New Jersey Devils fans have been waiting for a while for something to cheer about: the season was a bust, the team made some questionable decisions, and we lost the Connor McDavid lottery to a team that in my opinion doesn't really deserve another first overall pick. Tomorrow night, one way or another, fans should have something to cheer for. With the 6th overall pick in a deep draft, New Jersey has the ability to begin curing their anemic offense; in honor of having a pick within the first ten choices, today we will be looking back at players New Jersey has drafted in the Top 10 and their importance to the team. So without any further ado, here are the players the Devils selected with a draft pick in the Top 10.
Rocky Trottier (1982 - #8 Overall)
The Devils probably expected great things from the younger brother of Islanders great Brian Trottier when they selected him with the 8th pick in 1982. Rocky however only lasted 38 games in the NHL and was a bust of a pick for a building New Jersey team. Thankfully they selected a much better player later in the first round that year at #18.
John MacLean (1983 - #6 Overall)
While most newed fans will know him as either an intermission reporter or "that terrible coach that didn't even last a full season," those of us who have been around for a while know Johnny Mac as one of the greatest Devils in team history. Spending his first 13 1/2 seasons with the team that drafted him, MacLean would pot 347 goals in 934 games for the Devils including this beauty that will never be forgotten:
I have to give Joe Cirella credit here as well for putting that great shot on goal that rebounded out to MacLean to send New Jersey to their first ever Stanley Cup playoffs. He would also be just as important seven years later as he scored 5 goals and 18 points in helping the Devils on their home ice to hoist their first ever Stanley Cup. JMac's 701 points and 347 goals both stood as club records after he was shipped out to the San Jose Sharks midway through the 1997-98 season; he would hold those until Patrik Elias managed to overtake him for each in 2009 and 2015 respectively. Though he would spend the twilight of his career with Our Hated Rivals and the Dallas Stars, MacLean's career will be remembered for his sweet scoring touch in New Jersey, rather than where he played out the rest of his games.
Kirk Muller (1984 - #2 Overall)
Much like Jack Eichel will be the consolation prize of the 2015 Connor McDavid Lottery, Muller was seen as the same for the 1984 Mario Lemieux Lottery. "Captain Kirk" would spend seven seasons with the Devils and helped to build them into a team that could be taken seriously by rival NHL clubs. He would improve his point total during each of his first four seasons in New Jersey and led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in the 1987-88 season, his first as captain. Muller's captaincy saw him elevate the play of his teammates, particularly linemates Aaron Broten and Pat Verbeek, however the Devils would not reach a Stanley Cup Final with Muller at the helm.
Prior to the 1991-92 season Muller (along with Roland Melanson) was shipped to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Stephane Richer and Tom Chorske. The trade would be one of the rare few in the NHL that benefited both sides as Kirk would lead Montreal to a Stanley Cup in the 1993 playoffs while Richer and Chorske would both play important rolls on New Jersey securing their first ever Stanley Cup two years later. The rest of Muller's career does not have the same happy narrative; he would be traded to the Islanders and while he played a few games after initially refusing to report, he was shipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He would spend some time with the Florida Panthers before ending his career with the Dallas Stars where he would find himself in a bottom 6 role with former New Jersey teammate, the man briefly profiled just above, John MacLean.
Craig Wolanin (1985 - #3 Overall)
After great choices the two years before, New Jersey wound up with a "meh" player in Wolanin. He would only stay in New Jersey for three and a half season before being shipped out to the Quebec Nordiques. Wolanin would last 695 games in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup in 1995-96 after the Nordiques relocated and became the Colorado Avalanche. He finished his career with 40 goals, 173 points and 894 penalty minutes.
Neil Brady (1986 - #3 Overall)
While Brady enjoyed success for the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers during his junior career, the success just never translated to the NHL. After playing just 29 games for the Devils, Brady was traded to the Ottawa Senators. He would go on to a mere 55 games for the Sens, and would spend most of his career in the IHL; Brady retired when the league folded in 2001.
Brendan Shanahan (1987 - #2 Overall)
After another pair of crummy high first rounders the past two seasons, New Jersey struck gold in 1987 in drafting Brendan Shanahan with the second overall pick. He would join the team and appear in 65 games as a rookie while scoring 7 goals and adding 19 assists for a respectable 26 point debut campaign. His totals would jump to 22 goals and 50 points in his second season, and in his third, he would score then career highs of 30 goals, 42 assists and 72 points. His fourth season would be almost as good with 29 goals and 66 points, but what happened after this season is perhaps more important in Devils history than anything Shanahan did for the team on the ice.
After the 1990-91 season (Shanahan's fourth since being drafted), Brendan became a restricted free agent and signed with the St. Louis Blues after they offered an absurd amount of money. As the Devils did not match, they were due compensation from the Blues; already owing Washington their next four first round choices as compensation for signing Scott Stevens previously, St. Louis offered a package of goalie Curtis Joseph, a young Rod Brind'Amour and two first round picks that would come after St. Louis finishing paying what they owed to Washington. The Devils had been rumored of targeting Adam Oates and Stevens as compensation and wound up asking for Stevens; the independent arbitrator ruled in New Jersey's favor, and "Captain Crunch" would report to the Devils after some initial hesitance. The rest, as they say, is history.
Shanahan would go on to have an incredible career, mostly with the Detroit Red Wings where he would win three Stanley Cups. He finished his career with 656 goals and 1354 points in 1524 games. He also got to play his last NHL season in the same jersey that it began in. While Shanny was only a footnote in our team's great history, the Devils were able to parlay the poaching of one of their top picks into arguably the greatest compensation in NHL history.
Bill Guerin (1989 - #5 Overall)
Another hit two years after Shanahan; Bill Guerin would come to New Jersey for five games in the 1991-92 season, but joined them full time starting the year after. He would be a steady contributor for the first five seasons, and scored 3 goals and 11 points en route to the team's first cup. He also contributed these sick moves after said cup victory:
Aside from those sweet steps, Guerin much like Shanahan might have contributed more to the team by a hockey transaction. Rumors swirled that he was disgruntled during the 1997-98 season and Lou Lamoriello would trade Guerin along with Valeri Zelepukin to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Brian Muir and Jason Arnott. Guerin would continue an excellent career that would finish with 429 goals and 856 points in 1263 games; the Devils however got the A for the A-Line and went on to win their second Stanley Cup in franchise history in 2000.
Scott Niedermayer (1991 - #3 Overall via Toronto)
The man that many would say was the greatest Devils pick in the Top 10 was funnily enough chosen with a pick that didn't originally belong to New Jersey; after obtaining the Toronto Maple Leafs' first rounder in the 1991 draft, the Devils would use it to select Scott Niedermayer. He quickly endeared himself to the organization as a great help for the team's offense and defense and became known for scoring some important goals for the team, even as a growing 21 year old defender.
I think all of our young defensemen should be shown this clip if they haven't seen it already, because Scotty knew how to get things done for the Devils. While contributions like this made him an invaluable commodity to the team, he would prove to be just as integral when the Devils secured their second cup during the 2000 playoffs.
One of the scarier and more well known incidents involving Scott took place a year later during the 2001 Stanley Cup Finals in the closing moments of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals; I think it serves us well to mention it here for a few reasons. First, it shows great team unity and excellent leadership from Scott Stevens; today's Devils could stand to play with some of the Captain's fire. Second even though Nieds returned by the end of the playoffs, it makes you wonder if he was at 100% or gutting it out; if this incident hadn't happened, there might be four cups in team history as opposed to three. Here's the incident in both Homer-vision (Leafs' broadcast) and in grain-o-rific (but Chico and Doc!) forms:
As a hockey fan, I remember spending time in high school talking about this one with friends, and even though for the most part we all rooted for different teams, everyone agreed that Domi's hit was a dirty cheap shot. The good news? It didn't affect Niedermayer's ability to be a beast of a defender, and he, Stevens and defense stalwart Ken Daneyko would lead the team to their final cup to date in 2003.
Scott wasn't done being a winner however; after the lockout of 2004-05, he would sign with the Anaheim Ducks (who were still Mighty in 2005-06) and won the cup with his brother Rob during the 2007 playoffs. Scott would also garner the Conn Smythe trophy during that run. He retired in 2010 and had his number raised to the rafters of the Prudential Center on December 16, 211; as a writer and a fan, I'm proud to say my first game attended at The Rock was that very game.
Lance Ward (1996 - #10 Overall)
As the only Top 10 Devils choice within a twenty year span (not to mention how well the team did during said period), I think we can all forgive the team for the mistake of a choice that was Lance Ward. He never played for the Devils as he re-entered the draft in 1998 where he fell to 63rd overall and the Florida Panthers. He would go on to appear in 209 NHL games recording a mere 4 goals and 16 points.
Adam Larsson (2011 - #4 Overall)
Larsson is the one name on this list that can still be considered somewhat of an unknown commodity; the second half of last season was excellent for Lars and he finally started to look like a former #4 overall pick. While he hasn't been in the league long enough to truly make a significant contribution to the Devils, the hope is that as a former high first round pick he will continue to develop his game and grow into a cornerstone for our defense for years to come. Defensemen typically take longer to develop into NHL ready players than forwards do; all we as fans can hope for is that Adam continues progressing forward next year instead of taking a step back.
2013 - #9 Overall traded for Cory Schneider
This gets an honorable mention as the Devils spun a Top 10 pick in 2013 into an NHL-ready goaltender who would eventually be the successor to Martin Brodeur's throne. I won't go too in depth with this due to the fact that John covered the trade just after it went down and I took an extended look at it almost exactly a year ago today. While the Devils didn't exactly use the draft pick, they certainly made sure it helped to shape their future.
2015 - #6 Overall?
And so we have arrived at the present; with just over a day (from when this is initially published) left until the 2015 NHL Draft begins I want to hear from you our readers. Who do you think was the most important Top 10 pick the Devils ever chose? Who do you think they will choose this year? Who do you want them to choose? Am I the only one hoping that Brian's mock draft is the way that the first ten picks play out? Leave any and all comments below, thank you as always for reading and Let's Go Devils at the draft tomorrow!