Brian Rolston faced the rumors all summer long.
After the Devils officially signed Ilya Kovalchuk, Rolston became public enemy number one among writers and fans. His cap hit of $5.06 million made him an expensive role player, and one many assumed would be the first cap casualty. Trade rumors swirled, and it seemed like everyone outside the organization was not-so-subtley pushing Rolston out the door.
Even in the face of that adversity, Rolston came to training camp and worked hard. He’s looked better, and the improvements have shown, with two goals on 13 shots in the preseason.
It’s obvious now that Rolston won’t be a cap casualty in the near future. This may benefit the organization, because the preseason may have shown something about Rolston: the left-winger might experience a “rebirth” during the 2010-11 campaign, finally giving the scorer they signed four years ago.
Before signing a four year, $20.25 million contract, Rolston spent three extremely productive years with the Minnesota Wild. The left-winger averaged 70 games a season, with an average of 35 goals, 35 assists and 67 points a season. He also produced on the power play, averaging 13 powerplay goals and 18 powerplay assists a season. Rolston was supposed to be the quarterback of the power play, and fans salivated over the cannon he brought to the team.
It was that offensive potential that landed Rolston a four-year, $20.25 million contract with New Jersey. But the first two years have been nothing short of disappointing.
Rolston suffered an ankle injury during his first season back with the Devils, which limited him to 64 games. It affected him the entire season, and it showed in his statistics. Rolston recorded 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points, his lowest output in nine seasons. Rolston’s shot also failed him. He had trouble hitting the net, and the percentage of his shots on goal fell to .086%, the lowest in three seasons.
Last season showed that the injury-shortened campaign of 2008-09 was not a fluke. Rolston’s point total increased from 32 to 37, but he still failed to reach the 30 goal plateau and play any big role on the power play. His shots on goal percentage once again sat at .086%, showing the same inconsistencies as the season before.
Clearly, something needed to change. During training camp, Rolston took steps to fix the problem.
Rolston has worked on his shooting accuracy throughout camp, and it looks like his work is beginning to pay off. One of the reasons for the better accuracy stems from an equipment change. Rolston switched to a stiffer stick, similar to Jason Arnott’s, which has changed his feel on the puck.
“You catch it more cleanly,” he said to Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “I just feel more comfortable with it, shooting and everything. I just changed the whip. I didn’t feel good about the way I was shooting the puck.”
Rolston also turned to assistant Adam Oates, who’s given him tips on his play during power play opportunities.
“Adam Oates has helped me a lot with certain shooting things and on the power play,” he said. “He’s got a wealth of information. He played for a long time and he’s a good guy to help you with certain things.”
Rolston is no spring chicken, as the left-winger will turn 38 this season. But he still has a cannon from the point, and the improvements throughout camp will hopefully improve his play. Rolston probably won’t be a cap casualty, and if he can improve his play, he may be able to silence the critics.
The Devils need Rolston to produce, and if the preseason has shown anything, it’s been a willingness to improve. Without the pressure of being a top-six forward, hopefully Rolston will once again flash the offensive potential that made fans salivate four years ago.