Ian White shining in the shadows

In 17 months, Ian White logged more air miles than most hockey players do in their careers, going from playing for Toronto to Calgary to Carolina to San Jose and then to Detroit. But think twice before you start throwing out a certain label that starts with "J."

"I can assure you that the label 'journeyman,' in my estimation, does him a disservice," said John Ferguson, San Jose's director of pro scouting.
"He's a solid top-four defenseman in this league and is a player that would help, in my estimation, any team in the league."

Ferguson should know. He was the general manager for the Maple Leafs when White came through the team's system, and said that familiarity played large a part in San Jose's decision to acquire the defenseman last season.

"His decision-making with the puck has always been very good," Ferguson said.

Following a 40-game stretch with the Sharks in which the 5-foot-10, 191-pound defenseman tallied three goals and 16 assists and logged his first pro playoff minutes, White became a free agent for the first time. After San Jose made a draft-day trade with the Minnesota Wild to acquire Brent Burns, White found himself looking for a new rink to call home.

Enter the Red Wings.

Longtime star Brian Rafalski had hung up his skates, putting Detroit in the market for a right-handed shot from the blue line.

"You're not replacing Rafalski, so let's get that straight. It's impossible," said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. "So what we tried to do was look at what's available, what's in our price range."

That price range was a two-year deal worth $5.75 million for a player who Babcock is quick to point out might not be a prototypical defenseman until you take a second look.

"He's not a big man, he's not a great skater, he doesn't have a great shot -- what he is is a hockey player," Babcock said. "He's got a good mind and he's an elite competitor."

"That's what he brings each and every night," added the coach. "He's a competitive guy who makes good decisions and has been a helpful teammate."

Coming out of training camp, White was paired with Rafalski's old linemate, Nicklas Lidstrom. It didn't take long for the first-year Red Wing to make his presence felt, registering four goals, seven assists and a plus-13 over the season's first two months.

"His start was absolutely phenomenal," said Babcock.

White credits his partner on the blue line for helping ease the transition he faced coming in.

"I think he's such a talented player that I would think you could put any player in the league with him and he's going to fit in with him," said White of Lidstrom.

"He's just made things so much easier. His patience with the puck, he seems to have a knack for slowing the game down, and especially with the speed of the game nowadays it seems like, you know, plays are coming at you so fast and he's still able to think a few plays ahead."

White didn't fade after his hot start. His 25 assists are the most he's had since the 2009-10 season, in which he split time between Toronto and Calgary, and are a career best when playing for one team. White's plus-22 is the best he's had in the NHL.

The success doesn't come as a surprise to Ferguson.

"He stepped right in to a top-four role with us in San Jose," he said.
"He had performed those minutes before certainly in Toronto, he averaged over 22 minutes at different times of his career, and clearly once Coach Babcock and the Wings organization declared in training camp that he was going to play with Lidstrom … the fact that he would fit in and fit in well, to me, was not unexpected at all."

Ferguson added, though, it isn't always as easy to transition from one team to another.

"A challenge is you really need to be open to new coaching styles, styles of play, systems and, really, what you need to be is versatile," he said.

There's also a mental aspect.

"You've got to have the mental composure to play in situations, in high-pressure situations that are unfamiliar," said Ferguson.

Ferguson and Babcock both cite the versatility and mental aspects as strengths in White's game. Those traits will be tested in a new way, though, starting next week, as White and the rest of the Red Wings look to bring home their first Stanley Cup in four years.

Devon Heinen is a production assistant at ESPN.