The Big Four
There seemed to be more free-agent season attention paid to the loss of Brian Rafalski than the signings of Vitaly Vishnevski and Karel Rachunek. Those two should play important roles on the Devils' blue line this season, along with returning veterans Paul Martin and Colin White. Martin led returning New Jersey defensemen with an average of 25:13 minutes per game, while White, who struggled with flexibility injuries (groin and back) last season, averaged 22:27.
Martin is a slick puckhandler. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound former University of Minnesota star had three goals and 23 assists while playing in all 82 games, and his 26 points were second among Devils defensemen. White is a bruiser who keeps the front of the net clear. His struggles placed additional pressure on the team last season, and the Devils will need him to return from his late-season back problems in top form.
Rachunek looked like he'd be a fixture on Ottawa’s blue line after his 2001-02 rookie season, when he had 33 points and finished plus-17. But by his third year, he was in the minors, and skipped to Russia. He never caught on with the Rangers and played an extra year in Russia after the lockout. He had 26 points and was minus-9 in his NHL return with to the Rangers last season. If the Devils can get him re-focused, he could be a steal.
Vishnevski played 5 1/2 seasons with the Anaheim Ducks, won an arbitration case last summer and got shipped to Atlanta, which traded him late in the season to Nashville. He doesn't add a lot of points and is minus-15 in his career, but is a strong veteran who understands the game, hits hard and blocks shots.
Get the point
Rafalski's loss will hurt the most on the power play, where he led the Devils with 27 assists. Martin is a smooth puckhandler with a decent shot. He had his best offensive season two years ago when he had five goals and 32 assists for 37 points.
Andy Greene had a goal and five assists in 23 games last season. He was a top point producer at the University of Miami-Ohio and with the Lowell Devils last season. But it’s asking of lot of a rookie to quarterback an NHL power play. Rachunek also has some offensive ability, some experience and good size at the point. Don't be surprised if the Devils move a forward back to run the power play, at least on the second shift.
In the Wings
Andy Greene — He is the best bet to grab a top-six defenseman's job. He's 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, but he moves like Rafalski and avoids injury. Greene won both the CCHA Best Offensive Defenseman and Best Defensive Defenseman awards. He looked pretty calm in his NHL debut last season.
Johnny Oduya — Oduya looked pretty good in his first North American season. He played in 76 games, scoring two goals and nine assists and moves the puck well.
Mark Fraser — Devils scouting guru David Conte was funny in discussing Fraser whom he described to a reporter as "a Colin White-type." Asked later what Fraser's attributes were, Conte responded "Colin White." Fraser was a solid defensive defenseman for the Kitchener Rangers and played well enough at Lowell last season to be called up for 10 games with the Devils.
Karel Rachunek — Something went sour for Rachunek in Ottawa, and it seemed to carry over into his time with the Rangers. The Devils hope the straightforward approach works best with the big Czech defender, who has now twice left the NHL for European teams. He'll also come under the tutelage of Larry Robinson. There are physical similarities between the two. If Robinson can convey his intensity and knowledge to the younger man, it could prove to be the Devils' most important off-season signing.