Player Profile: Ken Daneyko, “Mr. Devil”

I knew I wanted to start doing occasional player profiles here on the blog and knew exactly where I wanted to begin: with the man who holds the club record for games played (1,283) over his twenty year NHL career (spent entirely with the Devils) – Ken Daneyko. Over the last 30-plus years, no one has embodied the New Jersey Devils franchise and represented the team better than “Dano.” Whether it was as a rock-solid defenseman patrolling the Devils’ blueline or as a broadcaster on MSG Devils telecasts giving insight into the current team’s play, no one person is more tied to the Garden State’s entry into the National Hockey League than Ken Daneyko.

Although born in Windsor, Ontario, on April 17, 1964,  Daneyko actually grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. Taken with the 18th overall pick in the first round of the 1982 NHL Draft, Daneyko was the second draft pick in Devils history, taken behind only Rocky Trottier (brother of Islanders star Bryan Trottier) who was drafted 8th overall by the Devils. Interestingly, Scott Stevens, a man who would play an important part in Devils history, as captain of three Stanley Cup teams, and be intrinsically tied to Daneyko’s career, as well as a fellow defenseman, was taken 5th overall in that same draft by the Washington Capitals. The Draft was held on June 9, 1982 at the Montreal Forum and, thus, the team had not yet chosen a new nickname. But make no mistake, Daneyko was not chosen by the Colorado Rockies. When notified of his selection by the as-yet-unnamed New Jersey team, he turned to his mother and, as the story goes, asked her where New Jersey was located. Although Daneyko was not exactly sure where he was going to be lacing up his skates geographically, he has gone on record as saying that he was just happy to be drafted and to get a chance to play in the NHL.  Daneyko’s junior career had taken him from the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League to the Great Falls Americans, Spokane Flyers and Seattle Breakers of the WHL. He would make his Devils debut on October 5, 1983 against, appropriately, the New York Rangers in which he had his first NHL assist and point. He would score his first NHL goal a few weeks later on October 30, 1983 against Pittsburgh’s Michel Dion. Unfortunately, Daneyko would break his leg in a game against the Hartford Whalers and miss most of the 1983-84 season. Once his leg healed, he would be sent back to the Kamloops Junior Oilers of the WHL. Dave Hutchison had worn the number three for the 1982-83 season. Daneyko would claim it in 1983-84 and would never relinquish it, becoming the last Devil ever to wear it.

The following season was spent with the American Hockey League’s Maine Mariners, where Daneyko would refine the defensive skills he became known for. Daneyko would be called up to the Devils to start 1985-86, but would be sent back to Maine that November. He was recalled in January and spent the rest of the season (and his career) in the NHL with the Devils. He would represent Canada at that year’s World Championships, where the team would win a bronze medal. The 1986-87 was Dano’s first full year in the NHL and he would miss only one game that season.

Nineteen Eighty-eight was a magical year for the Devils and their fans and for Ken Daneyko. In an MSG documentary about the Devils’ Stanley Cup run that year called “MSG’s Vault: Devils on the Rise,” Al Trautwig said that all he has to do to get Daneyko to smile is say “1988,” and there is little question why that is the case. Daneyko would score five goals in the 1987-88 regular season, but none bigger than one he scored on April 3, 1988 in Chicago Stadium. The last game of the season and the Devils need a win to get in to the playoffs for the first time. The Rangers, with whom the Devils were competing with for that last spot in the Patrick Division, had won earlier in the day against Quebec. Daneyko would score the opening goal of that game against the Blackhawks, getting the team started on their way to an overtime win that would give them a spot in playoffs. Although Dano beat Darren Pang early in the first, it was that goal that set the pace for the Devils all night. Daneyko would finish that season with 12 points total and had seven points that postseason. For several years, until the Stanley Cups would come for the team, it was this year that Devils fans would look to as their “championship” season. This was the year that put the Devils on the map, the year that took the “Mickey Mouse” label, laid on them by Wayne Gretzky in 1983, off the team. It was apropos that Daneyko would play such an integral part in it then, as he was quickly becoming the face of a young franchise on the rise.

Although the Devils could not follow up on the magic of 1988 (the team would miss the playoffs, disappointingly, in 1989), Daneyko personally set a then franchise record of 283 PIMs, breaking his own record set the season prior. In 1989-90, he would become the first Devil to top 1,000 PIMs and would win the Ray DeGraw Memorial Award for cooperation with the media. Other career highlights in the years between 1988 and winning his first Cup in 1995 include scoring his only goal of the 1991-92 season on March 7, which was also his 100th career NHL point. He would play in his 500th game that year on February 6. March 20, 1993 saw Dano play in his 600th NHL game. In 1993-94, he began the year as the NHL’s ironman, starting the season in his 311th straight game. He would also claim a franchise record from Kirk Muller when he would play in his 322nd straight game that year.

The 1994-95 Stanley Cup season would see him play in his 700th NHL game and would see the Devils pull off the impossible in their four game sweep of the powerful Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. For players such as Daneyko and John MacLean, who were there in the early “Mickey Mouse” days and grew with the team through 1988, winning the 1995 Stanley Cup had to be the ultimate accomplishment. Daneyko would go on to win two more Cups with New Jersey, being the only player along with Scott Stevens, Martin Brodeur, Sergei Brylin and Scott Niedermayer to be a member of all three of the Devils’ Stanley Cup teams in 1995, 2000 and 2003.

One of Ken Daneyko’s biggest accomplishments, though, would be his struggle with alcoholism in the late-1990s and 2000. He would check into rehab in 2000 with the help of General Manager Lou Lamoriello and team owner Dr. John McMullen. Daneyko recovered and played in every game during the Devils Stanley Cup run in 2000. He was awarded the Bill Masterton Trophy that year for being the NHL player “who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.” That award is selected by a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association from a group of nominees from each team. Daneyko has remained sober to this day.

Ken Daneyko’s career would come to an end after the 2002-03 season when he announced his retirement from the Devils. He could not have picked a better note to go out on, as the Devils defeated the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final to win their third Stanley Cup. Coach Pat Burns would have a tough decision to make during that postseason, as Daneyko was benched or scratched altogether several times during the playoffs. But the coach knew what the man known as “Mr. Devil” meant to the team and at a team dinner the night before game seven, pulled Daneyko aside and told him he would be playing the following night. Daneyko had to go into another room, away from his teammates, in order to compose himself, the situation was that emotional for him.

Daneyko would be honored by the Devils on March 24, 2006 as the second Devil to have his jersey number retired. His number “3” has hung from the rafters of the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford and, now, in the Prudential Center in Newark. He became a naturalized United States citizen, because, as he pointed out, he has spent more time living in the U.S. than in Canada during his lifetime and his kids were born in the country. In retirement, “Dano” has worked for MSG broadcasts of Devils games and represents the team on the network’s “Hockey Night Live” panel show. There is much speculation that he will replace Glenn “Chico” Resch as the Devils’ TV color commentator following Resch’s retirement after this past season.

Time will tell what is next for a man who has represented the Devils so well not only on the ice and on TV, but also in the community. Ken Daneyko is a true Devils legend, and for someone who could not locate the state on a map when he was drafted, has become one of us, a true New Jerseyan.

Looking to Make a Mark at Rookie Camp

The 2014 edition of the New Jersey Devils Rookie Camp closed up last week with a lot of decisions to be made by the team’s coaching staff. A talented group of rookies helped their cases to crack the opening night starting lineup and stick with the team throughout the 2014-15 NHL season. Who will ultimately join the big club and who will join the AHL’s Albany squad for more seasoning? Some players will return to college or their junior teams, having gained the experience of attending an NHL team’s camp. Most look promising and will be solid NHLers, if not for the Devils than elsewhere in the league. Overall, this was a learning experience for all involved and it will give the team and the players a better understanding of where they stand.

One of the most interesting developments at Devils Rookie Camp (which took place at the AmeriHealth Pavilion adjacent to the Prudential Center, which is used as the Devils practice facility) was having three Brodeur brothers on the ice at the same time: goaltenders Anthony and Jeremy and forward William. Although Marty may have left the organization for now, the Brodeur name was well represented. Anthony, the oldest at 19, drafted by the Devils in 2013 at the NHL Draft at Prudential Center, was 13-10-2 in his last campaign with the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He also posted two shutouts and a 2.90 GAA. Jeremy just finished his high school career at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota. He had 22 wins in his 26 games played with four shutouts last season and will play next season for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. William, the lone Brodeur brother skater had 10 goals and 22 assists in 46 games last year for Shattuck.

One of New Jersey’s main issues going into the Rookie Camp (as well as the team’s regular training camp which starts next month) was defense. As pointed out by Mike Morreale on NHL.com, both Jon Merrill and Eric Gelinas had an impactful season as rookies last year. This was due to injuries causing holes in the lineup that needed to be filled. Merrill and Gelinas, along with Adam Larsson, are looking to make their mark on the team this year and will definitely compete for spots come training camp after the departures of defensemen Anton Volchenkov, who was a compliance buyout by the Devils and signed with the Nashville Predators, and Mark Fayne, who signed as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers. But this shows the players who showed up at AmeriHealth Pavilion that they can make the team, and to be ready should the club need them. The injury bug will hit during a long NHL season and the youngsters know that they can be called up to fill roles at any time. In addition, the Devils know they need to get some younger legs on the blueline and are taking the necessary steps to make this happen. A good mix of youth and veteran leadership (everywhere on the ice, for that matter) should give the Devils the opportunity to compete in a tough Metropolitan Division. Other standouts on defense were Seth Helgeson (taken 114th overall in 2009) and Damon Severson (60th overall in 2012). Helgeson, a University of Minnesota product spent last year with Albany and had one goal and nine assists, 100 PIMs and a plus-12 rating for the A-Devils in 75 games played. The large (6-foot 4-inch, 215-pounds) physical defenseman has been training under Devils assistant coach and former Stanley Cup winning captain, Scott Stevens, a man also known for his physical presence. Severson just completed his fourth season with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League and had 15 goals and 46 assists for 61 points, good for being tied for sixth in scoring amongst defensemen in the WHL. Like Gelinas, he possesses a great shot from the point, according to Morreale. This is something that can help the Devils power play: having more than one defenseman with a hard, accurate shot to help anchor the power play units.

Up front, some of the main standouts are guys who already have NHL experience: forwards Reid Boucher and Stefan Matteau. Boucher, selected 99th overall in 2011 had the most NHL games played of everyone at the camp, with 23. He had two goals and five assists last season. Matteau, 29th overall in 2012, had 17 games played back in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and had one goal and two helpers. Boucher has a scoring touch, as he converted a shootout attempt for the Devils last season, which is something that not many players could say in the first half of the campaign. He ended up fifth in scoring for the Albany Devils notching 38 points in 56 games. Matteau, meanwhile, played his first full pro season last year for Albany (he was sent back to his junior team after his brief time with the Devils in 2012-13). He had an even 13 goals and 13 assists for 26 points in his debut season in the AHL. The Chicago native also played for Team USA in the 2014 World Junior Championship. He had three goals and an assist and 10 PIMs in five games. According to the Morreale article, coach Peter DeBoer wants to see Boucher bring a “workmanlike mentality” to his game. The coach invoked former team captain Zach Parise’s name when he said he told Boucher: “… Whether he’s playing on a first line or fourth line, he has to bring that workmanlike mentality. I told him that the beauty about Zach Parise was that he was a first-line player with a fourth-line work ethic. I think Reid can take some notes from that.”

In the net, the race is to see who will be Cory Schneider’s backup next year. The battle should come down to Scott Wedgewood (84th overall in the 2010 draft), Long Island-native Keith Kinkaid and Scott Clemmensen (who was signed to a two-way contract as a free agent from the Florida Panthers). Wedgewood played for Albany last year (his first full season with the club) and posted a 16-4-3 record, including four shutouts. He had a 2.39 GAA and a .899 save percentage. Morreale quoted Wedgewood as saying that he feels he might be able to use another year in Albany for seasoning. He said that both Kinkaid and Clemmensen were older goaltenders with experience. While he is right, injuries do happen and were Schneider or his eventual backup to go down with injury, the other two goaltenders left in Albany have to be an option to be ready. Obviously, there is a tendency to look at the goalie situation as being back to square one: with an established veteran (in past seasons Brodeur, now Schneider) in the number one position making it hard for a younger guy to crack the lineup. With the acquisition of Clemmensen, things might look even bleaker for the 25-year-old Kinkaid and the 21-year-old Wedgewood’s chances of making the NHL squad. But when everything shakes down at training camp in about a month, the best goalie at camp will end up being Schneider’s number two and the others will bide their time in Albany waiting to make their mark with the big club.

Things seem very promising for the Devils up and down the lineup going into training camp. Rookie Camp helped make things a little more clear and the standouts from that camp may very well be walking out of training camp as full-fledged NHLers, realizing their lifelong dream and making an impact for the New Jersey Devils. In the NHL, youth will be served and this year was and is no exception to that rule.