we're talking Devils, we're talking defense, so let's being with the blueliners.
Andy Greene -- The Devils lost Brian Rafalski to free agency this summer, but not to worry. Greene is Rafalski II, an undersized defenseman with offensive ability. And, what a resume! At Miami Ohio, he made the All-Rookie Team, an All-Tournament Team and won both the CCHA offensive and defensive defenseman awards. He cut through the AHL like a knife through butter, posting five goals and 16 assists in 52 games. The Devils brought him up with 23 games remaining and he played like he'd been there all season. Then he added two goals and an assist while going plus-6 in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He'll be a regular in Newark this season.
"We're very optimistic that he'll make a significant contribution this year, off what we saw last year," Conte said. "His performance was very good and what we should see should be even better. Andy is very intelligent. He's strong on the puck and moves it well. Greene's a pretty complete, prototypical new-age defenseman who is offensively involved and defensively reliable. We'll give him the chance to sustain what he did in a short period over a longer period of time."
Mark Fraser -- 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, replacing, yup, Colin White, when he got injured. Fraser skates well, moves the puck, needs to improve his defensive consistency and has little offense. But don't stand in front of his goalie. He uses his big body well.
"He's a Colin White prototype," Conte said. "His first professional step was a good one. He had an excellent AHL season. He played on their penalty kills. Mark is a defense-oriented, hard-nosed player with good leadership qualities. Every good Devils player is a team-oriented player and Mark fits the mold."
Mark Fayne --So far, so good. Fayne went from MVP of his New England prep-school league to the Hockey East All-Rookie team at Providence University, leading all HE rookie defensemen in scoring with five goals and seven assists in 36 games. He's 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds and still growing. Fayne is a strong skater who passes well and delivers checks. He has a hard slap shot and an exceptional wrist shot. Providence used him in all situations and he was named both most valuable freshman and best defensive player, an award named for San Jose Sharks coach Ron Wilson. Fayne will return for another season at Providence. He might be ready then to tackle professional hockey.
"He's big and he's mobile," Conte said. "We're very encouraged by him. He made the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Mark made a good transition from prep school to college hockey. He's got miles to go before he sleeps, but he's getting there."
Matthew Corrente -- Corrente has a lot of ability but some of his statements and an off-ice incident last season indicate a need for maturity and character building. Still, he's a tremendous junior defensive prospect with the Mississagua Ice Dogs of the OHL. Corrente is 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds and plays with an edge. He averaged 23 assists in his two OHL seasons and put up impressive plus-minus figures. He was returned to his junior team after a nice performance at training camp last fall and that's what will probably happen again this year.
"He'll go back to junior in all likelihood," Conte said. "Unless he wows us in training camp as he did last year. It's impractical to have a 19-year-old defenseman in the NHL. Patience is the operative word, but performance can rid the need for patience. He has a lot of poise and strength. Matt is comfortable moving the puck and very physical in one-on-one situations. He has a lot of the attributes that are difficult to teach."
Kirill Tulupov --Tulupov has followed a most unusual career path. A Russian, he spent two seasons with the Toronto Rattlers, a private hockey club with on-site housing that plays teams ranging from Junior B to college JVs. The training paid off as Tulupov was selected to play for Russia in the World Under-18 Championship. He played 54 games with the QMJHL Chicoutimi Sangueneens and had eight goals and 20 assists. Tulupov is 6-3 and 220 pounds. He's a mean guy when clearing forwards away from his goaltender and he's an excellent shot blocker with a strong shot of his own.
"He's making nice progress," Conte said. "He's a different type of Russian. He went to Canadian prep school and his English is impeccable. He hasn't had the same level of training as most other Russian kids. He works hard and wants to play desperately. Kirill does what is asked and more. It's a long-term development process that is going well."
Alexander Vasyunov -- Vasyunov had an outstanding junior season in Russia two years ago, scoring 29 goals in 29 games before being taken in the second round of the 2005 Entry Draft. He was scoreless in 17 games last season with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the Russian Super League. The Devils aren't worried, explaining it's an anomaly of the Russian system whereby each team must carry a certain number of junior players, but they don't play much. The Devils expect Vasyunov will play a lot more this season. He played on Russia's third line at the World Juniors and looked good.
"He's very promising, but he was caught betwixt and between last season while playing on a pro team with a lot of guys with pro experience," Conte said. "They are a high-spending team that doesn't bring up 18-year-olds. They buy a veteran from another team. Our other guy, Zharkov got to play more. They're still young guys in fourth-line roles. One problem is there is a lack of quality second-level team there.
Nicklas Bergfors -- He was drafted as a right-handed right winger. The Lowell Devils list him as a center and have used him on the off-wing. Bergfors was seen as a player with exceptional strength and skating ability, a smooth passer and energetic player when the Devils took him with the 23rd-overall pick in the 2005 draft. Two so-so AHL seasons have followed and he didn't impress at the World Juniors. But he's also only 20-years-old, 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds. He'll get bigger and there's a good chance the Devils will send him back to the AHL while he's getting stronger and learning to dominate at the North American professional level.
"He's still a junior-aged player who has played two years in the AHL," Conte shrugged. "It's difficult to say he's not doing well. This should be his first AHL season, not his third. This is a year for him to take another step forward. He was second-leading scorer at Albany two years ago as a rookie. He had a tough year last year for a couple reasons, including a lot was asked of him. He had the World Juniors, plus a professional schedule that was very demanding of him. We're not disappointed and we haven't seen the best of him yet."
David Clarkson --Scouting is about projecting how well a player will develop. Clarkson, 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, is a kid who didn't project well and wasn't drafted, but went out the next season and helped the Kitchener Rangers win the Memorial Cup with his rugged play. In his final junior season, Clarkson ranked second in goals and third in points among Kitchener's forwards. He made room for himself as an AHL rookie two years ago when he racked up 233 penalty minutes. That dropped to 150 PIMs last season. After scoring 20 goals for Lowell, Clarkson was brought up in March and scored three goals in seven NHL games.
"He made a pretty good statement for himself in the playoffs and at the end of the regular season," Conte said. "He scored goals in Albany and Lowell. He's got a little of the Sutters in him. He scores, he fights, he hits. He does a little bit of everything. He's tenacious and we like those guys."
Barry Tallackson -- Almost forgotten are the days when Minnesota's "Mr. March" led the Gophers to back-to-back NCAA championship and the goal that put them into the Frozen Four two years later. Tallackson played way back in the 2001 World Juniors. He did well in his first AHL season and was called up for 10 games with the Devils, but was inconsistent last season while battling a wrist injury.
"He's doing OK. He needs an opportunity to do things over the long haul and he has to create that opportunity," Conte said. "He has given indications he can do more, so this is a big year for him. We don't pick the team. The players pick the team. Barry is big, strong, skilled, fast, intelligent and so gifted that he sometimes gives the impression he's not working hard. You always want to see more when you see the enormous ability he has. Sometimes that's not fair."
Vladimir Zharkov -- Here's the difficulty in judging young Russian players: Zharkov, playing for CSKA Moscow, got more ice time in the Russian Super League than Vasyunov did playing for Yaroslavl yet Vasyunov, not Zharkov, was chosen to the World Junior team. Zharkov has good speed and plays with intensity, two popular assets in the Devilsí system.
"He's having results, but he's playing a different game in Russia," Conte said. "A good player in Russia and a good player over here can be two different things. Of course, you can fall on your face either place. One concern that makes the Russians somewhat less attractive nowadays is that the culture of money there doesn't always lend itself to a good work ethic. We'd like to see what he can do in North America. He's very strong on the puck, very quick and there's a lot of fire to his game."