Team Effort Fuels Devils’ Hot Start

In this week’s Dano on the Devils, Ken Daneyko takes a closer look at the Devils‘ unbeaten start and looks ahead to a tough stretch of games. Well, what a terrific start to the Devils’ season — 3-0 in their first three games with 16 goals scored. Gives us your thoughts on the hot start and their offensive firepower early on.

Ken Daneyko: We talked about it before — this all started from the onset of training camp. Every player came in with a better attitude and a team-first mentality. All of a sudden, you have more competition internally. With all the young guys, you can’t really project how they’re going to be in camp or what kind of impact they’ll have during the season. But because of guys like Nico Hischier, Will Butcher and Jesper Bratt, they’ve added skill and they’ve had an impact early on.

Their play has also ignited the core group that was here last year as well. Guys like Kyle Palmieri, Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique, they’ve benefited from that. These guys are all playing for each other and they’re getting rewarded for their hard work. It’s been a very balanced attack and they’ve even gotten production from the fourth line from players like Brian Gibbons and Blake Coleman. They’ve filled their roles perfectly and they’re excellent penalty killers. All those things add up to a 3-0 start.

It’s early and it’s OK to be fired up and excited, whether you’re a fan or on the team. There’s a long way to go and you have to keep everything in perspective. For example, there are still areas the Devils can continue to improve on. They did take a lot of minor penalties in their win against Toronto and that’s something they’ll have to clean up, but you’re going to do that against a highly-skilled team like the Maple Leafs. But I thought the game was pretty even 5-on-5, and everything the Devils are doing is a credit to their preparation and process. They’re doing things the right way.

Coach [John] Hynes is such a bright hockey mind and he’s got the horses to make more plays than in the past. These guys are all responding to his system and there’s reason to believe that they can maintain this.

[Watch Friday’s Devils-Capitals Game on MSG+ and Download Free on MSG GO] You mentioned Bratt, Butcher and Hischier. Does it surprise you how quickly the three rookies have assimilated into the lineup?

Ken Daneyko: Surprise might not be the right word, but you never know what’s going to transpire and how long it takes for these guys to have an impact in the National Hockey League with them being rookies.

Will Butcher with five assists has been really good and really solid. He moves the puck, he’s smart and he’s really good on the power play as a quarterback.

With Jesper Bratt, nobody saw this coming! Most people didn’t know much about him coming into training camp. But that’s what makes you a good team, you got to have surprise guys that push the competition and make it stiffer in camp. That’s exactly what Bratt did from day one of training camp. He worked his way onto the team. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘can he carry it on into the regular season when it gets a little more intense?’ Well, he certainly hasn’t disappointed and you can tell he’s a player.

He’s smart, he’s quick and he makes the right decisions with the puck. He just seems to be mature beyond his years and that’s just a gem of a find by general manager Ray Shero and his scouting staff, to unearth a player like this in the sixth round.

As for Nico, he hasn’t put up the same amount points as the other two rookies, but I don’t evaluate players solely on just points, I evaluate them by how they play. He’s been dynamic, he makes plays, he’s so smart and I’ve been impressed with him defensively as much as anything.

He plays a 200-foot game as an 18-year-old and he prides himself on that. That’s a coach’s dream for a youngster. A lot of skilled offensive youngsters that are drafted high have to learn the game. They’re good in the offensive zone, but the neutral zone and the defensive zone, it can take time. The points will come. He always says the right things and he’s got the right attitude.

We can keep going on and on about names, but really, everyone is contributing right now. Miles Wood, what a game he had in Toronto! Pavel Zacha is a year older, a year more mature and is another young guy making an impact. It took him a little longer for everything to click and it took him time to get acclimated to the National Hockey League. He came into camp with so much more confidence and now he’s on the top line centering Hall and Palmieri.

We forgot to mention Cory Schneider, who’s also having a terrific start to the season. You have to have good goaltending, doesn’t matter how good your team is. You don’t win without your goalie making key saves at the right time. Cory has certainly done that.

Everyone is doing their job and should be very pleased with how they’re playing. Another new face that has shined in the early going has been Marcus Johansson, who’s really developed something with Jesper Bratt on the same line. What makes them so dangerous as a tandem together and why have they clicked so quickly?

Ken Daneyko: They joke about it, but obviously being from Sweden, a fellow countryman, helps.

You think the game the same way and they’re both highly skilled players. They’re good with the puck, make the right decisions and are able to make plays in tight spaces. We see a lot of Swedish players with high skill and these two guys have it. They’ve formed a nice chemistry early on.

When Johansson was available and Ray was to pull off the deal for him, that was a real savvy trade. He’s a guy that I admired even when he was with the Capitals who could play the game in any situation — defensively or offensively. The key is that he’s come here and accepted the new challenge maybe even more of a prominent role in New Jersey. With all the firepower that the Caps have, such as Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, he had to defer a little bit. He’s excited to be with this young group and be a part of something, to turn it around. Johansson will get to see his old team Friday, as the Devils embark on a really arduous stretch of games coming. With five of the next six games against teams that made the playoffs last year, would you consider these to be “measuring-stick games” to really see how far the Devils have come since last year?

Ken Daneyko: Every game is a challenge. Measuring stick games this early in the season might not be the right terminology, but I think these guys, with their early-season success and a big step beating the Leafs, who many consider as one of the top teams in the league, are finding ways to win.

There’s a different feel to this team and it’s evident in a game like Wednesday’s in Toronto. The Leafs were highly touted coming into this season and in the past, the Devils might have gone into that game with some nerves. The feeling might have been to keep it close and not let the game get away from you. But the feeling Wednesday morning was that the team accepted the challenge. They believe in themselves and with a lot of good teams coming up, it’s going to be fun to see how they respond in each game.

[Watch Friday’s Devils-Capitals Game on MSG+ and Download Free on MSG GO]