With the majority of the Devils roster landing in COVID-19 protocol this week, we have a bit of time to fill while we wait for hockey to return in New Jersey. That doesn’t seem particularly likely to happen until towards the end of next week at the earliest, so in the meantime we have some space to fill here at the blog. With that in mind, what better time than now to do a little bit of guy-remembering. Today, we dig into the man who, for whatever reason, has stuck in my mind as the quintessential “Guy” for the New Jersey Devils. It likely has something to do with when I came of age as a fan and my own personal experiences growing up with the Devils (for instance, playing boatloads of NHL 95 on Sega Genesis, where Millen was the team’s 1C) but, for me, Corey Millen is in the sweet spot between “completely forgettable” and “significant enough to merit a footnote in the team’s history.” Let’s remember him some, shall we?
Corey Millen played just one full season in New Jersey, but it happened to coincide with what was a watershed season in the team’s history, 1993-94. Millen was one of the centers on that team and helped lead them to what was then a team record in wins and points by a wide margin. Millen was (or is, I suppose) diminutive in stature and did not have a particularly long or decorated NHL career, but he performed for the Devils in 1993-94 and was a really solid contributor at his peak. A speedy little center who could snipe it pretty well in his best days, Millen came in off of a couple prolific seasons in LA and was strong in a supporting role for those Devils.
Before 1993-94 he previous high-water marks for the franchise had been 40 wins and 87 points heading into that season. With Corey Millen (of all people) the leader among their centers in scoring, the Devils put up 47 wins and 106 points, obliterating the team records that had just been previously set in 1991-92 (points) and 1992-93 (wins). Despite being the leader in total scoring for centers, Millen wasn’t necessarily the 1C. That was Bernie Nicholls, who was the leader in scoring rate but missed a chunk of the regular season with an injury. Still, Millen was an integral part of the best team in Devils history at that point (and likely still one of the four or five best Devils squads ever iced), playing most of that season in the Devils’ top six and putting up 50 points (20g, 30a) in his 78 games.
Unfortunately for Millen and also the Devils, he would be hobbled by injury in the playoffs and miss most of the Devils’ run that year, playing only seven games total and just one in the legendary conference final series against the Rangers. That run and series in particular are filled with what-ifs, but it’s interesting to consider that had Millen — a relatively obscure figure compared to the names dotting that series — been healthy, maybe things might have been different and the Devils could have found themselves in the Cup Final one year earlier riding a win over their fiercest rival. As far as I know, the Corey Millen Counterfactual is not something that has been explored by many people (or perhaps anyone) in the past 25 or so years, but given his substantial role on that team, its not that crazy to consider how it may have altered the course of things.
Things worked out the way they did, though, and in the following season, Millen fell off a cliff, putting up just 5 points in 17 games before doing the thing he honestly might be best remembered for as a Devil: getting traded for Neal Broten. The trade was one-for-one, Millen was shipped out, and Neal Broten arrived and became an instant revelation for the Devils. Broten put up 47 points in 50 combined regular and postseason games and was a key cog of a Devils team that eviscerated all comers in the playoffs, dropping just four games on its way to the Stanley Cup. Millen, meanwhile, drifted out of the league not long after the trade, playing just 41 games with Dallas before getting traded to Calgary, where he spent a season and a half before leaving the league for good in 1997. He played out most of his twilight in Germany and retiring from pro hockey in 2003.
As is probably the case for any number of Guys you may or may not remember, Millen had a pretty interesting, if slightly confounding, career arc upon review. He played for two separate US Olympic teams as an amateur in 1984 and 1988 before the NHL had started sending its players. He was a non-factor in 1984 as a teenager but then was a dominant force when he returned in 1988, finishing 4th in the tournament in scoring despite the US’s failure to advance out of the group stage. Millen was also a standout player for the University of Minnesota, helping lead them to multiple Frozen Fours while leading the team in scoring his junior and senior seasons.
He was drafted by the Rangers in 1982 but wouldn’t appear for them until 1989-90 and would be traded to the Los Angeles Kings after playing fewer than 20 largely uneventful games for New York. In LA, he would be a significant part of the peak of the Gretzky years there, missing some time but putting up 43 goals and 80 points in 88 regular season games for the Kings. The scrappy Millen (listed at just 5’-6”) went to the Cup final with the Kings the year before he joined the Devils to be a part of that wild 1993-94 season. That great run from 1992-1994, where he put up 63 goals and 130 points in 166 games, would be his high water mark as a player, though, quickly fading from the league as outlined above. He didn’t break out in the NHL until 10 years after he was drafted, became very good and contributed substantially to multiple great teams over three years, and effectively disappeared three years later.
Where is Millen now? Well, you may be tickled to know that he was actually hired to be the head coach of the NAHL outfit St. Cloud Blizzard at the same time other noted Devils Guy from that era, Tom Chorske, was hired as GM. Millen and Chorske were apparently roommates in college and on the Devils, and are now reunited to run a second-teir junior hockey club in St. Cloud Minnesota. That’s a classic Guy arc if I’ve ever seen one.
So join me today in toasting (and most importantly, remembering) a true Guy’s Guy in Corey Millen. You certainly did some stuff I vaguely recall, Corey, so I salute you.