunner (or offer a lot for a third liner). That all said, I think Elias is better suited at left wing than center. But I also think he's better suited at center than Rolston. Who knows, maybe Holik will center the first line (insert laughing here).
From what I seem to remember from back in the day, both Sykora and Elias hated playing with or bing in the locker room with Holik. The guy is pretty abrasive. Not sure where he'll fit in: certainly not a first line guy, would probably kill any creativity of Parise and co. if put on the second line (Also, Parise would probably hate playing with him just as much as Elias and Sykora did), madden is certainly the 3rd line guy...2.5 mil for a 4th liner seems insane.
I can easily see that Elias and others saw Holik as abrasive. Yet Holik has grown into the Thrashers Team Captain. Perhaps Holik has matured into a mature voice. We shall see.

Also who will be the Devils Enforcer next season?
Thrawn/Arlo: Well, it's been over 7 years since Holik's been with the Devils. I think things would have certainly changed.

As far as Holik is concerned; well, I'll talk about that either tomorrow or Saturday. He's the next one - along with the bottom two lines - to look at.

Enforcer? The Devils don't need an enforcer. They need goals, they need guys to move the puck, and they can be physical enough in the run of play. They don't need a traditional enforcer. It's not like they lost games for being pounded in the face, they lost them namely because of a lack of consistent scoring and/or overall effort. That said, Rupp and Clarkson would probably get that moniker this season.
Very true. The Devils will have a pretty good mixture of size and physical players next year. They most certainly were at a loss for scoring all of last season. Having a traditional enforcer is too much of a luxury to have because they need all players to contribute past just throwing weight around. Still, when the other team calls out their designated tough guy to start a scrap I hate seeing Rupp thrown in the role of enforcer as he seems so reluctant and just happens to be huge. Clarkson just the opposite.
I would like to see more creative play and especially goals. To shore up a fourth scoring line I hear that Lou has been talking to Mogilny and Victor Kozlov. (just kidding). Go Devils!
Im at a lost as to why no one ever mentions zubrus to be traded. I dont see where he fits and is paid 3.4yr. The Devils should get rid of him. Perhaps the Caps would like him back. Gionta should be on the first/second line. Elias should play left wing. Rember, that Parise is a natural center. Can Zajac buy beer legally in NJ yet? Maybe, Rolston on the Madden line makes a lot of sense. Has Holik ever played anything else then center?
and Langenbrunner is cheap for what you get. As is Brylin if he somehow returns.
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