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NHL Free Agent Preview: Atlantic Division

Ilya Kovalchuk scored 41 goals and 85 points in 76 games between Atlanta and New Jersey last season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Ilya Kovalchuk scored 41 goals and 85 points in 76 games between Atlanta and New Jersey last season. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

New Jersey Devils

Cap space – $14 million

UFAs – Ilya Kovalchuk, LW; Paul Martin, D; Rob Niedermayer, C; Mike Mottau, D; Ilkka Pikkarainen, RW; Yann Danis, G; Dean McAmmond, C; Cory Murphy, D

RFAs – Tyler Eckford, D; Rod Pelley, C; Patrick Davis, RW; Mark Fraser, D

Needs – The last time the Devils got out of the second round, their defense corps was anchored by Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Brian Rafalski, Ken Daneyko and Colin White. Only White remains from that group and he’s 32 years old. If the playoffs proved one thing last season, it’s that the Devils need a significant upgrade on their defense corps, a hole that becomes even more gaping if Paul Martin signs elsewhere.

Ready for the big time – Defenseman Matt Corrente played 12 games for the Devils last season and has spent the past two honing his game in the minors. He’s a rugged defenseman who provides a decent modicum of offense and has served his mandatory Devils apprenticeship.

New York Islanders

Cap space – $32 million

UFAs – Doug Weight, C; Martin Biron, G; Jon Sim, RW; Richard Park, C; Jeremy Reich, LW; Tim Jackman, RW

RFAs – Sean Bergenheim, LW; Dustin Kohn, D; Rob Schremp, C; Jeff Tambellini; LW; Bobby Hughes, C; Matt Moulson, LW

Needs – The Islanders are building up an impressive stable of young forwards, but aside from Mark Streit, they don’t have a puckmoving defenseman capable of creating much offense.

Ready for the big time – Right winger Jesse Joensuu put up respectable numbers in his first two seasons of minor pro after coming over from Europe. He spent 11 games with the Islanders last season and seven the year before. He’s 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds and can work the corners to get the puck out to the talented forwards.

New York Rangers

Cap space – $13 million

UFAs – Olli Jokinen, C; Vaclav Prospal, C; Alex Auld, G; Jody Shelley, LW; Steve Valiquette, G; Anders Eriksson, D; Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, RW

RFAs – Daniel Girardi, D; Marc Staal, D; Enver Lisin, RW; Erik Christensen, C; Brandon Prust, RW

Needs – The Rangers spent far too much time in their own zone last season, far too much even for a star workhorse such as goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers need some defensemen who know their way around their own end, can play physically enough to keep forwards out of the scoring areas and can move the puck up the ice.

Ready for the big time – Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who came to the Rangers as part of the Scott Gomez trade with the Montreal Canadiens, is absolutely ready to play, but he’s still considering going back to Wisconsin for his senior season. If he does, next would be center/left winger Evgeny Grachev, who still needs to work on his consistency, but has great promise.

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Philadelphia Flyers

Cap space – $10.6 million

UFAs –
Mike Rathje, D; Ray Emery, G; Lukas Krajicek, D; Arron Asham; RW; Danny Syvret, D; Mika Pyorala, C; Sebastien Caron, G; Jared Ross, C

RFAs –
Braydon Coburn, D; Dan Carcillo, RW; Jeremy Duchesne, G; Darroll Powe, LW; David Laliberte, RW

Needs – In what has become an annual ritual, the Flyers are looking for a dependable goaltender. Superstars need not apply. With the Flyers’ depth and talent both up front and on defense, all they require is a guy who can stop the puck when they need him to, like, say overtime in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final.

Ready for the big time – Right winger Andreas Nodl has been dubbed “Andreas No-Goal,” but he remains a solid prospect who can fill a defensive role. The native of Vienna, Austria, has been playing in North America for six seasons and has two minor pro seasons to his credit. He played 10 regular season and 10 playoff games in the NHL last season.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Cap space – $11.3 million

UFAs – Sergei Gonchar,D; Alexei Ponikarovsky, LW; Mark Eaton, D; Bill Guerin, RW; Ruslan Fedotenko, LW; Jordan Leopold, D; Jay McKee, D; Wade Brookbank, LW; Dan Hamhuis, D

RFAs – Chris Conner, RW; Aaron Boogaard, RW

Needs –
Alex Goligoski and Kris Letang are making strides as offensive defensemen, but the Penguins either have to re-sign Sergei Gonchar or find a replacement for him. He’s a workhorse defenseman who can play in all situations and makes Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin much more dangerous on the power play.

Ready for the big time –
Defenseman Ben Lovejoy has the potential to be a defensive, stay-at-home presence for the Penguins and won’t face the pressure of being a top-four blueliner when he comes into the league. Should the Penguins sign Gonchar and upgrade on defense as they’re expected (perhaps by signing Dan Hamhuis), they’ll likely have to shed salary at forward, which would leave a spot open for center Mark Letestu, a player coach Dan Bylsma really likes.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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