Nico Ushers In A New Era in New Jersey

In this week’s Q&A, Ken Daneyko dissects the Devils’ decision to pick Nico Hischier over Nolan Patrick, looks ahead to free agency and talks about a former teammate entering the Hockey Hall of Fame.

MSGNetworks.com: There’s only one place to begin – the Devils‘ selection of Nico Hischier as the first pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. What are your thoughts on the pick and why do you think Ray Shero and his staff decided on Nico over Nolan Patrick?

[Complete Devils Draft Coverage]

Ken Daneyko: I got a chance to meet the young man at his introductory press conference and he’s a great kid with a great family. You can see he’s got a ton of personality and that’s great for the organization. You want a kid like this who can be the face of the franchise. Along with some of the young prospects already within the organization, things are looking bright for the Devils’ future.

See the best moments from the press conference at the Prudential Center as Ray Shero, John Hynes and the Devils officially welcomed first overall pick Nico Hischier to New Jersey.

This is no slight to Patrick – I think both Nico and Nolan Patrick are going to be real fine hockey players in their careers. The Flyers have a stud in Patrick. But what tips the scales in Nico’s favor is the fact that he’s a little more dynamic, has a little more speed and has a little more creativity with the puck. That’s an element that the Devils have needed more of. Coach [John] Hynes and Ray have talked a lot about the need for more speed in the past.

He’s a very competitive guy and has all the ingredients the Devils want. I think we got a real good one and I’m really excited, especially after meeting him.

MSGNetworks.com: One of the comments out of the press conference from Shero was the fact that he expects Hischier to be in the lineup on opening night. Where do you expect him to slot into the Devils’ lineup, considering the center depth the team has with the likes of Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique?

Ken Daneyko: The more, the merrier! Every team wants to be strong down the middle and that’s an area the Devils have needed help in. Now when you look at it, you have more depth there and it’s a great problem to have. You find spots for some guys or you move guys around, maybe on the wing.

Hischier is certainly going to dictate where he plays in the lineup, whether it be a Top-6 or Top-9 role, with his performance in training camp. I have no doubt he’s going to succeed. He’s 18 and he’s going to have to develop, but I think he can excel right away. He’s got that kind of skill and that kind of confidence in himself. It’s a great thing.

You look at what the Devils have coming with the likes of Mikey McCleod, who’s got great speed. He’ll push for a spot on the roster. When you add that to Hischier, you can see youngsters who can push the Devils to a whole new level from a speed standpoint. That’s so important in the game today.

MSGNetworks.com: We’ve seen that No. 1 picks in the last few years have an instant impact on their franchises like Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. Is there any worry about Hischier living up to expectations and putting him under too much pressure?

Ken Daneyko: Listening to Ray and coach Hynes at the press conference, I think they’re handling [the pressure] perfectly. There’s always going to be pressure when you’re No. 1 pick in the draft and that comes with the territory. But with his demeanor, the kid is ready to handle it.

The Devils aren’t going to put that kind of pressure on him and they know that he’s going to help the team. They know that he’s going to be a big part of the future. Everything that came out of their mouths certainly was balanced in handling it in the proper way from my standpoint. This kid is ready to take on some pressure and you can tell he’s humble. But he’s confident in his abilities and that’s what you want to see from any young that’s going to step right in. Meanwhile, the staff led by Ray and coach Hynes will know how to take away a little bit of that pressure off of his back if need be.

MSGNetworks.com: Now that the NHL Draft is in the rearview mirror, let’s look ahead to free agency. How does the drafting of Hischier affect the Devils’ plans when it comes to signing free agents?

Ken Daneyko: Well, I’m sure Ray is going to burning up the phone lines! He’s always looking to improve the team, but he’s never strayed from his plan. I like the direction the Devils are heading and I like the direction he’s taking the team.

For me, as a fan and a person who’s emotionally invested in the team, it’s still important to show patience as the Devils continue to retool and rebuild. You don’t expect miracles overnight, but you definitely hope to see some strides being made. Ray has the team set up to do that.

We’ll see how active he’ll be, but I still think he wants to add a defenseman or two and possibly a forward, perhaps a winger. If it doesn’t happen in free agency, he’ll look to add via trade. That’s assuming if these pieces are available at the right price. There’s still question marks around the status of Ilya Kovalchuk and whether or not he could be an asset. If he does want to return, it’s another piece the Devils could use to improve the team next season.

MSGNetworks.com: Moving on, the latest inductions to the Hockey Hall of Fame were announced with your former teammate Dave Andreychuk being voted in after nine years of being on the ballot. What are your thoughts on his induction?

Ken Daneyko: When you look at Dave’s numbers as far as statistics, you can see why deserved to be voted in. He had 640 goals in his career and he was a consistent player. I don’t know what the voters look for in terms of criteria, but if winning a championship is one, he won one in his final season with the Lightning in a little bit of different role.

If you want to look at a guy that was a pure sniper, that was Dave Andreychuk. I know from playing against him for so many years, he was almost impossible to move around!

TAMPA, FL – APRIL 30: Dave Andreychuk #25 of the Tampa Bay Lightning checks Ken Daneyko #3 of the New Jersey Devils into the boards during the 2003 Eastern Conference Stanley Cup semifinals at the St. Pete Times Forum on April 30, 2003 in Tampa, Florida. The Devils defeated the Lightning 3-1. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images/NHLI)

When he got that big body around the net, he was so good at tipping pucks. He also had a great release in the slot, kind of like another Hall of Famer, Phil Esposito. It’s well deserved and it’s fantastic to see a guy you played with getting such a prestigious honor.

MSGNetworks.com: The Devils unveiled new jerseys last week and it’s fair to say it got a mixed reaction from fans when they were revealed on social media. What was your reaction to them?

[Arda’s Words on a Blog: Cool Little Details About the New Adidas NHL Jerseys]

Ken Daneyko: I like it! I’m not just saying that because I’m a Devil guy either. I’m open-minded and I like tweaks. It looks sharp and crisp. It’s the same logo and the change isn’t that drastic. I know people are getting all up in arms about a few stripes, but I personally think it’s sleek and I like the look.

I know that it’s gotten a positive reaction and negative reaction, too. Believe me, I’m on social media and I see the comments. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, but that’s the least of my worries. I’m more concerned about Devils wins and losses.