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The Battle of the Top Picks that Went Wrong

Today’s retrospective post at All About the Jersey looks back first to last week’s game between the Devils and Rangers, when the MSG broadcast asked an interesting trivia question. I then dive into that question a little bit and discuss.

NHL: FEB 04 Canadiens at Devils

Before this shutdown took place, a week ago today, the New Jersey Devils of course got that beautiful win over the team from Manhattan. The reason I bring that up (other than to bask in the joy of that victory, which was a huge loss of two points for a NY team that was on the playoff bubble), is that during the game, as they do in each and every game, the MSG broadcast had a trivia question. The question was an interesting one, and one that my friends and I had trouble answering. In retrospect, I probably should have known, it was an “ohhhh yeah” moment the second I heard the answer, but I was stumped at the time.

The question went along these lines: who were the last (not including Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko) #1 or #2 overall picks to play against each other in the Devils-Rangers rivalry? At first, my friends and I had the wrong line of thinking. We went back, discussing players the Devils took at #1 or #2 overall. It is a short list. We of course got Nico Hischier, and came up with Kirk Muller and Brendan Shanahan as well. Trying to figure this out for New York was much harder, obviously, as none of us there were fans. We know that they did not have a top 2 pick recently, besides this past season, so the odds of it being someone playing against Nico was slim, which meant we had to go back further. We resorted to the internet to look up guys the Rangers took at #1 or #2 overall. It was a very short list. Before Kakko, the Rangers did not pick better than 6 this century. In fact, as we went back, from the website we were on (granted it was Wikipedia, but it was a page with references that made it more credible), the latest we could find, not including Kakko, was the #2 pick overall in 1966. The odds of that person playing against Kirk Muller, the #2 overall pick by the Devils in 1984, would have been a stretch at best.

Eventually, I figured it had to be players who were drafted by other teams but ended up playing on the Devils or Rangers. But by then, my head hurt and I was a few beers deep, so I gave up on it and waited for the answer. I figured it had to be someone the Rangers traded for who played against Muller in the 80s or Shanahan in the early 90s. As it turned out, I was wrong. Neither player in the answer was drafted by either the Devils or the Rangers.

The year was 2010. Two years prior, New York made a big splash in free agency by signing former Ottawa defenseman and #2 overall pick in 1995, Wade Redden. That would, of course, turn out to be a major bust of a contract and a huge waste by Rangers management. He was already massively struggling by the 2009-2010 season, but was still playing nightly for the big club, as he ended up with 75 games played that season.

In February of 2010, the Devils made a trade for 2001 #1 overall pick Ilya Kovalchuk. After contract issues, with the NHL rejecting the first deal and penalizing the team heavily for trying to circumvent the Cap, Kovy would go on to play 27 regular season games that year in the red and black. One of those, only a few days after Kovy was acquired, was a game on Saturday, February 6, 2010 in Madison Square Garden. Kovalchuk, a former first overall pick, played on the Devils against Redden, a former second overall pick playing for New York. This, then, was the answer to the trivia question.

After my oh yeah moment, and with the 20:20 vision that hindsight gives a person, neither of those players ended up truly being the end all, be all players that the teams wanted. Of course, Kovy was a much better acquisition for NJ than Redden was for NY. In two seasons playing for the Rangers, encompassing 156 regular season games, Redden posted 35 points. There was speculation of the Rangers buying out Redden’s contract for a while before he was bought out after the lockout was settled and the current CBA was put into place.

Kovalchuk, however, was a great player for the Devils for years. That season he was acquired, in those 27 regular season games, he posted 27 points. In 2011-2012, when the Devils got within 2 games of a Stanley Cup, he posted 83 points in 77 games. That led the team that year, 5 more points than Patrik Elias, despite Elias playing in four more games than Kovy. He was also the team’s point leader in the postseason, generating 19 points in 23 games. Again, Elias was in second, with only 15 points in 24 games.

After that Cup run, Kovy had just one more season with the team. That year, with the shortened season due to the lockout, he managed 31 points in 37 games, which was not a bad season at all. But then, as well all know, he bailed on the Devils and North American hockey, returning to his home country and cashing in big time to play in the KHL. In the end, despite signing a 15 year deal with Lou Lamoriello, he only played in four seasons for New Jersey. The Devils were forced into a 30th overall pick in 2014 thanks to trying to sign him, where they took John Quenneville, a player who never panned out to be an NHL regular. And, if you remember, many feel that instead of Lou spending all that time and effort courting Kovy, he should have been trying to re-sign Zach Parise, who would still most likely be a Devil if he had re-signed long term. Now, neither Quenneville nor Parise are Kovy’s fault, of course, but it all fits together in the disappointment that Kovy brought by leaving so soon.

In the end, between the two, the Devils clearly got the better player. He was a vital piece of that 2011-2012 Cup Finals team, and without him, that team probably does not even sniff the Finals. Redden, however, was never good with the Rangers, and was bought out after only playing two years in Manhattan. At least the Devils got some production and quality out of the former #1 overall pick. The Rangers got nothing out of the former #2 overall. However, in retrospect, both fanbases consider these signings to be disappointments, although it is clear in my opinion who was the worse signing, and it wasn’t by our team.

So, as we really begin to feel the effects of this shutdown, let’s all say thanks to the MSG broadcast for posting that trivia question and reminding me of two former top picks, neither of whom were drafted by the Rangers or Devils, but who were signed by the rivals and left as bitter disappointments.