So over the past 16 or so seasons, Patrik Elias has been a mainstay on the Devils' roster. He has consistently been one of the Devils' top players since his emergence in the late 90s, and yet he still seems to fly under the radar more often than not. During the Cup years in the early 2000s, he was overshadowed by hall-of-fame defensemen Scott Stevens and Scott Neidermayer. Post-lockout (2004 edition), after the departures of players like Neidermayer, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta, it became, more or less, Zach Parise's team. Upon Parise's departure, it seemed like Ilya Kovalchuk was going to be the face of the team going forward. When Kovalchuk fled to Russia this summer, it appeared that Patrik Elias was poised to be the star of this team, and 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr has stolen the mantle to some extent once again with his fantastic play and postgame Dainius Zubrus roasts. Eric Gelinas has also made a huge splash since being called up in late October. Make no mistake, though, Patrik Elias is probably still the best all-around player on this team.
At 37, it's easy to begin wondering how much longer Elias can be at the top of his game. The Devils were pretty much counting on him to continue at his high level of play coming into this year, and thankfully, he has not disappointed. But where to begin on his play? He does basically everything well, and he'll continue to do it, no matter who you throw on his line. He really is the total package, and for all the praise thrown Jagr's way for being an ageless wonder, Elias deserves some measure of the same admiration.
First, let's take a look at Elias the scorer and facilitator. Elias is currently second on the team with 20 points, behind only Jagr (28). Elias has done this in eight fewer games though, so his points/game is just a shade behind the team lead at 0.77 (Jagr is at 0.82) as is his points/60 at 2.45 (Jagr 2.59). Through all of the noise of the season (scoring slumps by a whole host of players, Jagr's impact, Cam Janssen miraculously scoring 3 goals) Elias has just continued to produce without much fanfare.
As we all know, Elias also does much more than just score, though. He is probably the Devils' most complete two-way forward. His possession numbers certainly continue to back that up, as he currently leads the team in 5-v-5 Corsi%. A bit of a caveat should be placed on that, as Elias isn't necessarily always seeing the toughest competition at evens like he has in that past (the ZZ Grandpops line has taken over there for now) and is getting his fair share of offensive zone starts. He is still getting the toughest competition for any forward oustide of that line, though, and he has been doing this with a constantly shifting set of linemates, most of whom see bumps in their possession numbers when they are on the ice with him. In Ryan's post from yesterday, he looks at a possible new stat called Corsi contribution percentage (CC%), which tracks the percent of attempts you directly contribute to while being on the ice. Elias, unsurprisingly, lead the team in this category at 47%. He is never a passenger and it seems no matter what angle you look at him, he is making his teammates around him better.
Elias is also one of the few players who plays a prominent role in both phases of special teams. He is one of only four players on the team who has played in at least a third of both the team's power play and shorthanded minutes (Andy Greene, Travis Zajac, and Adam Henrique are the others). He is a large part of the Devils' very good penalty kill and limits shots well in his big minutes, as John touched on in his post a couple weekends ago. His significant minutes on the power play may not have the same shine, since the Devils' power play is rather mediocre, but he still sits at second on the team in power play points, with a goal and eight assists (Gelinas leads with 10 points).
Whether the Devils can ever stop treading water this season and get their act together remains to be seen. One thing that certainly hasn't been a problem during this roller coaster is Patrik Elias. While other players have disappeared for long stretches and struggled to get in any kind of groove, Patrik continues to play well. Not including his injury, he hasn't had a pointless stretch longer than 3 games the entire season, a sign of consistency that not even Jagr can boast. Really, the only blemish in his game right now is the shootout, where he (along with basically everyone else on the team) has apparently gone catatonic.
I wouldn't go so far as to say Elias is an unsung hero in New Jersey, but I do feel like we take him for granted sometimes. He quietly and ceaselessly does good things for this team while he is on the ice. Though, perhaps he likes it this way, given how his brief captaincy went. Either way, be sure to enjoy how great of a player he is while you can, because we will certainly miss him when he decides to hang up his skates a few years down the road.