That summer, in need of a top-flight goaltender, the Devils traded the No. 11 pick and No. 32 pick in the draft to the Calgary Flames for the 20th, 24th and 29th picks. The Flames took goaltender Trevor Kidd at No. 11 and Finnish left winger Vesa Viitakoski, while New Jersey took Martin Brodeur at No. 20, defenseman David Harlock at No. 24 and right winger Chris Gotziaman at No. 29.
The Devils, who wanted Brodeur, took a gamble in making a trade that dropped them nine places in return for an extra second-round pick. Little did they realize Brodeur would develop into the NHL's all-time leader in victories and one of the sport's all-time greats. In the New Jersey season opener Saturday, Brodeur will skate in his 1,000th game, becoming only the second goalie, Patrick Roy is the other, to skate in 1,000 games.
Marshall Johnston was the Devils' director of player personnel in 1990 and the man who strongly recommended Brodeur to General Manager Lou Lamoriello. It was one of many good decisions Johnston made in New Jersey and it led to his later becoming the general manager of the Ottawa Senators. He now serves as director of pro scouting for the Carolina Hurricanes.
"You put a lot on the line when you make draft picks," Johnston said. "But that's part of the puzzle that is the amateur draft. We try to rate the players overall. We had Marty rated as the highest goalie. We looked at a lot of things.
"Kidd was from the West and sometimes that's a factor. Calgary wanted to draft a hometown kid. That was part of it. We wouldn't have looked very smart if Marty had been gone before the pick we traded for. You could have nightmares over that. I can't recall our exact list from that year, but if Marty had gone early, we might have selected Kidd. Can't really remember, been a lot of drafts since then."
Johnston was asked how you can determine if a goalie is good when he's playing on a bad team. Brodeur went 13-12-1 with a 3.72 goals-against average in his last year of Midgets. He was 23-13-2 his first year with St. Hyacinthe in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey league, but had a 4.01 GAA and that was the year the Devils drafted him. He had another junior season where he was 22-24-4 with a 3.30 GAA.
"I don't look only at wins or losses in juniors," Johnston said. "I can't say statistics aren't important, but you have to look at the whole picture: What kind of team is he on? Is there support? I think it's important for players in development to achieve some success and we started to do that in the later years in New Jersey.
"We felt that the new signings should develop in the American Hockey League and have some success there, as opposed to coming to the NHL, where they might not get ice time and might not have success when, up until then, they had been successful."
Brodeur's father, Denis, the Canadian goalie on the 1956 Olympic team and a longtime photographer for the Canadiens, told NHL.com's Dan Rosen that he met Johnston one night at one of Martin Brodeur's junior games in Trois Riviere, Quebec.
"I knew most of the guys who were scouting him from my involvement in hockey … but I didn't know the Devils were after Martin," Denis told Rosen. "One day at a game in Three Rivers, Marshall Johnston and I were talking between periods and I said, 'When I take pictures of the Devils, I really like the sweater.' It was the green and red one. He gave me a little smile, a wink, but I didn't think anything of it."
"It was Trois Riviere? I can't remember the place, but we spent some time there," Johnston said. "Marty was playing for St. Hyacinthe. He had all of the athletic ability, but he was probably a little too active. He had great recovery skills and competitiveness. He also seemed very good in the character areas, the intangibles. You're not always right on your instincts, but when you are, it pays off. He's demonstrated that we were right in our judgment.
"Some of the intangibles include competitiveness, how a goalie reacts when he gets beat, how he appears when the game is close and key saves have to be made. I watch the reaction when a goalie gives up a suspect goal, even a poor goal, or when a very obvious mistake by a teammate leads to a goal. Sometimes, body language will tell you a lot. Why show up a teammate? He might save your bacon on the next play.
"I recall he was very open and not a negative personality," Johnston said. "That was another one of his strong areas. That openness is quite often a positive character trait as far as I'm concerned. I got to know his dad, Denis, because he was around a lot as a photographer for the Canadiens. The apple didn't fall far from the tree.
"We saw a lot of him in juniors," Johnston said. "I guess that what it boiled down to was, the player Calgary selected, Trevor Kidd, was rated higher by Central Scouting than Marty and we had Marty rated higher. I often had nightmares about the deal and others in the organization did too. We moved down in the draft and were still able to pick him. It turned out well but it could have been a nightmare.