Lou Lamoriello recognized that this team needed right-shooting defensemen at both the NHL and AHL level, and made a point this summer of acquiring them. Even before the draft, he signed Joe Sova as a free agent out of college, and traded C David McIntyre for Minnesota's Maxim Noreau. Though Adam Larsson was the no-brainer choice when he fell to us at #4 overall, the fact that he was a righty shot made his direct transition into the NHL all the more likely. Then, Lou signed Peter Harrold out of LA and invited Anton Stralman for a tryout. Larsson, Harrold, and Stralman all got good looks in preseason action to see who fit best in the NHL lineup. And to top it all off, Lou jettisoned a couple of the team's excess left-shooting defensemen in stalwart Colin White and spare part Anssi Salmela.
The overall change to the Devils' NHL defense is subtle - five of the six players in the lineup every night are holdovers from last season. But the effect these moves have had on the organizational depth chart is drastic:
|Full-time NHL||Tallinder||Fayne||Full-time NHL||Greene||Larsson|
|NHL scratch||Fraser||Corrente||NHL scratch||Fraser||Stralman|
|Part-time NHL||Urbom||Potential call-ups||Urbom||Harrold|
|Full-time AHL||Eckford||Full-time AHL||Leach||Sova|
"NHL scratch" is for players who are on the NHL roster but often healthy scratches. Any player who was injured but was never a healthy scratch (Salvador and Taormina) were considered "full-time" NHLers. I also considered Fayne a full-timer since once he stepped into the lineup he never left it.
The Devils are much closer to a 50/50 balance of righties and lefties at both the NHL and AHL level this year. This means fewer defensemen are playing out of position on the right side, and should help both teams generate more offense from the blueline as well as get the puck out of their own end more quickly.
Now, suppose the team needs a left-shooting defenseman to fill in. Who will step into the lineup? Will it really be Fraser, who was just okay in preseason, or will it be Urbom, who impressed coach Pete DeBoer in the last two games of preseason? My guess is Urbom will get the nod unless there's an emergency and Urbom can't be flown in on time. And personally I think if Taormina plays well in Albany, he may warrant consideration over Fraser as well.
Moreover, if Stralman is signed, he would step in for ANY defenseman injured - lefty or righty. Subbing Stralman in for a lefty, in fact, would allow all six defensemen to play on their natural side. So IF Lou were to sign Stralman, I believe it would take injuries to THREE out of the six NHL defensemen for Fraser to get into the lineup - and even if half the D corps were decimated by injury at the same time, I'm not sure that Fraser would be better than Taormina, Harrold, or Corrente.
Suppose Stralman isn't signed. If Larsson or Fayne were to go down with an injury, the Devils would either be forced to shift another lefty Dman to play out of play on the right side, or to call up Harrold or Corrente. Also, the Devils' powerplay would have to be adjusted to accomodate a left-shooting defenseman.
The fact is that Stralman is much more useful as a 7th defenseman than Fraser is. Not only is he a far better substitute should a righty Dman go down, he is a better sub in place of a left Dman and can also chip in on the power play.
My hope is that Lou bundles Fraser with another of the AHL defensemen to acquire an AHL/prospect forward. The Albany forward corps is woefully thin on scoring ability, and there's already an excess of Dmen in the system even without signing Stralman. I would even be willing to part with decent prospects like Burlon and Gelinas for a decent forward prospect. The fact is with Greene, Volchenkov, and Tallinder signed for 2-5 more years, Urbom ahead of them both on the depth chart, and Merrill on the way, there is no room for Burlon or Gelinas at the NHL level in the next 4 years. Might as well deal a position of strength to bolster some of the organization's weaknesses.