NEW YORK -- Ken Daneyko calls himself a bit of a hockey historian, or at the very least a former NHL player who respects and appreciates the history of the game and the League.
"I should have been a player in the '50s, because that's me, man," said the former New Jersey Devils defenseman who played in the League from 1983-2003. "A straight wood stick, the top hats, the cigars after the game. That's me."
Daneyko's appreciation for everything that came before him in the NHL is what made the footage of the League's first 50 years shown in the League's documentary "The NHL: 100 Years" so interesting for him to see Tuesday.
Daneyko joined NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Hall of Famers Pat LaFontaine, Bryan Trottier and Rod Gilbert in the crowd at The Paley Center for Media for the New York premiere of the documentary celebrating and detailing the NHL's first 100 years.
"This is unforgettable," Gilbert said during a panel discussion led by NHL Network's Tony Luftman after the screening. "The game is unbelievable."
[WATCH: The documentary "The NHL: 100 Years"]
LaFontaine said he learned about how World War I and the subsequent spread of the Spanish flu in 1918-19 impacted the early years of the NHL, which was born on Nov. 26, 1917. (The 1919 Stanley Cup Final, between the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association was not completed due to the outbreak.)
"We talk about going to war [on the ice]," LaFontaine said of NHL players who were in the war. "These guys really went to war."
Daneyko said he was intrigued by how the NHL was formed from the National Hockey Association and that he loved seeing the old-school films, wool sweaters and beat-up faces on players who never considered using a helmet and goalies who had no idea they could wear a mask.
"I listened to Ted Lindsay and what he said," said Daneyko, referencing the former Detroit Red Wings forward and Hall of Famer who was interviewed in the film. " 'I'd cut 'em to win.' "
The film, which was released last week, stoked some old memories for Gilbert, who made his League debut in the 1960-61 season, late in the Original Six era (1942-67).
For example, Gilbert talked about the preferred mode of travel at that time, which was by train and, as detailed in the film, how veteran players would have the seniority to get the bottom bunk in the train car and rookies had to take the top.
"I got enough seniority after about five or six years to have a lower bunk," Gilbert said, "and then we started to fly."
Trottier said the old footage made him realize that the players who came long before him, Hall of Famers like Howie Morenz, Milt Schmidt, Georges Vezina, Eddie Shore and King Clancy, all discussed and shown in the documentary, were just like him, his fellow former players on the panel and, frankly, every player who has laced up the skates.
"They just wanted to play in the NHL, to play a game we loved to play, to hoist the Cup and get your name engraved on it," Trottier said. "We all share that bond."
Commissioner Bettman said he was taken aback by the fragility of the League in its first quarter century, before it hit its stride in the Original Six era.
The Commissioner said that as he watched the documentary he started to think about where the League is now, how well it's growing, where it's going with technology for fan engagement, and how it's spreading into new, vibrant markets like Las Vegas, and has done so previously to others like Tampa Bay, Nashville and Dallas.
"We are bigger and more accessible and better and stronger than we've ever been, which means the future is even brighter," Commissioner Bettman said. "That's perhaps the biggest way we've come or the longest way we've come in 100 years, because we're not fragile anymore."