There isn’t anything about the way New Jersey Devils prospect Andy Greene is playing this season that would lead you to believe he is a rookie.
The 24-year-old has been arguably the most impressive defenseman on the Lowell Devils roster this year. Fresh off a four-year career at the Miami University (Ohio), Greene has made what looks to be an incredibly seamless transition into professional hockey.
“This season’s going pretty well so far,” he said after picking up an assist in a 3-1 Devils win over the Philadelphia Phantoms recently. “Obviously there was a bit of an adjustment period there at the beginning of the year. It was a little bit faster, a little bit quicker than I was used to, and the guys were better with their overall skill. But I have a goal to just get better every day, whether it’s in practice or in games, and that’s what I‘ve been doing – just sticking with one game and one practice at a time.”
That mindset certainly seems to be working for the Trenton, Michigan native so far. He’s one of only two players, along with fellow defenseman Mark Fraser, to suit up in every game for the Devils this season. That testament to his durability seems impressive until you consider that Greene’s consecutive games played streak stems back to before his Miami days, as the 5’10, 186-pounder didn’t miss a single game during his collegiate career.
“I was fortunate enough at school where I didn’t miss a game once in my four years,” he said. “I’ve been – knock on wood – pretty fortunate not getting any major bumps or bruises. You just have to take care of your body and be ready to go.”
Aside from his durability, Greene is a valuable commodity on any team’s blue line, as he excels on both sides of the puck. He’s collected 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 35 games so far, and is tied for second on the team with a plus-5 rating.
Paired with team captain Dan McGillis throughout most of the season, Greene has flourished under the NHL veteran’s leadership, and tries to take advantage of his experience.
“I’ve been with him for pretty much the whole year and I couldn’t ask for a better partner to learn from down here,” Greene said. “He’s been through it all and he’s a great guy to look up to, and it’s been a pleasure playing with him.”
The two play a fairly similar game, with the most notable difference being that McGillis is a much more physical player. Both, however, have good positioning in the defensive end and neither is afraid to chip in the offense. McGillis, who paces Lowell’s blue line with 20 points, is the only Devils defenseman with more points than Greene.
Lowell head coach Kurt Kleinendorst is not afraid to throw the first-year blueliner on the ice in any situation, as evidenced by the fact that he is on the first line for both special teams units. He’s been impressed with Greene since Day 1.
“He’s playing so well,” he said. “He’s a young kid and a good prospect. He’s very close [to the NHL]. He’s poised with the puck, he’s smart, and he never gets in trouble. I really couldn’t say a whole lot bad about the kid.
“We’re thrilled with him, seriously,” he continued. “He’s been a great, great player for us, and I won’t even say he was a surprise because we knew what his potential was.”
Greene has continued to fulfill the potential he had shown as a standout defenseman for Miami. He led all RedHawks defensemen in scoring in each of his four years with the team, piling up 114 points in 159 games, and won numerous team and CCHA accolades for both his offensive numbers and defensive play.
“I chose Miami mostly because when I went on the recruiting trip, I found out I’d have the chance to play right away,” said Greene, who is still working toward a degree in physical education. “It was a great school, a beautiful campus, and it was a lot of fun down there. It was a great four years and I don’t regret anything about it.”
Like it would with most players, the chance to log major minutes was something that proved key in his collegiate success, and that has not changed now that he’s in the pro ranks. He’s found that his role on this Devils team is fairly similar to the one he had with the RedHawks, which has aided in his transition to professional hockey.
“Yeah, that’s helped a lot,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be out there in a lot of key situations – power plays, penalty kills and five-on-five. When you’re playing like that, it keeps your mind in the game and it keeps you mentally ready.”
Perhaps, had he played at a higher profile school, Greene would have gotten more attention from pro scouts. As it was, however, the talented backliner slid under the radar and went undrafted. The Devils signed him as a free agent prior to this season.
“It was a great day,” he said of his signing. “The whole process was pretty unique. Thinking back on it, it’s been a dream to be able to sign with an NHL team, and I was fortunate enough to be able to go through it.”
Greene’s situation of being a smaller, offensive-minded defenseman going undrafted out of college mirrors that of another member of the Devils organization in perennial All-Star Brian Rafalski. They are in very different stages of their careers, but the potential for Greene to succeed once he gets to New Jersey is definitely there.
“My goal is just to get better every day,” he said. “Wherever that leads me or takes me remains to be seen, but as long as I keep giving 100 percent and keep improving, hopefully good things will happen.”
Kleinendorst thinks that good things will happen to Greene sooner rather than later.
“He’s moving ahead of the curve,” he said. “A lot of times, players will improve, then they’ll level off, then improve, then level off again. But he just keeps moving up. I like him. I like him a lot.”
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.