Home > NHL Draft > A Look Back: A History of The Devils’ Top 10 Draft Picks

A Look Back: A History of The Devils’ Top 10 Draft Picks

Photo Credit: Wild.NHL.com

The New Jersey Devils enter this year’s draft with a top 10 pick, an unusual spot for the franchise. They haven’t had a top-10 pick since 1996. The last top-10 pick to make a significant contribution was Scott Niedermayer, who came to the Devils third overall in the 1991 draft.

To kick off our draft coverage, The Devils’ Den will run down every top-10 pick the organization made. Some were wildly successful, others were pretty big busts. That’s the nature of the draft.

And here we go:

1982 Draft: Rocky Trottier – 1st round, 8th overall

The name Trottier should sound familiar – his brother, Bryan, won six Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins. Rocky wouldn’t emulate his brother’s success. Trottier spent most of the 1983-84 season with Medicine Hat in the WHL, recording 84 points (30 goals, 54 assists). He appeared in five with the Devils that season, recording just two points.

The Devils gave Trottier his shot during the 1984-85 season. He played in 33 games, but couldn’t find that scoring touch. He recorded just six points (four goals, two assists) and a minus-3 rating. He did attempt the first penalty shot in history on December 17, 1984, scoring against Edmonton Oilers’ goalie Andy Moog.

That season would be his last in the NHL. Trottier bounced around the AHL and played internationally before retiring after the 1989-90 season.

Other notables from the 1982 draft: Ken Daneyko (1st round, 18th overall), Pat Verbeek (3rd round, 43rd overall)

1983 Draft: John MacLean – 1st round, 6th overall

The organization made up for the bust of Trottier with the success of MacLean. He recorded 98 points with the Oshawa Generals of the OHL during the 1982-83 campaign, showing his offensive potential. He lasted just 30 games with the Generals during the 1983-84 season before earning a call-up. His debut didn’t wow people – in 23 games, he scored one goal – but he would ultimately find success.

MacLean became one of the most accomplished scorers in team history. He recorded three-straight 40 goal seasons (1988-1991) and finished the franchise leader in goals (347). On April 3, 1988, MacLean scored an overtime goal against the Chicago Blackhawks, clinching the first postseason berth in franchise history. While he didn’t work out as the team’s coach, MacLean was one of the team’s best picks.

Other notables from the 1983 draft: Chris Terreri (5th round, 85th overall), Viacheslav Fetisov (8th round, 145th overall)

1984 Draft: Kirk Muller – 1st round, 2nd overall

The Devils drafted another great forward in 1984. Muller, drafted behind Mario Lemieux, became one of the best to wear the Devils’ sweater. “Captain Kirk” debuted during the 1984-85 season after recording 94 points in just 49 games for the Guelph Platers of the OHL in 1983-84. Muller made an immediate impact, leading the team with 80 games played. He also recorded 54 points, a solid number for a rookie.

He continued to improve year after year. He set a record for points by a center with 94 during the 1987-88 season, a mark that still stands today. He finished below 70 points twice in his Devils’ career. Unfortunately, the team never seriously contended for the Stanley Cup. They traded Captain Kirk to the Montreal Canadiens, where he won a Stanley Cup in 1993.

Other notables from the 1984 draft: Craig Billington (2nd round, 23rd overall), Kirk McLean (6th round, 107th overall), Mike Peluso (10th round, 190th overall)

Wolanin couldn't stick with the Devils, but won a cup with the Colorado Avalanche. Photo Credit: Legends of Hockey

1985 Draft: Craig Wolanin – 1st round, 3rd overall

Unlike the last two players, Wolanin didn’t work out for the Devils. He started 44 games during his rookie season, picking up 18 points and 74 penalty minutes. He remained with the team the next four years, playing regularly and putting up significant penalty minutes.

During the 1989-90 season, it seemed the Devils and Wolanin would part ways. He spent six games with the Utica Devils, and could only crack the NHL lineup for 37 games. Eventually, the Devils traded him to the Quebec Nordiques with Randy Velischek for Peter Statsny. Wolanin would find success with the Colorado Avalanche, winning a Stanley Cup championship during the 1995-96 season.

Other notables from the 1985 draft: Sean Burke (2nd round, 24th overall), Eric Weinrich (2nd round, 32nd overall)

1986 Draft: Neil Brady – 1st round, 3rd overall

Brady marks the second first-round bust in team history. He twice recorded 80-plus points with Medicine Hat of the WHL, making him an attractive prospect. He turned pro during the 1988-90 season, playing with the Utica Devils. His offensive potential disappeared, as he recorded just 23 points. That seemed to be a blip on the radar, as he recorded 96 points with the Devils’ affiliate the very next season.

Despite his success in the AHL, Brady never made a NHL impact. He couldn’t consistently crack the lineup, never appearing in more than 20 games with the Devils. Eventually, they traded him to the Ottawa Senators for future considerations. He scored the franchise’s first goal against the Montreal Canadiens and Patrick Roy.

Other notables from the 1986 draft: Kevin Todd (7th round, 129th overall)

1987 Draft: Brendan Shanahan – 1st round, 2nd overall

Shanahan came to the Devils as a highly touted prospect in 1987. The left-winger, who played with the London Knights of the OHL, finished the 1986-87 season with 94 points. He made his debut during the 1987-88 season, recording 24 points. He only continued to improve, eventually becoming a point-per-game producer during the 1989-90 season. He unfortunately left the team as a restricted free agent after the 1990 season. His loss was difficult, but the compensation of Scott Stevens softened the blow.

Shanahan went on to play in 1,524 games. He won three Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings and, in 2003, won the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for his humanitarian efforts. He returned to the Devils in 2009, his final year as a player. He’s done well for himself in retirement, heading up the NHL’s developmental camps. Next season, he’ll take over as league disciplinarian.

Other notables from the 1987 draft: Kevin Dean (5th round, 86th overall), Jim Dowd (8th round, 149th overall)

1989 Draft: Bill Guerin – 1st round, 5th overall

The Devils ended up drafting one of the best American-born players during the 1989 draft. Guerin, the first player of Hispanic descent ever drafted, played the 1990-91 season at Boston College before turning pro. He appeared in five games with the Devils during the 1991-92 season, recording one assist. He became a regular the following season, appearing in 65 games and recording 34 points.

Over the next four seasons, Guerin became a solid producer for the Devils. He played in 80-plus games three times, leading the team in games played during the 1996-97 season. He helped the organization win their first Stanley Cup championship in 1995. He couldn’t stick with the organization, as they traded him to Edmonton Oilers for Jason Arnott and Bryan Muir.

Other notables from the 1989 draft: Scott Pellerin (3rd round, 47th overall)

1991 Draft: Scott Niedermayer – 1st round, 3rd overall

Niedermayer became one of the best to ever wear a Devils’ uniform. Not much needs to be said about the 18-year veteran. He was instrumental in leading the Devils to three Stanley Cup championships. He served as team captain in 2004 and won the Norris Trophy that same season.

Drafting Niedermayer built the core of the Devils’ dominant defense. For the next ten-plus years, the organization used their talents to develop the “trap”. Their defense became the backbone of their success, and the organization still hasn’t found a way to replace Niedermayer.

Other notables from the 1991 draft: Brian Rolston (1st round, 11th overall)

1996 Draft: Lance Ward – 1st round, 10th overall

Ward sneaks in as the last Devil prospect drafted in the top-10. He never signed with the Devils, opting to re-enter the draft in 1998. Ward bounced around the IHL, ECHL, AHL and NHL. He managed to play 68 games with the Florida Panthers during the 2001-02 season, his longest in the league. Currently, he’s playing with HV-71 in the Swedish Elite League.

Other notables from the 1996 draft: Colin White (2nd round, 49th overall), Willie Mitchell (8th round,199th overall)

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