VANCOUVER -- Keith Veltre was at the Jersey Shore enjoying some beach time with his family Saturday when he heard the New Jersey Devils acquired defenseman P.K. Subban in a trade from the Nashville Predators.
"I got out of the ocean and my phone had like 30-something text messages," Veltre said. "It was, 'Hey, did you hear the news?' People are just excited."
As co-founder of the Hockey in New Jersey program and co-coach of the boys hockey team at East Side High School in Newark, Veltre is excited too. He understands the impact Subban, a player of color of Caribbean descent, can have in the community surrounding Prudential Center, the Devils' Newark arena that opened in 2007.
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"We've talked about, 'Imagine having someone like him come to the Devils,'" Veltre said. "Not only is he obviously from a diverse background, but he has the personality and the swag and the wherewithal in terms of wanting to do things in the community. I don't know him personally, but I think he could get the interest to the next level, to the level we were always hoping for."
The trade for Subban made the Devils the biggest winners at Rogers Arena for the 2019 NHL Draft, which concluded Saturday, after they selected center Jack Hughes from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team with the No. 1 pick Friday.
Of course, New Jersey's primary interest in Subban is his skill as a defenseman. The 2013 winner of the Norris Trophy as the best defenseman in the NHL, Subban immediately will fit into their top pair and first power-play unit.
Video: Subban excited about trade to Devils
But the 30-year-old's larger-than-life personality and passion for charitable work make him an even more valuable asset for the Devils in their efforts to grow their fanbase and connection with inner-city Newark's rebuild.
"In terms of who he is, it's perfect," Devils president Hugh Weber said. "He's got a long track record of being an incredible contributor on the ice, the fans love him, but he's also great in the community. So if you think about what we're trying to do with the Devils and how in a crowded market of New York have the Devils be relevant and respected, he is a critical component to taking that step."
The Devils haven't had a defenseman of Subban's quality since Scott Stevens retired and Scott Niedermayer left to sign with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim following the 2004-05 season that was canceled because of a lockout. And Subban's star quality rivals that of goalie Martin Brodeur in his prime.
A three-time Stanley Cup winner and four-time winner of the Vezina Trophy as the top goalie in the NHL who retired in 2015 and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2018, Brodeur played at the time when the Devils, under former general manager Lou Lamoriello, focused more on the team than marketing individual players.
Under Weber and GM Ray Shero, Subban will have opportunities playing in the shadow of Manhattan that Brodeur never had. That's something that can benefit Subban, the Devils and Newark.
Video: Subban traded to Devils during Day 2 of draft
Subban is already embracing the opportunity with enthusiastic posts on Instagram and Twitter, including one changing his Twitter profile picture to a photoshopped one of him dressed as the Devil.
"There's people following him everywhere," said Brodeur, now the Devils' executive vice president of business development. "It's going to be a real benefit to our organization, there's no doubt about that. It's going to put us a bit more in the limelight than maybe we were in the past few years."
Subban might have the biggest impact helping the Devils continue to grow the game in Newark and the surrounding area. They are partners, along with the NHL, with the Hockey in New Jersey program, which began with five players when Veltre helped found it as Hockey in Newark in 2003.
Now with additional clubs in Belleville, Englewood, Jersey City and Montclair, it has more than 1,100 players, including more than 500 in Newark. Veltre believes having a player like Subban on the Devils will encourage more players of color to take up the game.
"I think it makes a world of difference to have someone that looks like him and also someone who is an all-star and has been an all-star on a big stage," Veltre said. "... I think our kids can relate to him better than probably anybody who ever played in the NHL."
Video: P.K. Subban traded to Devils
For that reason, former Devils defenseman and captain Bryce Salvador believes Subban will be able to make a much bigger impact than he did during his playing days in New Jersey. Salvador, who retired in 2015 and is an analyst for MSG Network, was the third black captain in NHL history, following Dirk Graham with the Chicago Blackhawks and Jarome Iginla with the Calgary Flames.
"If you look at Jarome and myself, we're biracial, so we're not as ethnically black," Salvador said. "Obviously, we're black, but for some of the communities, it can still be a little bit hard for them to relate to us. But a guy like P.K. comes in and he's engaging, he loves going into communities. You know all the great stories about him. So it's one thing to just fit the role, but are you genuine? He is, so he definitely will (make an impact) in the Newark community."
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