Growing up, defenseman John Moore was always enamored with the way Scott Niedermayer could skate with the puck and generate scoring opportunities with regularity.
He modeled his game after the Hockey Hall of Fame member and after five NHL seasons is considered by many to be an offensive-type defenseman in his own right. Now, he's looking forward to playing for the New Jersey Devils, the team that drafted Niedermayer.
Devils general manager Ray Shero signed Moore to a three-year contract Wednesday worth a reported $5 million. The contract carries an annual salary-cap hit of $1.67 million.
"Scott Niedermayer's skating ability was outstanding and that's something I think I bring to the table," Moore said. "Obviously, it's pretty tough to replicate the success [Niedermayer] had, but even now you pull up old video clips and see the way he used that skating ability and his feet to an advantage to be effective defensively and offensively.
"It'll be exciting to be playing for the same organization [Niedermayer played] and look up to the rafters and see his jersey number right there."
Niedermayer, who spent 12 seasons with the Devils and was a part of three Stanley Cup championships, had his jersey number retired by the organization in 2011.
Moore was set to be a restricted free agent, but was not given a qualifying offer by the Arizona Coyotes and became unrestricted. Moore said Thursday he was surprised he wasn't qualified but is excited for a fresh start with the Devils.
Moore had a nice conversation with Shero at the 2015 IIHF World Championship in May. The 24-year-old left-handed shooter had one assist for the bronze medal-winning United States but missed the final game of the tournament after sustaining a Grade 2 shoulder separation. Shero served as part of the U.S. men's national team advisory group.
"[Shero] was telling me how much he liked my game, especially on the bigger ice surface [in the Czech Republic]," Moore said. "He liked the way I used my feet and how I was playing within myself and using my strengths. It was strictly a conversation about where my game was at and I didn't foresee anything attached to it because I was under the impression I'd be going back to Arizona."
Instead, he'll have an opportunity to join a relatively young defense corps with new coach John Hynes. The Devils defense is led by Andy Greene, 32, but youngsters Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill and Damon Severson all had roles along the blue line and figure to be in the mix again in 2015-16. The organization is also high on defense prospects Steven Santini (2013 NHL Draft, No. 42), Seth Helgeson (2009, No. 114) and Raman Hrabarenka (free agent, 2013).
"There are a lot of young defensemen on this Devils roster and it's exciting for me, but I still think of myself as a younger guy with room to grow and learn," Moore said. "I also remember playing against [Hynes] and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League. They came in waves and played fast without the puck. They defended well, and those are areas they are trying to establish here. I thought I'd fit in perfectly with that."
After establishing career highs with four goals, 11 assists and 15 points in 74 regular-season games in his second season with the Rangers in 2013-14, Moore struggled to remain a fixture in the lineup last season. He called 2014-15 the most trying season of his career.
"I had a suspension right out of the gate and really struggled to find my way back into the lineup," Moore said. "One thing throughout it all, I never doubted myself. There were ups and downs, peaks and valleys, but I believe in myself and for Ray and John to reach out and show this kind of belief in me is very humbling."
Moore said the Rangers coaching staff told him he needed to be more consistent. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault benched Moore in favor of Matt Hunwick for long stretches last season, leading to the speculation he would be traded. On March 1, 2015, he was traded along with forward Anthony Duclair and two draft picks to the Arizona Coyotes for defensemen Keith Yandle and Chris Summers and a draft pick.
"I communicated with [Vigneault] pretty regularly and it was a challenge with the loaded blue line there," Moore said. "I needed consistency and it was frustrating, and at times I didn't like what he had to say but I respected him for at least talking with me."
Moore, a native of Winnetka, Ill., was selected in the first round (No. 21) in 2009 by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He came to the Rangers in the trade that sent Marian Gaborik to Columbus in April 2013.
"I'm excited; the Devils are a first-class organization and I'm also pretty familiar with the area having playing in New York," Moore said.
In addition to Moore, Shero signed forward Blake Coleman, the team's third-round pick (No. 75) in the 2011 draft, to a two-way, entry-level contract. Coleman, 23, played the previous four years at Miami University of Ohio.
Shero also signed forward Paul Thompson, 26, who finished in a tie for second in the Devils' AHL affiliate in Albany last season with 33 goals, to a two-way deal. Center Jim O'Brien, 26, was signed to a one-year, two-way contract after scoring 10 goals and 29 points in 32 games with the Hershey Bears of the AHL.