Stan Fischler provides his 25 best draft selections in the history of the New Jersey Devils
/ Special to NewJerseyDevils.com
Having been in New Jersey when Dr. John McMullen purchased the Colorado Rockies in 1982 and brought them to the Meadowlands, I've avidly studied the Devils draft picks over the decades.
Imperfect as my X-Rays may be, I enlisted the aid of my two favorite Dev fans, TV producer and author George Falkowski, and all-time fan-historian Noam Kogen. With their expert and insightful input, I offer the following Best 25 franchise draft picks from 1982 to the present:
1. MARTIN BRODEUR: When you pick the winningest goaltender in National Hockey League history, and key to three Cups - well, who else could top the list? Nobody, and it's not even close. Amazingly, Lou Lamoriello traded down to get him when everyone thought Trevor Kidd should have been the choice.
2. SCOTT NIEDERMAYER: Dealing defenseman Tom Kurvers to Toronto, Lou was able to use that first-round pick to obtain a future Hall of Fame blueliner who would become part of the three-Cup championship core. Along with teammate Scott Stevens, Nieder is regarded as the best backliner in franchise history.
3. PATRIK ELIAS: With little fuss or fanfare, the crafty Czech emerged as a superb and prolific forward whose defense matched his attacking ability. It was Patrik's uncanny radar pass that set up the Jason Arnott 2000 OT Cup-winner against Dallas. Reliable in virtually every situation, Elias handled stardom unobtrusively and with consummate class.
4. KEN DANEYKO: From his rookie season through his retirement, this rugged battler produced both inspiration and policeman's qualities when grit was the order of the day. Through his endless service, Ken earned the title Mister Devil. During the 1988 opening round playoff series against the NY Islanders, it was Dano's punishing checks that prompted Isles Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine to tell a reporter, "I wish we had someone who could hit like Daneyko."
5. JOHN MACLEAN: Johnny Mac achieved franchise immortality on April 3, 1988 by scoring the overtime winner that thrust New Jersey into its first playoff berth. He also was a pivotal contributor to the club's 1995 four-game Cup rout of the Detroit Red Wings. One of the NHL's top snipers, he - for a time - was the face of the franchise.
6. KIRK MULLER: Granted he was no Mario Lemieux, but as 1984 draft picks went, Captain Kirk emerged as the quintessential lunch pail leader who handled his not-Mario role with distinction.
7. BRENDAN SHANAHAN: In his first appearance at Byrne Arena, flashy Shanny turned up in an Irish green jacket and a great gift of gab. Tough and talented, he proved to be a prolific scorer and most valuable when New Jersey received Scott Stevens in compensation after Brendan opted for the St. Louis Blues.
8. SEAN BURKE: The 1987-88 season never would have come down to a glorious first-time-in-the-playoffs adventure had this solid goalie not come directly from the Calgary Winter Olympics in February 1988. Burke's winning work pushed the Devs into their first playoff run. Later traded - with D-man Eric Weinrich - for Bobby Holik and two draft choices, Burke's value had increased. One of the draft choices was ace defensive forward Jay Pandolfo.
9. SCOTT GOMEZ: The Gomer From Alaska hit the ice sprinting in 1999-2000, won the Calder Memorial Trophy as rookie of the year while dazzling with his skatework. The Gomez-Elias-Grant Marshall line was superior in the club's successful quest for the 2003 Stanley Cup.
10. PAT VERBEEK: The same year (1982) when first pick, Rocky Trottier, got all the attention, New Jersey also picked this gritty guy 43d overall. As Patty matured over the years, he became a first-liner with Kirk Muller and a full-fledged star on the 1987-88 original Devils playoff team.
11. JAY PANDOLFO: A top scorer at Boston University, Pando went 32d overall in 1993 - flop Denis Pederson was the Devils top pick at No. 13 - and, ironically, ripened into the ideal Lamoriello defensive forward. Jay's durability was matched by his clean, physical play and ability to perfectly mesh gears with Johnny Madden.
12. SERGEI BRYLIN: Any team could have been forgiven for passing on this little, peach-faced Russian. Selected 42d - two behind Michael Peca - the Moscow native soon grew into the best utility forward the Garden Staters ever had. Sergei's goal in Game 4 of the 1995 Final against Detroit proved a key to the remarkable sweep.
13. VIACHESLAV FETISOV: When John MacLean was drafted sixth overall in 1983, many observers believed that the Devils were joking when the club nabbed Russian's answer to Bobby Orr at the 150th rung overall. The Iron Curtain still was thick and it seemed unlikely that the Soviets would allow Slava to leave. But Fetisov eventually cut the red tape.
14. ALEXEI KASATONOV: Since Fetisov and Kasatonov had paired so well together in Russia, the Devils opted for Alexei as well. By the time Kasatonov arrived in East Rutherford, he and Fetisov had become no-talk, unfriendly teammates. Surprisingly they worked well on the ice and, eventually, Kasatonov became the better of the pair.
15. BILL GUERIN: Talk about a pot 'o gold pick. The Devils watched the Islanders grab Dave Chyzowski second overall, then Toronto snatched Scott Thornton third while the Jets went for Stu Barnes fourth in the 1989 draft. Egad! A Springfield, Massachusetts Junior still was available and Billy Guerin went on to be much better than the aforementioned and a prime player on the 1995 Stanley Cup-winning team.
16. COLIN WHITE: For some reason, New Jersey drafted defenseman Lance Ward 10th overall in 1996. While Ward did little to justify the high pick, the Maritimer, White still was available in the 49th position; and a good thing, too. He was elevated to the big club in time for the 2000 playoffs and fit right into the blue line corps. Especially effective in his own end - a solid body checker, to boot - White eventually was good enough to work regularly alongside Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer.
17. ZACH PARISE: The Rangers picked Hugh Jessiman 12th overall in the 2003 draft and the Islanders followed at 15th with Robert Nilsson. While neither made a dent in NHL scoring, the 17th choice proved to be a blue-chipper. Regarded by some as "The Poor Man's Sidney Crosby," Parise was adored by the Garden State crowd and captained the Devs during their sprint to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final.
18. TRAVIS ZAJAC: A Devils mainstay whose talent and leadership at center won critical acclaim, Travis was exceptional at faceoffs and a key scorer during the exciting 2012 playoff crusade - especially against Florida in the first round.
19. PAUL MARTIN: Drafted 62d overall in the 2000 derby, this unsung defenseman did more with less fanfare than any blueliner I have ever seen over a period of four decades. An ace at the University of Minnesota, Paul was the quiet type, but smooth. At times he appeared to be an efficient phantom both in his own zone while surprisingly effective on the attack. As longtime Devils-watcher, Noam Kogen, observed, "The Devils were not the same, defensively, once Martin left for Pittsburgh."
20. ADAM HENRIQUE: This 82d-overall selection in 2008 goes down in New Jersey history for scoring some of the biggest goals during the club's 2012 playoff adventure. This was especially so against Florida in Game 7. However, that gem was overshadowed, of course, by his overtime winner over the NY Rangers in the sixth game of the heated series that deposited the Blueshirts out of the competition. Additionally, Adam excelled on face-offs, the penalty kill and power play.
21. NICO HISCHIER: Plucked first overall in 2017, the Swiss-born center is highly-skilled with excellent hockey sense of the ice. He has superior vision and playmaking skills as well as the ability to score goals. Before being drafted, Nico led all rookies in scoring in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League as a member of the Halifax Moosehead in 2016-17. Fast becoming the face of the franchise, Nico now features superior leadership qualities.
22. JACK HUGHES: The franchise partied in the 2019 offseason after acquiring this one of the famed Hughes Brothers. At age 20, Hughes' multi-skills already have been evident and scouts agree that the best has yet to come. Having Hischier and Hughes makes the Devils rebuild easier. "Jack and Nico are only going to make each other better in practicing against each other and in games," says GM Tom Fitzgerald. "Nico sees the upside in Jack and wants to help him grow." Jack agrees: "It's good for me to have that competitive aspect with Nico on the team."
23, JIM DOWD: A hockey, soccer and baseball star at Brick, New Jersey High School, Dowd's dream was to play for his home-state Devils. It was a bit of a fantasy until he starred at Lake Superior State and, lo and behold, in the 1987 draft New Jersey selected him at 149th overall. Jim's dream was fulfilled when he graduated to the big club for the 1994-95 season. Dowd's real, life winning goal in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final proved that the song was right when the lyrics went, "...dream, and it might come true."
24. CRAIG WOLANIN: Michigan-born and bred, "Wooly" was New Jersey's third-overall draft pick in 1985. Big, but not overly tough, he proved a likeable asset who eventually was commended by hockey historians such as author Andrew Podnieks. "Wolanin's effectiveness was always represented by good team defense," wrote Podnieks, "rather than great personal stats in goals and assists." My most vivid - and pleasant - memory of Wolanin was an un-screened slapshot goal that he scored against the Chicago Blackhawks from the center-ice circle. I had never seen so hard a shot beat a goalie from that distance before - or, by the way, since!
25. SHELDON SOURAY: Drafted 76th overall in 1994, the Elk Pointe, Alberta native was very much like a Craig Wolanin after Wolanin. Husky, powerful, Souray would deliver shots so hard that goalies would say that the "puck looked like a pea, if you could see it at all." Both a fan and team favorite - but especially by the media for Sheldon most of all was a gentleman - Souray was traded to Montreal in March 2000; a fact that saddened Devils supporters. Shelly wasn't too happy about it either since New Jersey soon would go on to win its second Stanley Cup, beating Dallas a couple of months after the Habs deal.