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The 1990 New Jersey Devils’ Draft Class: A Retrospective

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With a staggering amount of draft capital heading into the NHL Draft 30 years ago, we take a look back at how the New Jersey Devils did with their choices in June of 1990 while examining the careers the players selected would go on to have.

Portrait Of Martin Brodeur At NHL Entry Draft
Oh, you know...just one of the Devils’ 1990 NHL Draft choices.
Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

With the draft lottery set to be held tomorrow evening, we continue looking at aspects of past drafts here today. Namely, we go back exactly three decades to 1990, where our New Jersey Devils would by the end, select a staggering 14 players (15 if you add the supplemental selection they were given) across what was then a 12 round draft. Now obviously the number of rounds affected the number of players selected, but what about the quality? What did the Devils walk away from this draft with?

Any die-hard fan knows about the first round of this draft...and I guess even newer fans probably do too since I kind of spoiled it with the image for this article. Nevertheless, let’s take a full trip back today to look at 1990 or as it should be known for the Devils, “The Martin Brodeur Draft.”

First Round: A Bright Future

20th Overall - Martin Brodeur - G

Now here’s a few fun facts for newer fans regarding this draft; first of all, Marty wasn’t the top rated goaltending prospect at the time, nor was he the runner-up. He was ranked third behind Trevor Kidd and Felix Potvin. Now both of those gentlemen went on have careers as NHL regulars with varying degrees of success, but neither would come close to accomplishing what Marty did in the NHL.

And to think...things could have been different.

Now I know what you’re thinking, Kidd went 11th and Brodeur went 20th with the second to last choice in round one, how on EARTH could things have gone differently outside of the Devils selecting Potvin?

Well, the Devils originally owned pick #11, with Calgary owning #20. If the Devils had coveted Kidd, they could have simply taken him. However, they had their eyes on Martin, and Calgary needed a succession plan in net. With concern that Kidd could be chosen before they got to the podium, the Flames sent #20 along with two second round choices (belonging to the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota North Stars) to the Devils in exchange for #11 and #32.

Both teams got their target. One team got a legend in the making.

Brodeur would appear in four contests in 1991-92 on an emergency recall, but would be in net full time starting 1993-94. He set the team’s rookie wins record, helped the team push to the Eastern Conference final, and would go on to dominate the 1995 playoffs en route to the club’s first Stanley Cup.

The rest as they say is history.

Other Early Round Selections: A Mixed Bag

Second Round - 24th Overall - David Harlock - D

Second Round - 29th Overall - Chris Gotziaman - RW

Third Round - 53rd Overall - Mike Dunham - G

Third Round - 56th Overall - Brad Bombardir - D

Fourth Round - 62nd Overall - Mike Bodnarchuk - RW

Some of the luck just didn’t pan out here, as the pair of RWs chosen never wound up seeing any NHL action. It’s difficult to find much on both players, but Elite Prospects was able to help a bit; Gotziaman played in the minors for a while before seemingly leaving pro hockey in 1997 and Bodnarchuk did much the same while also playing overseas a bit before calling it a career in 2001.

Going back to round two for the players who saw NHL action, we go to Harlock, who recorded 16 points across 212 NHL games and won a Silver Medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics with Team Canada. None of his 212 appearances were for the Devils, however, as he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs after finishing his collegiate career.

Now for a couple of guys who became Devils from the early rounds of this draft, we start with the second goalie chosen on the night in Mike Dunham. Dunham had a respectable NHL career, appearing in 394 NHL contests, and winning 141 of them. He initially spent time with the Albany River Rats before joining New Jersey for some games in 1996-97 and 1997-98. At the conclusion of the 1998 season, Dunham would be selected in the expansion draft by the Nashville Predators. He also would earn a Silver Medal, but at the 2002 Olympics representing the United States; Dunham would hang up the skates after the 2006-07 season, and while he saw some success in his career, he never made an appearance in a postseason game.

Lastly we touch upon the latter selection in round three of Brad Bombardir, who would be a semi-regular player for the Devils from 1997-98 through the 1999-00 season. While he would only appear in one game that postseason, Bombardir would become a Stanley Cup champion with the Devils in 2000. He would depart for the Minnesota Wild after that, where he would spend much of the remainder of his career, aside from 19 games (13 regular season, 6 playoff) in 2003-04 with the Nashville Predators. He appeared in one AHL contest in 2005-06 after the lockout, but retired soon after. All in all 550+ professional games between the AHL and NHL along with a Cup win makes for a pretty good career.

The Mid to Late Round Choices: Limited Results with a Few Exceptions

Fifth Round - 95th Overall - Dean Malkoc - D

Fifth Round - 104th Overall - Petr Kuchyna - D

Sixth Round - 116th Overall - Lubomir Kolnik - RW

Seventh Round - 137th Overall - Chris McAlpine - D

Ninth Round - 179th Overall - Jaroslav Modry - D

Tenth Round - 200th Overall - Corey Schwab - G

Eleventh Round - 221st Overall - Valeri Zelepukin - LW

Twelfth Round - 242nd Overall - Todd Reirden - D

Supplemental Selection - Mike Haviland - RW

Okay, let’s shorten this up a little bit here; late round picks are always hit or miss even to this day, so I won’t go into the guys who didn’t have NHL careers, as I did with the early round choices. Of the list above, Kuchyna, Kolnik, and Haviland never saw the NHL.

Malkoc only played in 116 NHL games (none for the Devils) but works to this day as a scout for the Boston Bruins. Reirden saw slightly more NHL time (183 contests), but again none for the Devils. McAlpine would play in 289 NHL games, and 24 of them would come in New Jersey, specifically during the 1994-95 season. While he did not appear in any postseason games, he did contribute and he did get his name engraved on the Cup.

Speaking of the 1995 Cup win, let’s talk about Valeri Zelepukin, as he has some highlights from his time as a Devil. His first three season with the team were great, as he tallied 31 points in 44 games in 1991-92, 64 in 78 in 1992-93, and 57 in 82 in 1993-94. He also tied Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals with just seconds to go, and if that game had a different outcome, I’m sure that tally would get some more love. Zelepukin’s totals would begin to decline after 1993-94 and as he only appeared in four games during the truncated 1994-95 campaign, I’m going to assume injuries played a role. Zelepukin would win the cup with the Devils that season, and would technically help them win one more, as he was packaged with Bill Guerin in 1998 to send Jason Arnott to Jersey’s Team. All in all, not bad for an eleventh round choice!

Continuing on with winning, let’s go back to round ten and the third Devils goalie choice of the night in Corey Schwab. While he spent most of his career in the minors, Schwab backed up Brodeur in 1995-96 prior to a trade to Tampa Bay. He would see more action in Tampa and eventually Toronto than he did with New Jersey, but he would return in 2002-03 to once again back up Marty. In the process, Corey Schwab would become an NHL champion.

That leaves us with one name and that’s the Devils ninth round choice of Jaroslav Modry. Modry would spend 52 games with the Devils; 41 in 1993-94, and 11 in 1994-95. He was not a part of the team’s roster for the postseason, however, so he does not continue our theme of Stanley Cup Champions. The argument could be made though that Modry had the best career out of all of the players selected after Brodeur by the Devils in this draft. While only 52 were in Jersey, Modry was a veteran of 725 NHL games, with 250 career points. While he did not win a championship, he had longevity that only Zelepukin came anywhere close to, and was an important piece of some Los Angeles Kings teams in the early 2000s.

The Draft’s Impact for the Devils

Say what you want about some of the middle tier names, but to me this draft saw the Devils net only three successful selections on 15 picks: Brodeur, Zelepukin and Modry. Only the former two saw regular action for the team, and while we will get to Marty in a moment, Zelepukin and Modry were both able to carve out excellent careers in relation to their draft position. Schwab, Dunham and Bombardir also saw limited success, but a lot of it was away from the Devils, so their successes had minimal impact on the team.

The 1990 Draft Class for the Devils is THE Martin Brodeur Draft; no one else came close to the 1,266 appearances he had (and that’s for a guy who doesn’t play all 82 games) and no one else had the impact on the team (or any team) that he had. If Brodeur isn’t the choice here, the Devils probably mire in mediocrity for longer; they certainly don’t win the Stanley Cups without him backstopping the team either.

Normally, if you look at a draft class, and you see that the team hit on 1/5 of it’s picks, and one of the guys they hit on didn’t even see success on the team, you would have to classify it as a failure. This draft is the exception to the rule; Brodeur was so good, for so long that they literally had to create a rule to mitigate some of the advantage he gave the Devils with his puck handling! Three Stanley Cups, Two Olympic Gold Medals (2002 and 2010 for Team Canada), the 1994 Calder Trophy, Nine All-Star Game selections, Five Jennings Trophies, Four Vezina Trophies, and the man even has a 1996 ESPY (remember those?) to his name!

In hindsight, not only did the Devils fleece Calgary with the trade (Brodeur alone was better than Kidd and Vesa Viitakoski, whom the Flames used the Devils’ second round choice on) but they arguably walked out with the best player from that draft class. The reason I say “arguably” is only because in a stacked first round that featured names such as Brodeur, Owen Nolan, Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci, Darryl Sydor, Derian Hatcher, and Keith Tkachuk, there was an unranked player that went fifth overall names Jaromir Jagr, who you could maybe make an argument for. Ironically, oddly and funnily enough, those two would be teammates on the Devils in 2013-14, and they would also be the final two active players from their draft class in the NHL until Marty’s retirement and Jagr’s departure from the league.

Your Take

Looking back on the history of it, what are your thoughts on the 1990 New Jersey Devils’ draft class? Was the choice of Brodeur enough for you to forgive the team for striking out almost everywhere else? Do you feel that they did better than I felt they did? How different do you feel the Devils’ level of success in the 1990s and 2000s would have been if they did not land Marty? Leave any comments and thoughts below and thanks as always for reading!