New Jersey Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov is in his second season in Newark. He joined the Devils last season after spending seven seasons with the Ottawa Senators, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2000.
However, in the last few years—even before signing with New Jersey—Volchenkov has struggled. He has not played in 70 games a season since the 2006-07 campaign, when he posted career highs in points (19) and plus/minus rating (plus-37) as the Senators went to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Volchenkov came to New Jersey on a six-year, $25.5 million dollar deal that is seeing him earn $4.25 million per year. The deal raised eyebrows because of Volchenkov’s injury-prone tendencies and inconsistent play.
Although never a flashy scorer, Volchenkov got off to a rough start in New Jersey in 2010-11. He had eight points and a plus-three rating through just 57 games, missing 19 games with injuries and six additional contests due to a three-game suspension and another absence for personal/family reasons.
He proved to be valuable when the Devils needed a physical edge, however. He was second on the team with 125 hits and 106 blocked shots.
In addition, he ranked ninth with 18:06 of ice time and fifth with 2:08 of ice time on the penalty kill.
Still, it was a step back from his 2009-10 season in Ottawa. That year, he had 14 points and a plus-two through 64 games.
He was second in both blocked shots (172) and penalty kill ice time (3:31). He was third with 20:41 of average ice time and fourth with 153 hits.
This year, Volchenkov has yet to miss any time, playing in all 23 of the Devils' games, even after a head injury left him questionable for a game last week. But his statistics aren’t pretty, as he has just two assists and a minus-nine rating. His average ice time is also down, as he is 11th on the Devils with 17:13 played per game.
However, he continues to be a strong shot blocker and is first on the team with 46 blocked shots. He also still plays physical, as he is tied for second on New Jersey with 50 hits, and is a top penalty killer with 3:22 of ice time when the Devils are shorthanded.
While no one is expecting Volchenkov to put up 60 points a season, he does need to be more consistent. It is a little concerning that an experienced defenseman is getting less ice time than a young player like Adam Larsson. While Larsson came in to the season highly touted, Volchenkov has shown he is capable of playing top minutes and could certainly earn that time by raising his performance level.
His missed time over the last several seasons is also a concern, especially given the value of his contract. No NHL GM wants to pay a player over $4 million a year to sit in the press box. The fact that he could play after sustaining an injury is impressive, but can he stay away from health troubles for the first time since six seasons ago?
Right now, there are a lot of question marks surrounding Volchenkov. At this point, he is not one of the Devils' best defensemen, and the contract could end up looking terrible when 2015 rolls around and he is 33 years old.
But so far, he seems to be on a good path to turn around his recent problems and become valuable to the Devils again. They are currently out of a playoff spot and need him to keep up his solid physical play in order to wear down opponents ahead of them in the standings.
Is he up to the task?
Time will tell, but for now, New Jersey fans should be cautiously confident. They shouldn’t write him off, but they shouldn’t give him 100 percent trust, either.
This article also appears at The Hockey Writers.