Free Agent Update #1: No Crickets Here!

We interrupt your Fourth of July weekend festivities to give you a recap of the first 3 days of the free agent signing period.

In the past, I would sit back and watch every other team load up or re-sign players like crazy during the first few days of July…and hear nothing out of New Jersey.  For days.  Or even weeks.

But not this year.  The new regime has come in and re-signed one big piece and picked up four others that do address needs for Albany.

Let’s start with Wednesday’s signings:

-First came the highly anticipated signing of forward Blake Coleman to an entry level deal.  A 3rd round draft choice in 2011, he just completed his collegiate career at Miami (OH), where in his senior season he appeared in 37 games and set a career high in both goals (20) and assists (17) while serving as assistant captain.  In 143 games over his four seasons, he scored 60 goals and assisted on 47 others.

-A few hours later, another expected signing: forward Paul Thompson (#21 on the AHL Big Board), coming off a career season, returns on a 2 year 2 way deal.  A late summer signing last year, all Thompson did was set a Albany/Lowell franchise record for goals in a season (33), was second in the league in power play goals (13), and represented Albany at the AHL All Star Classic in January.

-Then late Wednesday, a signing out of left field: forward Jim O’Brien (#11 on the Big Board) was signed to a 1 year, 2 way contract.  This may not sound like much to fans in New Jersey, but for the AHL level, this is a pretty big signing.  He split last season between Novokuznetsk Metallurg of the KHL and Hershey, scoring just twice in 22 games in Russia, but picking up 10 goals in 32 games with the Bears (and an additional 3 goals in 10 playoff games).  He does have some NHL experience, appearing in 63 games over parts of 3 seasons with Ottawa, and was also a member of Binghamton’s Calder Cup winning squad in 2010-11.

Friday saw two more players sign on the dotted line:

-The second goaltender/#3 on the depth chart hole has been filled, and it’s a familiar name to New Jersey fans: much like his new goaltending coach did last summer, Yann Danis (#56 on the Big Board) returns to the organization for his second tour of duty, signing a 1 year 2 way deal.  The journeyman netminder spent last season with Norfolk and Hartford, going 5-6-0 with a 2.72 GAA and .914 save percentage with the Admirals, and 12-7-4 with a 2.35 GAA and .921 save percentage with the Wolfpack.  He spent the 2009-10 season as Martin Brodeur’s backup, only seeing action in 12 games and going 3-2-1 with a 2.05 GAA.

-The second signing comes in the form of a 1 year 2 way contract for defenseman Marc Andre Gragnani, a name not familiar at all to New Jersey fans, but has a good AHL resume.  He spent last season with Bern in the Swiss-A league, putting up 37 points (8 G, 29 A) and a +13 in 49 games.  He has a bit of NHL experience, appearing in 74 games for Buffalo, Vancouver and Carolina, but most of his career has been in the AHL, playing in Rochester, Portland and Charlotte.  He won the AHL’s Eddie Shore Award (given to the top defenseman) in 2010-11 while with the Pirates.

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