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The day Brodeur became a Devil

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Brodeur on draft day with his father, Denis, Sr., and former Devils head coach, the late John Cunniff (r.).

Martin Brodeur still remembered like it was yesterday. After he was reminded about it, anyway. With all the future Hall of Famer has achieved in his singular career, you could hardly blame him for forgetting that it’s been 20 years since he was drafted by the Devils.

On June 16, 1990, the Devils struck a Draft day deal with Calgary that ended up being the steal of the century. The clubs swapped five picks, including their first rounders, and the Devils moved down to 20th overall from 11th.

No one could have known at the time that the trade would involve one of the greatest goaltenders of all time. At No. 11, the Flames took Trevor Kidd out of Brandon of the Western Hockey League. The Devils, who had been targeting Brodeur all along, got their man at No. 20.

“I was a little shocked when I heard that,” Brodeur said in disbelief when learning of the anniversary. “I kind of forgot about it. It’s too long ago.”

The rest is history, though in Brodeur’s case, it’s been more about rewriting the history books. The gift for a 20th anniversary is platinum, which is fitting for a netminder that has blazed a trail of precious metal: three Stanley Cups, two Olympic gold medals, and four Vezina trophies – with a shot at a fifth at the 2010 NHL Awards on June 23.

By any measure, Brodeur’s still in peak form. He led the League with 45 wins and nine shutouts last season, and has amassed a record nine campaigns with 40 or more victories. It’s hard to believe now that Brodeur was once an 18-year-old thinking he'd be swooped up somewhere in the second round.

“It was an interesting day because I was ranked a lot [lower] than the first round,” Brodeur recalled. “I was somewhere around the 30th pick and back then there was only 21 picks [in each round], so I didn’t really expect to get drafted until the second round. When I got the call of being drafted by the Devils, I was in shock more than anything. I didn’t have a clue where New Jersey was, but it was just nice to be taken in the first round and nice to know where my future would be, which organization I was going to be a part of.”

When New Jersey slid to 20, Brodeur noticed.

“I knew that the Devils were really interested in me,” he said. “I was kind of surprised that they moved that pick, so my agent told me, ‘Maybe they’re going to pick you.’”

Then, with the second to last pick of the first round, the announcement came. Perhaps no one at Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium was more surprised than Brodeur himself.

“I wasn’t ready to get drafted in the first round,” Brodeur said, recalling the moment when he heard his name called by former Devils’ Director of Player Personnel Marshall Johnston. “I didn’t have time to be nervous or anything. I was excited. I just didn’t want to trip down the 25 steps that I had to walk down – that’s the only thing that I worried about.”

The most important thing for me is to be drafted by a team which was interested from the beginning. I wanted to be drafted by the Devils. They were there all along. - Martin Brodeur in The Hockey News, July 1990
The Devils had grabbed Brodeur on the heels of a strong rookie year with St. Hyacinthe of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He finished 23-13-2 in 42 regular-season appearances, then went 5-7 in the playoffs.

His father, legendary Canadiens’ team photographer Denis Brodeur, Sr., was in Vancouver for his son’s special moment.

“My dad came in the whole week because we did a lot of meetings with different hockey clubs,” Brodeur said. “We got a chance to meet around 15 teams that showed some interest, I don’t know how high, throughout the week.”

Although the first round seemed like a stretch, Brodeur knew he would be drafted that day.

“When you start being ranked [in Central Scouting’s] top five goalies, you know you have a chance to get drafted and get your feet into one organization,” he said. “It was early in my first year of junior that I saw I had a chance of it.”

Kidd, who had already played two seasons of junior hockey, was the consensus No. 1 goaltending prospect. The native of Dugald, Manitoba, had just led Canada to gold at the 1990 World Junior Championship and had been named the Canadian Hockey League's 1990 Goaltender of the Year.

"[Brodeur's] a rookie; Kidd is in his second year," reads one scout's take from The Hockey News' 1990 Draft Preview. "You can see the difference a year makes now, but in the future, Brodeur just might rival Kidd for overall ability."

Brodeur explains that the late goaltending guru Warren Strelow had been given the assignment of settling on a netminder in the first round. After spending a week with Brodeur in St. Hyacinthe and a week with Kidd, the choice became clearer. 

Over the two decades that followed, that decision would reshape the course of the franchise.

In their first eight years in New Jersey from 1982 to 1990, the Devils had two postseason appearances to their credit, including the 1988 run to the conference finals.

Drafting Brodeur solidified New Jersey’s goaltending for seasons to come, and they soon developed into a perennial contender. The previous October, they had shipped Tom Kurvers to Toronto for the first-rounder that would become third-overall pick Scott Niedermayer in 1991. Scott Stevens arrived as compensation from St. Louis later that same year, as the key pieces started coming together.

Four years after Brodeur became Devils property, he emerged as their No. 1 en route to the 1994 conference finals. Jersey’s Team captured its first championship the next season with two other pieces from the 1990 Draft: Chris McAlpine (137th overall) and Valeri Zelepukin (221st overall).

Since Brodeur’s 1992 debut, New Jersey has missed the playoffs only once, racking up four Eastern Conference championships, nine Atlantic Division titles, and 12 seasons with at least 100 points.

Brodeur's bio in the The Hockey News' 1990 NHL Entry Draft Preview.
His name tops a growing list of goaltender records: wins (602), games played (1,076), shutouts (110), and minutes played (63,521). He has topped 1,800 saves in each of his last four full seasons, and stands 1,013 shy of overtaking Roy for most in League history (25,803).

Few 18-year-olds can imagine making that kind of generational impact on their position.

“You don’t realize it when you get drafted what path you’re going to take,” Brodeur said. “This is the first step into doing something. I think you have to get drafted, to a certain extent. That’s the easiest way to get to the NHL. Definitely, when you do get drafted in the first round, usually teams will do everything they can to give you a chance to make it or be part of the organization, so I was really excited about that.”

The opening round of the 1990 Draft proved to be one of the deepest in history. Eleven of the 21 first-rounders played in over 900 NHL games, nine went on to make 1,000 appearances. Including Brodeur, five were still active in the NHL last season: Owen Nolan (1st overall, Quebec), Darryl Sydor (7th, Los Angeles), Brad May (14th, Buffalo), and Keith Tkachuk (19th, Winnipeg), who announced his retirement in April.

Jaromir Jagr, selected fifth overall by Pittsburgh, spent the last two seasons with Omsk Avangard of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. The two-time Cup winner ranks ninth all-time in points (1,599), 12th in goals (646) and 13th in assists (953).

Kidd, the only other goaltender taken in the first round that year, played 12 NHL seasons from 1992-2004 with Calgary, Carolina, Florida and Toronto. He recorded three 20-win campaigns, including a career-high 22 in 1994-95. That same year in New Jersey, Brodeur and the Devils hoisted their first Cup.

“It’s definitely different paths that we took in our careers,” Brodeur said of Kidd. “He was really a successful junior goalie for Canada, was playing in all these World Junior Championships that I never got a chance to play in. I guess I peaked a little later than him, I was able to have different success in the NHL.”

The Canadiens had the next pick after Calgary, but with a 24-year-old Patrick Roy in net, they passed on Brodeur, a Montreal product, and tapped Turner Stevenson 12th overall. Years later, Stevenson was Brodeur’s teammate on the Devils’ 2003 championship squad, and would tease Brodeur about going eight spots higher.

“He’s really proud of that,” Brodeur joked.

A new crop of young hopefuls will hear their names announced at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles on June 25. The Devils dealt this year’s first-rounder to Atlanta in the package for Ilya Kovalchuk, and are slated to make their first selection in the second round, 38th overall.

To Brodeur, a lot about the Draft has changed.

“I know for us, it was a big thrill – it wasn’t a business decision,” he said. “It was nothing like that. Now it’s become a little different. Europeans are a lot more prevalent in drafts compared to when I got drafted. I’m sure they’re really nervous because the future’s in their hands.”

Brodeur continued: “It’s a big step to be drafted. Ultimately, it’s everybody’s dream. That’s where you start thinking about making the team, maybe about winning the Stanley Cup. All the hard work that you put in, and your parents’ commitment that they put in, everything’s going to come out on June 25.”
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