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Niedermayer's number to join mentors in N.J. rafters

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com
NEWARK, N.J. -- Twenty years have passed since Scott Niedermayer showed up in West Orange, N.J. for his first training camp as a member of the New Jersey Devils. He walked into the dressing room that first morning at South Mountain Arena and was greeted by fellow defensemen Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko, veterans who by then had played in a combined 1,116 NHL games.

Friday night, Niedermayer's No. 27 will join Daneyko's No. 3 and Stevens' No. 4 in the rafters at Prudential Center. It's a reality that even Niedermayer is having trouble wrapping his head around.

"I came in here with very little expectation or pressure," Niedermayer recalled Friday afternoon. "There were guys out there handling all the heavy lifting; I just got to enjoy the ride and learn a lot from these guys. They were great teammates. They had each other's backs and they had my back. I was never afraid to go on the ice when those guys were out there. It's a real honor for me to join those two guys."

The Devils made Niedermayer the No. 3 pick in the 1991 NHL Draft at the old Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo. Eric Lindros went first to Quebec and Pat Falloon went second to San Jose, leaving the Devils to select the 17-year-old from Cranbrook, B.C.

"Little did I know how great the journey would be and the experiences I would have. It was better than my wildest dreams." -- Scott Niedermayer

Niedermayer said based on his pre-draft interviews with the Devils, he had a feeling they would pick him once Falloon went to San Jose. But, he still had no clue what he would be getting himself into since he barely had any idea where New Jersey even was located.

He really only knew three things about the Devils: The old green and red colors, because he had one of their jerseys hanging in his closet; the excitement of their playoff run in 1987, because he watched it on television; and some of the players they had, because as a kid dreaming to play in the NHL, he knew most every player in the League.

"Little did I know how great the journey would be and the experiences I would have," Niedermayer said. "It was better than my wildest dreams."

Niedermayer made his Devils debut in 1991, but he played only four games before being sent back to the Kamloops Blazers for the rest of the season. His Devils journey truly began the following season when he earned a full-time role for coach Herb Brooks. He went on to earn All-Rookie honors from the NHL with 40 points in 80 games.

The following season, Jacques Lemaire's first in New Jersey, Niedermayer was fully entrenched in the beginnings of the Devils dynasty, playing a significant role in the club's run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Rangers.

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By 1995, Niedermayer, only 21 years old, was a Stanley Cup champion for the first time. He had 11 points in the playoffs, and scored one of the most important goals in the Stanley Cup Final by going coast-to-coast for the equalizer midway through the third period of Game 2 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

The Devils went on to win the game and sweep the Red Wings. Niedermayer's dazzling end-to-end goal is looked at as the turning point of the series.

"I was still young enough at that time that you're kind of oblivious to a lot of things going on. You're just out there having a good time, playing as hard as you can," Niedermayer said. "At the time I was just excited to score a big goal for our team, but I guess you look back on it and it was a turning point in a way. But, at the time it was just nice to contribute."

He continued to contribute to the Devils through the 2003-04 season, helping them win the Stanley Cup again in 2000 and 2003 while also playing a significant role in the team reaching Game 7 of the Cup Final in 2001. Niedermayer had 18 points during the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he was edged for the Conn Smythe Trophy by Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

Ironically, Niedermayer, who left New Jersey to sign with Anaheim in 2005, went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy and another Stanley Cup championship while playing with Giguere in 2007. He captained that Ducks team and said everything he learned from the Devils went into their championship run.

"I learned a lot here from the coaches and players in how to (be a leader)," Niedermayer said, "and Anaheim benefitted from a lot of things that happened here in New Jersey."

The Devils, of course, benefitted the most from having Niedermayer for 12 full seasons.

It's why they're hosting a night in his honor, and why the arena is all dressed up for him, complete with No. 27 painted into the ice behind each net and stuck on the boards in each corner. There are also gigantic pictures from Niedermayer's time in New Jersey hanging from the ceiling.

"There's no question what his contributions to the Devils were," Devils GM Lou Lamoriello told NHL.com. "Being involved in four Finals, three Stanley Cups, plus so many other things -- he deserves it. It's an honor for him and a recognition that is, frankly, an honor for the Devils organization."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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