When people think of the best defensemen of the ’00s, there are some obvious choices. Nicklas Lidstrom might be the best player of the decade, let alone blueliner. Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer skated together and apart during those 10 years, but always seemed to make an impact. Rob Blake might not be in the same breath as those three, but his mean streak and angry shot made him a dangerous force.
One player who seems to get lost in the shuffle is Brian Rafalski, though. Despite being a valuable fixture among elite teams as a member of the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings, he was often overshadowed by Niedermayer, Lidstrom and Scott Stevens.
(In fact, to some extent, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics were a “coming out party” for Rafalski. He made a huge difference as one of the few veterans on the silver medal winning U.S. Olympic team and was one of the few older players who made a true impact.)
Clips like this show that the small defenseman is a very valuable player, though. While Todd Bertuzzi received the first assist and Cleary scored the goal, but Rafalski’s amazing breakout pass made it all happen. It just shows how deceptive a second assist can be, from an importance standpoint.
Anyway, enjoy this beautiful bit of passing. We’ll credit Cleary since he did score the goal, but Rafalski was the real star. It’s almost symbolic of his career in a way, isn’t it?