Devils on the Clock as Draft Looms

This week, Ken Daneyko recaps the Stanley Cup Final, looks ahead to the NHL Draft and recollects on getting drafted by the Devils. Let’s begin with the Penguins once again winning the Stanley Cup Final in six games over the Predators. How impressed were you with Pittsburgh to repeat as champions, especially considering how banged up the Pens were during the playoffs?

Ken Daneyko: It’s not an easy feat in this day and age to win the Cup in consecutive seasons, so it’s amazing to see Pittsburgh go back-to-back. You have to say they are somewhat of a dynasty with the success they’ve had if you include the Cup they won in 2009 and being the first team to win the Cup back-to-back since the 1997-98 Red Wings. It’s impressive for sure and they know how to win.

[Maven: Why the Penguins Won the Cup]

Everyone knows all about Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but Matt Murray is one of the big reasons why they won. What a start to his career: He’s won two Stanley Cups and is technically still a rookie! People might not put him in the same class as a Braden Holtby because he doesn’t post the gaudy numbers in the regular season, but he’s the best big-game goalie and is doing it at such a young age. He’s really that remarkable. The Penguins are going to be a threat for quite some time.

But you have to give Nashville a ton of credit. You talk about injuries, the Predators may have had even more significant injuries than the Penguins. If they had Kevin Fiala and Ryan Johansen in there, I think Nashville would have won this series. Unfortunately for them, they got a tough break in Game 6 on a disallowed goal by Colton Sissons. It’s unfortunate that the ref blew the play dead with an early whistle and I’m pretty sure we’re seeing a Game 7 if that goal is allowed.

It would have been great drama had this gone seven and Nashville would have gotten another kick at the can. Nevertheless, it didn’t materialize and congratulations to the Penguins as they got it done again. You mentioned that the Pens are going to be a strong team again next season. Looking at this from a Devils point of view, it won’t be easy to catch up to the Penguins and the rest of the Metropolitan Division is loaded. How difficult is the task for Ray Shero this offseason to get New Jersey back in contention with the rest of the division?

Ken Daneyko: Yeah, the Metropolitan Division last season showed it was a powerhouse. It’s probably the best division in hockey right now. You saw the Caps, Penguins, Blue Jackets and Rangers have 100-point seasons. You also have the Islanders, a team that didn’t make the playoffs this year, but we know what they’re capable of from the season before.

From a Devils standpoint, we know they’re going to have a different look. I think Ray is going to be active and they have the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft. Whoever the pick is, I hope that he has an immediate impact.

You also hope a guy like Pavel Zacha takes that next step and I think he can. He can be a real contributor, offensively, and can do it on a more consistent basis.

You hope that Cory Schneider can bounce back to the level that we’re accustomed to seeing. This past season, it was a little bit of an off year for him, just like for the team itself. I expect nothing less from Cory than him getting back to elite status. If that happens, the Devils have a chance.

I think Taylor Hall is going to have a big year after getting acclimated to a new team last season. He played on a real formidable line with Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri, and that could be really dangerous if they develop into an elite line.

[Daneyko: Devils Have Foundation Set With First Line]

Those are the elements that you need to be successful in order to be a playoff team. That has to be the goal, whether it materializes next year or shortly after, but that has to be the objective. They should have the mindset to challenge because we saw multiple teams make the playoffs this season that didn’t the year before.

I’m excited to see what Ray has up his sleeve. If he can pull some things off, we’re going to see a different looking team and, certainly, more skill. Now that we’re closing in on the NHL Draft, most experts believe the Devils have either Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier at the top of their draft board. Do you think the Devils have an idea of which player they might be leaning towards?

Ken Daneyko: I think everything you hear is that it’s a tight race between those two guys. I listen to some experts like Craig Button, who I have a lot of trust in. He’s a great evaluator of talent and, believe or not, he has Nico a little bit ahead right now, but not by much. Patrick has been considered the consensus No. 1 pick for two years leading up to this draft, but Hischier has climbed up the rankings that much.

[Fischler: Who Will Devils Take With the First Pick?]

What that tells me is that it’s really close and I don’t think you can go wrong with either guy. You just hope you get the right guy that fits the organization and what you’re trying to do. What makes the job so difficult for Paul Castron, the Devils’ Director of Amateur Scouting, is that you have to project who might be better in five years, not just for right now.

BUFFALO, NY – JUNE 02: NHL Combine Top Prospects Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier (l-r) chat beside a photo of Wayne Gretzky during festivities at the NHL Centennial Fan Arena at KeyBank Center on June 2, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

A lot of people think Patrick might have a bigger immediate impact his first year, but will Nico be a better player over time?

That’s why the scouting team puts so much time and effort to figure all that out. It’s going to be fun and there’s going to be a lot of drama leading up to the draft. Even when Ray Shero gets to the podium, you’re going to be on the edge of your seat if you’re a Devils fan. It’s a real tough call and there’s no sure bet on either guy.

I’m excited as a fan because you always want hope and I’ve got a lot of hope that Ray Shero and his crew can really get the franchise in the right direction. To have the first No. 1 overall pick in team history is going to be great. It’s always a dream for a hockey player to be drafted by an NHL team. You shared a story about being drafted by the Devils back in 1982 on Arda Ocal’s podcast, can you tell us a little more about your draft experience?

Ken Daneyko: Well, it was an exciting time. That doesn’t change from 1982 (when I was drafted) to 2017. A lot of dynamics have changed in terms of information since then. You have more research on these players through technology and there’s the NHL Draft combine. A lot of those elements weren’t available back in ’82, so the scouts had to do even more homework to try and understand who they were picking.

I never heard one thing about who was going to draft me back in 1982. I never talked to one team and I went higher than I expected. The one thing that doesn’t change as a kid is that it’s your dream to get drafted and play. It’s a just a small percentage of kids that end up getting to play in the NHL after being drafted.

You’re so grateful to your family and all the sacrifices they go through to try to help you nurture your dream, like taking you to practice at 5 AM. That’s what my parents did and my mother has passed away since then. It was no different from their perspective. I remember her saying, “I can’t believe he made it! I can’t believe he was drafted!”

Sometimes my mom thought I was reaching a little far when I told her that I was going to play in the National Hockey League ever since I was 7-years-old. When that dream came true, getting picked 18th overall by the New Jersey Devils, I asked my mom where exactly New Jersey was! I’ve told that story many times, but it’s true and it never gets old. I would have run 3,000 miles to get my opportunity and I was excited that a team had an interest in me, and was willing to take a shot at me that high in the draft.

Ken Daneyko & Jan Erixon. December 10, 1987. (Photo by Nury Hernandez/New York Post Archives / (c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)

One of the scouts that followed me and begged the Devils to take me was Bert Marshall, and he’s still scouting today. I’ve crossed paths with him over the years and I’ve given him a big handshake and hug when the draft was in New Jersey in 2013. I told him, “Thanks for having faith in me.” He said, “Thank you, I’m still scouting because of that pick! I told the Devils you’re going to play 15 years and you ended up playing 20!”

He told me that the Devils initially didn’t want to draft me. Back then, there was a whole different dynamic. They went by ranking and where you were slotted. I don’t think the hierarchy with the Devils at the time knew a whole lot about me and I don’t think they wanted to take me. Bert Marshall was the guy that followed me in the Western Hockey League and put himself on the line to convince the Devils to take me. His faith in me worked out pretty well since I played 1,200 games for the franchise, and I say that humbly.

At the time, I was glad that the Devils weren’t very good and were rebuilding. I thought that was going to give me an opportunity to get a chance to play and I wanted to be a part of the solution. I wanted to go through the trying times and I certainly did do that in the first five years until we made the playoffs. I was fortunate I didn’t get traded along the way and got to be a part of the Stanley Cup teams. I knew in my heart we were going to be a contender and were no longer going to be the laughing stock of the league.

To tie it all together with this Devils team, you have find the guys that want to be a part of this project. When I started, we weren’t very good, but we got there three times and we were able to reap those rewards. New Jersey is a great place to play and there are a lot of opportunities here. There’s a tremendous fanbase and these kids who get drafted should be excited to be here.