MSGNetworks.com: You were in the building for what was an emotional night at the Rock as the Devils honored Patrik Elias Saturday. A lot of people compared the atmosphere to a playoff game. What was it like for you?
Ken Daneyko: That night was special for everyone involved and nights like that always are. It just showed the respect the fans have for Patty and appreciate what he’s done for the organization.
When you have an iconic player say his goodbyes — and I know he’s going to get his number retired next year, which will be another incredible night — it allows the fans an opportunity to forget about the tough season the Devils went through.
MSGNetworks.com: Let’s talk about the Devils’ 2016-17 season as a whole and the comments made from John Hynes and Ray Shero in their exit interviews with the media. Both men stated that the team will be looking to add skill and offense in the offseason. Where do you think they’re going to make additions?
Ken Daneyko: Well, I certainly agree and echo some of the sentiments made from both Ray Shero and coach Hynes at the press conference. They have a pulse on the situation and they’re well aware the team has to score more goals. I think with what they added last season, you always believe it’s going to be the right remedy when you make additions to your team. But it is a process and results don’t happen overnight.
Hynes on caliber of offensive players Devils will evaluate: “We’re not looking for fourth line grinders. We want to produce more offense.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 11, 2017
We’ve talked about the young guys a lot here. Well, they have to take a big step next year. They might decide to get even younger and it may take some time. Both mentioned — and I agree — you have to be harder to play against on a nightly basis.
Hynes on skill sets the club will pursue this summer: “You need to have tough-minded people and grit in your room. Not just talent.”
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 11, 2017
Everybody thinks it’s physical, but when they say that, that means other things as well — being harder on the puck and being around the net where the goals come from. I always listen to teams and coach Hynes talk about a “high motor.” You have young guys like Blake Speers, Mike McLeod, who lead the OHL in scoring that have those intangibles.
These guys are gritty guys, but they have some skill, too. Will it take them a little time to develop? Possibly. But could they make the team next year? Possibly because there are going to be some changes. The opportunity is there and we’ve seen young guys and rookies have big impacts around the league. You hope that these guys are going to develop the way they’re supposed to.
That includes the guys that have played this year — Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood and Steven Santini. These are the players that have to take the next step and be a part of a team that is on the upswing. They showed some good signs this season.
The front office knows what direction it wants to go in and they have a good vision. Those are all positives. Hopefully, everything transpires the way they had talked about. I believe it can and will.
MSGNetworks.com: How aggressive do you think the Devils will be in the offseason?
Ken Daneyko: I think they’ll be aggressive, but you always have to look at that with caution. Everything doesn’t materialize the exact way you want it. You have your wishlist and areas you want to improve on. That’s the assessment you have to do when you’re getting players, it’s not just about statistics and numbers.
We knew it was going to be a process and somewhat of a rebuild. Patience is going to be a part of it. I understand, and want the fans to understand, that you have to be patient with this. But the front office did get an idea of what exactly is needed. Sometimes it takes a little while to understand what you have and what you’re looking for. You want to see improvement next year. There can be and the team will be active in trying to do that.
MSGNetworks.com: One of the guys we’ve talked about this season was Cory Schneider, who at times admitted that he didn’t have his best campaign. Do you expect him to rebound and be back at the top of his game in 2017-18?
Ken Daneyko: I do and the process starts right now from the summer. Cory is a very intelligent guy and understands what it takes on a nightly basis. Things didn’t go perfectly for him this year and it’s not just on him. Players around him didn’t perform as well as they would have liked to. It always goes hand-in-hand. That doesn’t just mean defensemen, that means as a team.
At times, he might have tried too hard or overthought things and that can have you spinning your wheels. But I have the utmost faith in him and believe that he will bounce back to the Cory we saw the year before. The entire team will be highly motivated next season from top to bottom, there’s no doubt in my mind.
MSGNetworks.com: A player who came over in the offseason highly motivated because of a trade was Taylor Hall. He was tied for the team lead in points and led the Devils in assists. What can you say about his first year in New Jersey?
Ken Daneyko: He had a really good first season here, but what top players always expect more. He wants more from himself. You always want to hear that. Under the circumstances, he missed time due to a knee injury and I’m sure he wasn’t 100 percent, but that shows the character and the drive he has to still lead the team and create on a nightly basis.
He admitted he expects more from himself and when you hear one of your top players say that, it has an effect throughout your lineup. It’s a real positive. To me, it’s not always about numbers, it’s about wins. If Hall’s numbers go up, it will help the Devils win, but everybody’s numbers have to go up. It starts at the top and you want to raise the bottom. When your top players like the Schneiders and Halls say they want to improve, it’s an eye-opener for everyone else in the room. You listen and you take it to heart.
MSGNetworks.com: It looks like there will be an influx of young talent in the Devils’ farm system. Is that something the fans have to look forward to?
Ken Daneyko: There’s no question, and things are brighter in the system than it has been. You can plug a hole in free agency and you can improve your team by going after a free agent. To have sustainable success, you have to build from within and have the foundation set. You have to have the right young guys and draft picks. You have to pick the right guys and have to do your homework.
Right now, with the guys that we mentioned like Speers and McLeod, and even guys like [Joseph] Blandisi, the future looks a lot brighter than it had in the past. You weren’t thinking that two or three years ago. We’ve seen the improvement from that standpoint, dramatically, the last couple of seasons. Now, it’s up to the players to take everything to heart, get to work, get ready for next season and be a part of the solution.