My nerves were at an all-time high ahead of the draft. I'm sure that's still the same today, for any young kid trying to fulfill their dream of getting drafted. I had gone out with my brother the night before and had a "soda" or two to ease the tension (I was 18, you could drink back then in Canada, it was legal!). I didn't go to the draft, because it was in Montreal and I was in Edmonton, and unlike today, not everyone went. I got home a little late and went to bed.
My mother woke me up relatively early the next morning. "Kenny," she said, "come down here and take this call!" I told her no. I told her I was going to sleep a little longer, because the call had to be one of my friends playing a prank for sure. I knew it for a fact. "It's too early, Mom!" I yelled back. But she wasn't having it. She made me get up and take the call. So I put the phone to my ear and I hear: Congratulations Ken, you've just been drafted 18th overall.
I dropped the phone.
It wasn't one of my friends. It wasn't a prank. I was beside myself with tears. My mother just looked at me and said, "Why don't you ask who it is?" The funny thing is, it didn't matter to me who it was. I was so elated. I couldn't believe I went that high, at 18 in the first round. I wasn't expected to go that high.
Finally I picked the phone back up. They were probably laughing on the other end, because I'm sure they heard all the noise from the phone banging on the floor. I said, "Oh yeah, wait … who is this?" It was Marshall Johnston from New Jersey. I covered the phone's receiver and asked my mom: Where's New Jersey?!
The team didn't yet have a name, either. It was 1982 and fans were still voting on it. But you know what? It didn't matter. I was so excited to have my opportunity to play in the NHL, I would have run the 3,000 miles from Edmonton to New Jersey. Seriously, they wouldn't have had to fly me! I mean that sincerely!
It was such a great day. It was the thrill of a lifetime. All that hard work you've done, everything your parents went through with driving you to the rinks at 5 a.m., suddenly it's all worth it. As soon as I heard the voice on the other end of the line say I had been picked 18th overall, I sort of blacked out. But I can tell you, in that moment, my nerves and goosebumps were crazy. Even though I was a little groggy that morning …
I didn't have many expectations about what New Jersey or the organization were going to be like. When I came to Jersey, I remember thinking it was big. The big buildings - that was all an eye-opener and a culture shock for me, no doubt about that. But I loved it. I was one of those kids that just absorbed it, took it all in, and had some fun while I did that as well. I came in and worked my tail off. I wanted to show them that they made the right decision.
Of course, getting drafted doesn't mean you're going to make it. Only a small percentage of draft picks make the National Hockey League. But I was determined. New Jersey put faith in me, and I was going to show them that I was the right pick. I was going to show them what I was about. I wasn't the most talented, but I knew if I had a big heart and worked hard, I would play. And I wanted to play right away.
I got to play all the exhibition games that season as an 18-year-old, and even stayed with the team a bit before they sent me to junior. Some kids don't think they're ready; I was the flip side of that. I was the guy with all the confidence. I was READY. As my mom said, I told her 50 times a day I was going to play in the National Hockey League since I was 7 years old, and then I made it.
It was the first year the Devils had a franchise, and that was real exciting to me. I wanted to be part of a foundation that was going to build something. This was the team that gave me a chance. I wanted to be here, I wanted to be around as they built a winner. I fulfilled those dreams 12 years later, winning the Cup in '95.
Our first year we won 17 games all season. To go from that to hoisting the Stanley Cup, it was incredible. That's what it's like to build a team the right way. And I was just fortunate to be a part of it. I still am.