Ever since Hall of Fame, New Jersey legend Scott Niedermayer moved West to Anaheim and eventually retired, the Devils have sought a reasonable facsimile for their blue line corps.
While finding needles in haystacks may be a lot easier than finding another Nieder-type, give the Garden State ice leaders marks for trying; and they just may have that man.
The Monday re-signing of Damon Severson, 23, to a six-year pact worth $25 million simply underlines that point. Plus, Severson knows the Niedermayer style very well and wouldn’t he like to fit that mold. You bet.
“I always liked the way Scott skated,” Damon recalled. “I watched him quite a bit over the years.”
Severson’s big contract also signals that G.M. Ray Shero views the versatile D-man as his club’s defensive go-to anchor in the decade ahead.
Severson, like Niedermayer, has developed slowly but steadily. The Devils plucked him with their second round choice in 2012, 60th overall, after Damon starred for the Western League’s Kelowna Rockets.
“Niedermayer always has been a player I’ve admired going back to my Junior days in the WHL,” Severson told me during a Monday conference call after I had pointedly asked him about the Niedermayer comparison.
“But it was not only Scott I patterned my game after. More recently it’s been (Montreal Canadiens defenseman) Shea Weber. I actually try to get a mix of their styles in my game.”
A cerebral type, Severson is the first to tell you that his game still needs to be honed to sharpness and he sees the 2017-18 season as one in which he’ll be a better player than he was before.
“While I consider myself an offensive-style guy, I want to be a player everyone on my team trusts,” he explained. “Sure, numbers (as in goals and assists) are important but it’s as important to me that I get better and make the team better.”
The fact that contract negotiations dragged on through the summer was not a best-case scenario for neither Severson nor Shero, but they agreed with William Shakespeare’s line: All’s well that ends well.
“Look” Severson went on, “I wanted to come back to New Jersey and the Devils wanted me back. Plus, I didn’t want to miss training camp. I wanted to prepare myself for the season the same as everybody else.”
As for Shero, the signing has had an exhale effect since he understands that — with a little polishing here and there — his diamond-in-the-rough will become a rare jewel.
“Damon brings an important dimension to our hockey club,” the G.M. said in a prepared statement. “We’re happy to have him under contract through the 2022-23 season.”
Severson: “As far as the kind of deal I sought, I was open to all options. I knew my market (value) and let my agent do the rest. This much is certain; I wanted to commit to New Jersey.”
Prior to the conference call, Damon visited the Devils dressing room where several of his teammates had not known that he had already re-signed with the franchise.
“Some of my buddies were looking at me funny,” he recalled. “Since they didn’t know I had signed, they were not sure I belonged in the room; then they checked their computers and found out.
“No question, the (summer) time without having signed wore on me a bit but we finally completed the last hurdle and got the deal done. I’m super-excited about it.”
He’s also bullish about his team which he asserted is “going in the right direction.” Damon cited the signing of Hobey Baker Award-winner defenseman Will Butcher as a good example.
“Butcher’s style reminds me a bit of (Devils captain) Andy Greene. Will is a good skater who thinks the game well.”
When I asked him to pick the game he’ll never forget as a Devil, he mentioned his first NHL goal, scored against Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo.
Looking backward, it seems to me quite a while since Damon’s pro debut in 2012-2013 with the Albany (AHL) Devils. He collected two assists in his first pair of games.
Asked during the conference call how he felt now that the impressive deal finally is done, Severson succinctly replied, “I’m comfortable now.”
At six years and $25 million, you’d be comfortable too!