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Behind the Devils' First Two Drafts, 1982-83 I STAN SPECIAL

Stan Fischler looks back at the Devils first two drafts after the franchise relocated to New Jersey

by Stan Fischler / Special to

Before the Garden State's first major league team could enjoy its first Entry Draft to stock the roster, it had a large job of moving to do.

Although a new National Hockey League franchise had been awarded to New Jersey, there was red tape to cut and moolah to disperse.

The man distributing the dough was Dr. John McMullen who purchased the Denver-based Colorado Rockies from New Jersey trucking executive Arthur Imperatore.

Since Billy MacMillan had been Rockies general manager - and theoretically at least - knew the players, McMullen gave him the same job in the East with his new toy, the New Jersey Devils.

"Now I had to find players," moaned MacMillan who already knew that his cupboard was bare.

While in Colorado during its last season, the club had finished 21st out of 21 teams but had lost its No. 1 pick with Boston for forward Dwight Foster. Another first-rounder had been dealt to the New York Islanders for defenseman Bob Lorimer.

Adding to his front office while preparing for the annual Entry Draft in June 1982, McMullen added veteran hockey executive Max McNab to the position of vice president in charge of hockey operations.

"We knew what was available for our first time in the draft," McNab explained, "and we were realistic enough not to expect any bargains."

Nor did they obtain any although there was hope - in name only.

With the eighth pick, McNab and MacMillan selected Rocky Trottier; and right off the bat they boasted a marquee "name" so to speak.

Kid brother of Islanders superstar center Bryan Trottier, Rocky inspired the inevitable question: will he be as good as his older brother?

The equally important question for the McNab-MacMillan high command was this: Will the general staff be under pressure to thrust Rocky on to the starting roster since he was picked so high?

Rocky Trottier: "I knew there was going to be pressure from people comparing me to Bryan but there's nothing I can do about that. I won't feel hurt if management decides to send me back to junior hockey."

Bert Marshall, the team's director of player personnel, insisted that the team could not push Trottier. "It would be wrong for us to expect too much from such a young player," said Marshall. "Maybe the hockey community here would like to see him play this year but if he's not ready we simply won't keep him in New Jersey."

As luck would have it down the road, the Devils' second selection - 18th overall - would prove to be more important to the franchise.

Edmonton native Ken Daneyko was a 6-foot, 190-pound defenseman who grew up with and played kids hockey with the legendary Mark Messier.

The 18-year-old Dano was respected for his robust style of hitting and over the years he'd become so popular eventually he was nicknamed "Mister Devil."

Yet another draft diamond in the rough was New Jersey's third choice, Pat Verbeek,(43d overall), a center who had scored 37 goals with Sudbury in the tough Ontario Hockey League.

"Patty could be the biggest surprise of all," said MacMillan with astonishing foresight. "He's hard-nosed and very mature."

As it happened, Trottier proved to be the classic build-up to a letdown while both Verbeek and Daneyko eventually would become key architects in the first Devils renaissance.

While showing promise, none of the new draftees did much to lift the Devils into a playoff berth. In a sense, that proved to be a blessing since it enabled them to draft as high as sixth overall in 1983.

"The Devils are going to be contenders in a few years," predicted Flyers coach Bob McCammon. "They have a spirited hockey club and will be more competitive after the next draft or two."

Bullseye for McCammon.

Choosing sixth in the 1983 draft, New Jersey opted for forward John MacLean. It took a lot of hockey but Johnny Mac would, in good time, become a franchise icon.

Sandpaper rough around the edges, Daneyko's love for the physical game soon enamored him with the fan base. As the seasons unfolded 'Dano' would mature into a dependable defensive defenseman who'd successfully align with a later high draft pick and offensive blueliner, Scott Niedermayer.

Meanwhile. the on-ice product continued to suffer, and you know what that meant; heads would roll. 

In November 1983, MacMillan was shown the door as general manager and head coach. McNab got the GM gig while Tom McVie, who was coaching New Jersey's AHL farm team in Maine, took over behind the bench in East Rutherford.

A further shake-up would significantly affect the 1984 Draft. Bert Marshall was canned as player personnel guru while Marshall Johnston took over the on-ice decisions and upcoming draft possibilities.

Ironically, the effusive coaching of McVie would stimulate his club, yet in the end, Tommy's personal asset as mentor would boomerang on the team in relation to one of the most important drafts in NHL history,

To this day, longtime Devils fans look back at the 1984 draft with a mixture of melancholy and contempt.

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