The goal has always been the same for New Jersey Devils goaltender, Nico Daws. Claim the job in New Jersey’s crease. Feeling the best he’s ever felt, he now has the opportunity to do so.
Back in June, Daws underwent successful hip surgery that kept him out of action for six months. Daws, a former third-round draft selection by the Devils, is one of several young goaltenders that the New Jersey management holds in high regard. Before he knew he was going to have surgery, Daws felt he was going to come into training camp this fall and compete for an NHL job. The German-born goaltender explained it was a “dreadful summer” while recovering.
“It was long, six months is pretty dreadful,” Daws explained Thursday after morning skate. “It sucked over the summer. Obviously not being able to skate with the guys back home, no golf, and all that kind of stuff. I couldn’t come into camp and be able to fight for a spot. That was really tough.”
However, the surgery was a gift and a curse. It set back Daws’ timeline to get back into NHL action. But, Daws also explained his body is feeling the best it ever has.
“You know, I’m feeling probably up there with the best I’ve ever felt right now,” Daws continued. “I’m happy.”
It appears that neither Daws nor the Devils are worried about thrusting the 23-year-old netminder right into action. In the same day he was activated off injured reserve, Daws was the starting goaltender in the AHL for the Utica Comets. In his first game since returning from injury, he made 31 saves in a 4-1 Comets victory over the Bridgeport Islanders.
The 6-foot-4 goaltender only lasted another two games with Utica before he was up in the NHL with the Devils. He has yet to make his season debut, but that could be coming this weekend. In three AHL games this season, Daws put together an impressive 2.39 GAA and .929 SV%.
For a goaltender who was out of action for six months recovering from a major surgery, the numbers are certainly impressive. It’s a small sample size, but Daws explained his body is different now in a positive way, which is likely what’s contributing to the early success.
“It felt really good to be back,” Daws said. “It’s a little bit different. I mean, my body’s different now than it was last season. So you know, it’s kind of a getting used to it, understanding I can do more than I used to be able to do. It’s definitely nice, but I’m starting to find more confidence in my game. And I’m feeling good right now.”
So what’s different about Daws’ body that’s resulting in his high-quality goaltending?
“I just have a little bit more range of motion,” Daws explained. “And so, my hips can get into positions that I used to not be able to. I used to get cramping and now I can get there. Now I have strength in that position. It’s weird, it kind of changes some of the things you do in games. There are different positions that now I can get into and I can utilize them. So, it’s pretty cool.”
Daws, of course, understands that he’s not a finished product. Having been out for so long, the Devils goaltender explained that the cardio is the hardest thing to get back, but that comes in time playing games. He also explained that he feels playing with a team as skilled as the Devils has expedited his preparedness for when he gets his first NHL start this season.
“Guys just hit their spots so much better here and it’s so much quicker,” said Daws. “I mean, they get the puck on their stick, then it’s off so fast. It’s so nice being on a team this skilled. You get really good reps in practice which helps a lot when it comes to games. It’s a different league for sure.”
The Devils are opting for Daws over Akira Schmid at this time. Lindy Ruff explained Thursday morning that they still hold the Swiss goaltender in high regard. They just want him to go down to the AHL and play games. Against some lower competition, Schmid should be able to build some confidence. The hope is New Jersey can get the goaltender back that helped down the New York Rangers in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As for Daws, this isn’t his first go in the NHL. The Devils heavily depended on him in 2021-22. Daws has 25 NHL games under his belt, accruing a 10-11-1 record with a 3.11 GAA and .893 SV%. That was two seasons ago, and pre-surgery. He’s in a different place now, body and mind, and is hoping to claim a spot that’s up for grabs in between New Jersey’s pipes as the Devils continue their search for better goaltending.
For the inquiring minds, Daws finally picked up his puppy. He’s a golden retriever named Cooper.
The back story on Cooper comes via Ryan Novozinsky who found out Daws was on his way to pick up his new puppy purchase when he found out he was being recalled to New Jersey for the first time this season. Now, Daws and Cooper might be in New Jersey to stay for at least the next little while.