In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko discusses the Devils winning the No. 1 pick overall and the latest happenings around the NHL Playoffs.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) April 30, 2017
Ken Daneyko: Obviously, it’s good fortune and you saw a lot of teams move up [in the Draft Lottery]. The Flyers had a pretty big jump, Dallas also had a big jump, too. We haven’t seen that kind of movement in the Draft Lottery in the last few years, so I guess it was bound to happen. It’s great news for the Devils and certainly creates a little buzz with the team and amongst the fans.
Anytime you can land a No. 1 overall pick, you do your homework and hope to get the best overall player. The Devils and their fans should be very excited.
MSGNetworks.com: We’ve seen it in the last couple of years of how having a No. 1 pick can change the fortunes of a franchise – Auston Matthews this year and Connor McDavid two years ago. Can this pick do the same for the Devils?
Ken Daneyko: From all indications — and I read what everyone else reads — there might not be a generational type of player like a Matthews or McDavid. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be excited about having the No. 1 overall pick.
If it’s a franchise player or even just a game-changing player, it will be significant for the Devils. I’m talking about a player who can be a top-tier or even a Top-6 forward.
Everybody knows the talk of this year’s Draft is between two young centermen in Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier. I’m sure the team will do their homework and decide whether it’s those two or someone else because there’s always a darkhorse candidate out there. It gives the team a lot of options and there are areas of need that the Devils will have to upgrade. When you get the first pick, it gives you the choice of direction of where you want to go.
MSGNetworks.com: Some folks will be expecting the Devils pick to be on the opening night roster. How does winning the lottery affect Ray Shero‘s plans for the offseason?
Ken Daneyko: We mentioned this before, I think he’s focused on sustainable success and that’s building from within. All of a sudden, you’ve got the No. 1 overall pick, which you would expect to make the team next year if all things fall into place. Then you have guys like Mikey McLeod, the first pick from last year, who’s having a terrific playoff run in the OHL, along with [Nathan] Bastian, his teammate.
You have others like Blake Speers, John Quenneville, who acquitted himself well when he was with the Devils. You also have guys that spent the entire season with the team like [Miles] Wood, [Steven] Santini and certainly, Pavel Zacha who you hope takes that next step. You have a nice, young core group, but it’s up to them to get to that next level and be major factors on the team that needs to improve.
I like what Ray is doing and there will be other avenues he’ll explore in the offseason, such as the expansion draft to get players. They’re set up real well for the next two to three years, more so than in the past, and maybe it’s taken management some time to get to this point. All of a sudden, when it looked like two to three years ago the Devils didn’t have many prospects, now they’ve got a handful. That’s a real good sign and it’s going be exciting in the offseason.
Your goal is to make the playoffs. Is it going to be a significant jump? Yes. Is it reachable? No question. I see the future being brighter and the Devils should be a much-improved team next season.
MSGNetworks.com: Moving on to the NHL Playoffs, the biggest talking point from the last couple of days was the controversy surrounding the Sidney Crosby injury. There were a lot of things going on in that play – Crosby getting slashed by Alex Ovechkin leading into the cross check to the head by Matt Niskanen. What was your take on it?
Ken Daneyko: These incidents are just so tough to analyze and you hate to see that happen. Sidney Crosby is the best player in the league and regardless of who it is, you always want to see players protected to the best of their ability.
What people don’t understand is that the league has instituted new rules. Does the league need to do more to protect players? Maybe. There might need to be more severe punishment for stick infractions and that’s something they evaluate every season. They’ve already done a lot already to legislate some of the stuff out of the game. We don’t want to see a Sidney Crosby injured and he’s worth the price of admission.
As for the play itself, I’m not going to justify the slash by Ovechkin, but if it was away from the play, I would say there was vicious intent in that situation. On that play, the slash should have been called a penalty, but it was done trying to stop a scoring opportunity. If the league wants to crack down on any kind of slash, they have to do it collectively. You can’t protect players at all costs in a physical, emotional game where everything is on the line. Having been there and through it, players do things they regret and everything happens so quickly. Will suspensions in the future detour slashes like that? Possibly. People are making a lot of the slash, but to me, that wasn’t what hurt Crosby.
The follow up with Niskanen’s high cross-check was something I didn’t like. He got a major penalty and I thought it was warranted. Some say he couldn’t avoid it, but I would have liked to see him have his stick down and maybe we wouldn’t have seen the concussion to Crosby. It deserved a major penalty and possibly a suspension. I would think there wasn’t any intent from Niskanen to do that, he’s not known as that type of player. But you’re responsible for your stick, accidental or not. Those are the things the league will evaluate in the future and maybe crack down on even accidental stick infractions like that.
With that being all said, I don’t want to see a pond hockey game where they crack down on everything. It’s still a physical game and you still want that element. It’s hard walking that fine line of protecting the players at all costs. You want a nice balance and I think it’s gotten better on the ice, in terms of players respecting each other while playing with that fine line of winning at all cost. You have to play star players hard, you’re not going to win if you don’t. But you have to do it within the rules.
MSGNetworks.com: Moving on to another physical series – Nashville vs. St. Louis. The likes of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis have been sensational in the postseason. Can you sort of compare them to the defensive corps that you were on with the Devils?
Ken Daneyko: You can take a lot from Nashville in their nice run they’re having so far. You look at their Top-4 defensemen, they’re all good puck-moving defensemen, but they’re also good in their own end. They get it up the ice quickly. Roman Josi might be the biggest superstar that doesn’t get enough attention. Subban has had nice play in the playoffs and Ellis has really emerged. Ellis is a little guy, but he is excelling – he can skate, he can shoot and move the puck. That’s a big reason why Nashville is where they are.
The only difference I would say from our defense units we had was that we had a puck-mover and a bruiser together as a pairing. The evolution is now that all defensemen are puck-movers and skaters, but you still have to be able to defend. They’re similarities as far you have to build from the backend out. Of course, we had [Scott] Stevens, [Scott] Niedermayer and [Brian] Rafalski along with physical players like [Colin] White and myself. Nashville is similar, but they have players that can move the puck too.
MSGNetworks.com: We’ll finish up the two other series, the Rangers-Senators and the Ducks-Oilers where we saw the two favorites fall into a 0-2 hole before winning Game 3. You’ve been on teams that have come back from deficits, what’s the mindset of a team when you’re down?
Ken Daneyko: You just have to get that one win to get you back into the series and that’s what you saw what happened with both the Rangers and Ducks. The Rangers moved the puck extremely well and were able to get through the neutral zone where Ottawa is normally so efficient. I thought the passing from the Rangers was superb. They were quicker and played with desperation and determination.
For the Ducks, yes, they lost the first two games at home. But the Ducks are a veteran team and they still had confidence. They’re very capable of squaring this series and they did the same thing the Rangers did – played with desperation and scored early. Both teams are back in their series.