Devils’ Nico Daws reflects on Whirlwind season
The beautiful sound of pucks hitting the glass echoed throughout the RWJBarnabas Health Hockey House at the Prudential Center as New Jersey Devils goaltenders Nico Daws, Tyler Brennan and Cole Brady took to the ice for drills during the team development camp last week. They rotated in and out of the crease as the coaching staff took turns shooting the puck at goal.
Devils fans have become familiar with Daws, 21, as he was one of seven people who spent time in the crease last season. Injuries have forced the team to fully embrace the next-man mentality, and no position has been more tormented than goalkeeper. The rookie keeper has featured in a season-high 25 games for the big club, including nine consecutive appearances in March.
The 6-foot-4 Munich native made his league debut on October 23, 2021 at the Prudential Center against the Buffalo Sabers. That night, he earned his first NHL victory with a .960 save percentage and 24 saves. I caught up with Daws during Devils development camp to talk about his whirlwind season and when he realized he was playing in the NHL.
“It was crazy. It took a few games [to hit me that I’m playing in the NHL]. It’s like when we played in Pittsburgh and we played against [Sidney] Croby and [Evgeni] Malkin tagged on me and I was like oh my god,” he said with a laugh.
Daws Unexpected Rookie Campaign
It was Jacques Plante who once said: “Goalkeeping is a normal job, of course. Would you like it in your job if every time you make a small mistake, a red light goes on above your desk and 15,000 people get up and yell at you.
There is no denying that this is a high pressure position, and mental toughness is a necessary characteristic for the individual standing in the crease. The length and often the success of a goalkeeper’s career depends on his ability to stay calm and composed for 60 minutes, no matter how many bad goals he allows. Daws got his first taste of the NHL and when I asked him how he handled the mental side of the game, he admitted it wasn’t easy.
“Yeah, it’s hard. I mean as a young goalkeeper you want to develop, but you’re also at a point where you have to stop thinking about developing yourself and try to win the game. So it’s a bit difficult to balance the two. That was probably the hardest part.
Related: Devils Should Name Nico Daws Their Starting Netminder
Throughout the 2021-22 season, the Devils were desperate to find consistent goaltenders. The organization lost Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier to injury, Scott Wedgewood on Waivers and were left rotating Daws, Akira Schmid, Jon Gillies and Andrew Hammond through the crease. It was a difficult situation for any goalkeeper, especially one still looking to develop his game, but ultimately it was a learning experience.
“I think it was good for me to learn that I think I have what it takes. It’s just a matter of being able to get there and stay there.
Devils development camp and future prospects
Last week was Daws’ first time at team development camp and he told me he was just trying to work hard and have fun. Like the rest of the guys who were at the Prudential Center last week, he was looking to show the staff that he had made a lot of progress. I asked him how important it was to hook up with guys in the middle of summer.
“It’s definitely good. You see all the new draft picks and all the guys that haven’t been to development camp and it’s good to get to know everyone. You’ll probably be playing together at some point, so you have to be friends.
During development camp, players worked on and off the ice and participated in a community event, before wrapping up the week with an afternoon scrum. During the 2019 team development camp, the guys took a trip to Whole Foods with nutritionist Brad Schoenfeld to further educate young players on how to take good care of themselves. I asked Daws if he liked to cook for himself and learned he had a specialty.
“I cook a very good steak,” he says with a smile. “My dad was a chef, so growing up he did a lot of catering at home and he had me help out. He taught me a lot of things over the years.
For those wondering, he completes his steak dinner with sweet potatoes and asparagus.
It looks like the plan for Daws next season is to stay in Utica to further develop and work on his game. After a rollercoaster campaign, he understands where he constantly needs to keep his game and looks forward to working with the staff in 2022- 23.
“It will be great to be in Utica working with Akira and Brian [Eklund]. They are great and we get along very well, so it will be good. We will be able to push ourselves all year round.
Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald addressed the needs of his team’s goaltenders during draft weekend by make a deal with the Washington Capitals to bring goaltender Vitek Vanecek to New Jersey. For the third consecutive summer, the organization feels comfortable with its tandem, but if history has taught us anything, it’s that plans go wrong. The good news is Daws has had a taste of what it takes to win at the NHL level and if called up, he comes to the Prudential Center with more experience and comfort in the position.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March 2021. She is excited to put her journalism degree to good use and is an accredited correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow his journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.