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PROSPECT WATCH: Daws Signed, Sealed and Delivered

Newly signed Devils goaltending prospect Nico Daws returned to Canada after playing his first pro season in Germany

by Peter Robinson / Special to NewJerseyDevils.com

One of Nico Daws' first financial transactions around the time of signing an NHL contract is not what you might expect. 

The Devils goaltending prospect had to splash out almost $2,000 to pay for his excess baggage and quarantine costs when he returned to Canada after a season playing in Germany. 

The glamorous life of a professional athlete.

Daws wasn't complaining - not even close, though it sounded like he could have used some help lugging his multiple hockey bags through a deserted Toronto airport. That trek was part of a longer journey from Frankfurt that ended by taking a bus to a nearby hotel (and paying for the room out of his own pocket) to serve out a four-day mandatory quarantine, per Canadian health regulations. 

The return home came after a rookie pro season with Ingolstadt in the German DEL, the top league in that country. Helped by his status as a duo-Canada/German citizen, Daws went to the country of his birth to play when uncertainty surrounded the Ontario Hockey League season that was later cancelled. 

"Great experience, a great league," said Daws, not long after his return from overseas. "I got to play against a lot of former NHL players and practice with pros, learn the lifestyle, things like living on my own and how to prepare to play games and to practice." 

Soon after turning 20, Daws played 10 games for Ingolstadt, winning four of them with decent numbers: a 2.90 goals-against average and .898 save percentage, which included a shutout and an assist. 

"I had family there as well," explained Daws of his mother's extended family, "so that also really helped and made (the transition) easier, especially with all (the pandemic restrictions)."

The Devils took him in third round (84th overall) of the 2020 NHL Draft after Daws posted a 2.48 GAA and .924 SV% with the Guelph Storm while winning the Jim Rutherford award as the OHL's top goaltender. He also topped the OHL coaches' poll for best puck-moving and shootout goaltender. 

A year earlier, Daws played 20 games for the Storm in its 2018-19 OHL championship run, but he went undrafted. That Storm club also included Devils prospect Nate Schnarr, the team's leading scorer.

In the leadup to being drafted by the Devils, Daws had also developed a reputation as a thoughtful interview subject, mature beyond his years in what turned out to be his final season of junior hockey. Scouts and media started asking questions because no one was completely sure what to make of a relatively unknown goaltender who was turning heads in his first year as a full-fledged starter.

Daws' story would probably not be so remarkable if not for him asking some serious questions of himself.

Storm hockey boss George Burnett challenged Daws to come back for his 19-year-old season in better shape. Daws wasn't out of shape, he just didn't have the classic long, lean look of a goaltender, which is not unlike a small forward, or shooting guard, in basketball. 

Daws didn't discount the comparison but dumbed it down: 

"The extra weight I was carrying wasn't good weight," he said, when asked if he looked more like a power forward per the basketball comparison. 

"I also knew that my window of opportunity was closing."

When Daws reported to the Storm's training camp, he was a changed young man. A sliver under 6-foot-4, Daws had dropped almost 25 pounds. 

Even though he was smaller, fewer pucks were getting past him. The Storm had significant graduation losses from their championship season, including current Montreal Canadiens center Nick Suzuki and Schnarr, but were still among the OHL's best teams. 

Daws was the biggest reason why. There was also evidence that he was getting inside the heads of opposing shooters, a fact borne out when he was invited to Team Canada's World Junior camp by Mark Hunter, who is also GM of the London Knights, one of the Storm's divisional rivals. 

Daws won the starter's job, though he later ceded the crease to St. Louis Blues prospect Joel Hofer after Team Canada suffered a lopsided loss to Russia, which was later avenged in the championship game. He had earlier made 28 saves to help Canada beat the U.S., 6-4, to open the tournament. 

He later became one of five Devils players/prospects who won gold, along with Ty Smith, Kevin Bahl, Nolan Foote, and the later drafting of Dawson Mercer and Daws. Devils prospect Danil Misyul suited up on the silver medal Russian side. 

"It was a great group of guys. I had never played anything with Hockey Canada before," remembers Daws, "or anything with the other (Canadian junior) leagues … it's good to think that (someday) we could (be together) with the Devils."

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