Devils forward Patrik Elias will play in his 1,000th NHL game Friday, a special milestone for the 35-year-old veteran and a celebration of his illustrious 16-year career.
Elias will have 25 friends and family members on hand for Friday's game against the Panthers and is looking forward to the rare achievement.
Elias, selected by the Devils in the second round of the 1994 NHL draft, will be the 271st player in NHL history to reach the 1,000 mark and only the third to do it solely with the Devils organization (Ken Daneyko, 1,283 and Martin Brodeur, 1, 156).
"It's obviously a game that's a bit more meaningful to me," Elias said less than two hours before puck drop. "I'm very excited to get to that number and to get to do it with one team."
Elias admitted some rough patches along the way -- particularly 2007-08 when he was stripped of his captaincy by new coach Brent Sutter -- but reflects fondly upon his time spent with New Jersey. Since playing his first NHL game during the 1995-96 season, Elias has won two Stanley Cups and set the all-time franchise scoring record; the Czech native has 348 goals and 502 assists in 999 games for the Devils.
"The past 16 years have flown by pretty quickly and I'm sure what's left will go by even quicker," he said.
Elias said he has thought, at times, what life would be like had he left New Jersey -- he turned down a more lucrative offer to play for the Rangers in te summer of 2006 --but that his experience with the Devils have molded him as a player and as a person.
Naturally, the milestone has prompted him to look ahead as well. But Elias appears to have plenty of hockey left in him -- he currently leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and 21 assists.
"As long as I have the will and excitement to win, I'll be okay," he said.