NHL teams build their teams in many different ways. Some construct their clubs via free agency while others do it through trades. However, the main way teams create a roster is through the NHL Draft. Most years have maybe one or two players make the roster, but some years the general manager gets it right and selects a cornerstone or two for the franchise. The Last Word on Hockey is doing the best draft class for each team with the exception of the Seattle Kraken. Today we look at the New Jersey Devils’ best draft class.
New Jersey Devils Best Draft Class: 1990
When evaluating the New Jersey Devils‘ best draft class of all time, there are several contenders. On a seemingly year after year basis from the 1980s to mid-2000s, the Devils were able to find impact NHL players like they were shooting fish in a barrel.
Specifically, their excellent drafting from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s set the team up for not only its best run in franchise history but one of the best decades in all of hockey.
The 1990 Devils’ draft class, also known as the “Martin Brodeur draft”, shines like a diamond in a sea of pearls.
Of all the excellent players taken around that time period, including the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Patrick Elias, Bill Guerin, and more, only one player, Brodeur, can be looked at as absolutely necessary for all three Stanley Cup wins in 1995, 2000, and 2003.
With that single pick, the Devils changed the course of their franchise and ushered in a period that was so successful it is still talked about today. Not only that, but the 1990 draft also claims a whopping 10 out of 14 picks who cracked the NHL, a hit rate that far exceeds the average. Those 10 picks combined for a staggering 4,283 games played.
One hockey Hall-of-Famer, nine other NHLers, and it is no doubt that the 1990 draft class is the best in Devils’ history.
Martin Brodeur, 1st Round, 20th Overall
The sheer greatness of this pick cannot be overstated. The Devils’ scouts keyed in on Brodeur as their target, even though he wasn’t the consensus best goalie in the draft. In fact, they traded down with Calgary so that the Flames could move up and take Trevor Kidd instead.
No offence to Kidd, but he was no Brodeur.
1,266 games, three Stanley Cups, nine-time All-Star, four Vezina Trophies, five Bill Jennings’ Trophies, a Calder Trophy, two Olympic Gold Medals, the all-time leader in games played and wins for a goalie, plus a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. And they traded back in the draft to get him.
Whatever bonuses the Devils’ scouts received for this grand slam of a pick, it wasn’t enough.
Mike Dunham, 3rd Round, 53rd Overall
Mike Dunham wasn’t a star by any means, but he did put together a nearly 400 game career. That’s more games played than Trevor Kidd, who again, was taken ahead of Brodeur two rounds earlier. His best years were spent in Nashville, where he put together two seasons north of a .920 save percentage.
Brad Bombardir, 3rd Round, 56th Overall
Brad Bombardir isn’t much of a well-known name either, but he did manage a respectable 356 game career as a low-offence defenceman. He is a Stanley Cup champion despite only playing one game in the Devils’ 2000 postseason run.
Jaroslav Modry, 9th Round, 179th Overall
Finding value in late rounds can help a draft class become special in a hurry. Jaroslav Modry, who ended up with a 13-year, 725 game career, was of tremendous value in the ninth round. Modry played a lot of minutes and a lot of games, most of which were played in with the Los Angeles Kings. Still, the Devils’ scouts deserve credit for finding a legitimate NHLer this late in the draft.
Valeri Zelepukin, 11th Round, 221st Overall
The selection of Valeri Zelepukin is admirable for two reasons. For starters, as an 11th round pick, he ended up being a pretty decent player. In fact, there was only one player drafted later than him in 1990 that ended up playing more games.
Zelepukin put together 64 and 57 point seasons in 92-93 and 93-94 respectively and became a Stanley Cup Champion with the Devils in 1995.
The second reason this pick was great is what the Devils turned Zelepukin into. In 1998, the Devils packaged him and Bill Guerin in a trade to Edmonton for Jason Arnott. Arnott would go on to lead the Devils in playoff scoring in 2000, helping them earn their second championship.
Zelepukin isn’t a flashy name but his selection had major benefits.
Class of 1982
Two stellar selections in Ken Daneyko and Pat Verbeek are all the firepower 1982 needs in order to be one of the best in Devils’ history. Daneyko was an exceptionally special pick, having spent his entire 20-year career in New Jersey, winning three Cups along the way.
Class of 1991
Only three Devils’ draft picks in 1991 cracked the NHL, and one of them only managed eight games. Thankfully, the other two combined for 2,519 games. One of them happened to be one of the best defencemen of all time.
Scott Niedermayer was fundamental to all three Devils’ championships and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013. Brian Rolston, the Devils’ other first-round selection, isn’t of the same calibre as Niedermayer but was an impressive selection nonetheless.
Class of 1994
In terms of sheer value, the 1994 class makes a strong argument as the best. Patrick Elias in the second round was one of the best selections in Devils’ history. Pair that with Sheldon Souray (758 games) in the third round and Steve Sullivan (1,011 games) in the ninth round and it is easy to see why 1994 deserves a spot near the top.
Class of 2016
Okay, so call this one a little early, but the 2016 class is going to be one to watch and earns a spot here for that reason alone. Of nine total selections, five have already surpassed 30 NHL games, a number that will continue to grow.
Jesper Bratt currently leads the way with 130 points in 231 games. At only 23 years of age, he hasn’t reached his full potential yet and should be a solid foundational piece for a Devils’ team that is on the rise. For a sixth-round pick in today’s NHL, that is very impressive.
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