At 15 Parise's meticulousness was charming. At 25 it is merely professional. Although he's among the NHL's shiftiest players, he employs a skating coach, Diane Ness, who also works with the U.S. Olympic women's hockey program. (She has helped with his center of balance and low-speed cornering and is trying to refine a bowlegged stride. "In my 35 years of coaching," she says, "no one has worked as hard as that young man.") And while former teammates call him well grounded—"He's pretty much an oatmeal cookie: not a big splurge but solid," says Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Greene, his roommate at North Dakota—Parise still routinely talks to Garret Kramer of Inner-Sports, who describes himself as a "mental performance coach." Before taking the ice for a practice or a game, Parise attaches a muscle stimulator so he is properly warmed up. And 20 minutes before the official start of practice, he leads four or five forwards onto the ice to work on offensive moves, a group that former Devils center Mike Rupp, now with Pittsburgh, last season dubbed the Shot Club. As Lemaire, a contemporary of J.P.'s, says, Zach works like his father but has twice the talent.
"There's so much to like about his game, especially that he's not afraid to play in traffic," Lawton says of Parise, who has scored 14 of his 28 goals from inside 15 feet. "But as a hockey player I think character is his strongest asset. As we've seen recently in today's world of tumultuous events"—Lawton was referencing Tiger Woods, not Afghanistan—"that's a really valuable asset."
"He's all about hockey," Brodeur says. "His commitment to the game is second to none. He started going in early to work on his shot. Then one guy, then another, joined him. He started with the stim machine, and now he's got a bunch of guys in the room doing it. That's leadership. He was a shy kid, but I think he has realized how good he is, which really helps him. It's been my team for so many years here, but now I believe it's his team. I may still be the face, but he's the future."
Parise's face towers above the Turnpike, a player who seems to be in everybody's good books. Unknown? The Olympics should cure that. To paraphrase a slogan that originated in Atlantic City, about two hours south of mile marker 112.6: Here he comes, Mr. America.