Patrik Elias is one of the greatest players to ever put on a New Jersey Devils jersey. This is something that fans have known for many years (he has, after all, been with the team for his entire 19-year NHL career), but his importance to the team goes even deeper than that. Patrik Elias is the heart and soul of the Devils on the ice, especially now since Marty Brodeur has left. He is the last link, along with the returned Scott Gomez to the Stanley Cup teams of 2000 and 2003. He is the team’s all-time leading scorer. But more importantly, he is a true Devils great, yet he is still one of the most underrated players in the NHL.
Elias was born on April 13, 1976 in Trebic, Czech Republic. He was drafted by the Devils in the 2nd round, 51st overall in the 1994 Entry Draft. After playing for HC Kladno in the Czech Republic as a junior, a team which has strong ties to Jaromir Jagr (his father owns the team), Elias would come to North America to suit up for one game for the Devils in the 1995-96 season. He spent the majority of that season with the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League, scoring 27 goals and 36 assists for 63 points. The following season, he again split time between the Devils and the River Rats (17 games for the big club, 57 for the minor league team), scoring his first NHL goal and point (he had 2 goals and 3 assists in the NHL that year). In 1997-98, though he did play 3 games in which he scored three goals, for Albany, he played 74 games for the Devils and was up in the NHL full time pretty much from there on out. That year, he scored 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points total.
By 1998-99, Elias was a fixture in the Devils lineup, playing in 74 games that year and scoring 17 goals, 33 assists for 50 points. After helping the Devils get to the Stanley Cup Finals with a key goal in the Eastern Conference Final versus Philadelphia, Elias assisted on perhaps one of the most famous goals in NHL playoff history: Jason Arnott’s Cup-clincher in double overtime of game six at Reunion Arena in Dallas. Just about two or three years into his NHL career and Elias was already a Stanley Cup champion, something he would repeat in 2003.
Elias was well on his way to being the great Devil he is now known as; however, he became a Ranger. In the 2006 off-season, Elias decided to test the free agent waters, having been unable to reach an agreement with the Devils. He received notable offers from Chicago, Montreal and the Rangers. Although he had verbally agreed to join the Blueshirts, General Manager Glen Sather would not give Elias a no-trade clause in his new contract and he eventually worked with Lou Lamoriello on a contract to keep him in New Jersey for the next seven years. With Elias firmly back in the fold, the Devils would soldier on. He was named team captain in 2007, but relinquished the captaincy the following season, having never felt comfortable in the role as official team leader. Elias has worn the “A” since the 2005-06 season, however.
March 17, 2009 (St. Patrick’s Day, ironically enough) is known for two things in Devils lore. That game (a win against the Chicago Blackhawks) yielded a new NHL wins leader in net and the Devils’ new all-time leading scorer. While Martin Brodeur got the win in goal, 3-2, and with it, number 552 in his storied career, Elias registered an assist on a shorthanded goal by Brian Gionta, point number 702, pushing him ahead of John MacLean for the Devils record. The next season, on December 12, 2009, Elias scored his 300th goal in a game against the Flyers. He was now well on his way to becoming the all-time leading Devils goal scorer too.
That milestone would be reached in 2011-12, when Elias scored two goals on December 17, 2011 in Montreal to pass MacLean and become the Devils all-time goal scoring leader. That year, Elias made his fourth Stanley Cup Final appearance as the Devils made their surprise run to the championship series, ultimately losing to the Los Angeles Kings. That season would also see him play in his 1,000th NHL game on January 6, 2012 against the Florida Panthers (a game in which he scored a goal and two assists).
Then, last week against the Buffalo Sabres, Elias reached rarified air when he recorded his 998th, 999th and 1,000th points. His 998th point was a goal at 3:44 of the first, giving the Devils a 1-0 lead. Point number 999 came as the primary assist on Travis Zajac’s shorthanded goal at 14:39 of the first, giving the Devils a 3-0 lead. Point 1,000 came as the secondary assist on Mike Cammalleri’s empty net goal at 16:56 of the third. It was assist number eleven of the season, but put him in an elite NHL club. He was also named the game’s first star.
After all of that, late last week, Elias was named to his fourth All-Star Game appearance as the Devils sole representative in Columbus on January 25. Elias previously participated in the All-Star Game in 2000 (Toronto), 2002 (Los Angeles) and 2011 (Carolina).
Elias’s presence has been felt off the ice for the Devils too. His influence has brought other Czech players into the fold. Players like Marty Havlat (who has, mostly due to injuries, been unable to really get his Devils career off the ground – but is still a fine player), Marek Zidlicky and Jaromir Jagr. These men have played together internationally and all of them respect Elias. He had more than just a little bit of input when it came time for Lou to make the decision to sign them (or in Zidlicky’s case, for him to agree to be traded to New Jersey). It is partly because of Patty that Devils fans have been able to watch the brilliance that is Jaromir Jagr in person for the last two seasons and why we have Zidlicky’s greatness on the power play to help us when we have the man advantage.
Patrik Elias has been with the Devils for almost two decades. He has accomplished so much that we tend to take him for granted. But when you think about everything that he has meant to this team, you can see just why Elias is arguably the greatest Devil of all time.