Kyle McKenna The Hockey Writers
3 Devils Who Exceeded Draft Expectations
Out of the five numbers that the New Jersey Devils have retired, all but one was selected by the team in the NHL Entry Draft.
The banners hanging high at Prudential Center aren’t just a reminder of the team’s Stanley Cup championship success from 1995 until 2003, but also how proficient the organization scouted and drafted players. While New Jersey has experienced a few draft busts in recent memory, let’s revisit three Devils who exceeded draft expectations.
New Jersey fans will always have a special place in their hearts for former Devils’ center Adam Henrique. The 2008 third-round draft pick (82nd overall) netted the series-clinching goal in Game 6 of the 2011-12 Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers, which marked just the second time the Devils defeated the Broadway Blueshirts in the postseason. A devil’s victory over the Rangers is always bitter-sweet no matter the circumstances.
There’s no doubting Henrique’s overtime goal against the Rangers goes down as one of the most memorable in the franchise’s and NHL’s history. Still, Henrique’s career with Jersey’s team isn’t fully defined by that one moment.
“Rico,” goes down as a Devils draft pick that overachieved. Since the Brantford, Ontario native was selected, no former New Jersey draft pick has skated in more regular-season games than Henrique’s 665, to date.
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Let’s not forget that skaters like Mattias Tedenby, Brandon Burlon and Patrice Cormier were all drafted before the centerman. Tedenby, the Devils’ first-round pick in 2008, arguably goes down as one of the biggest draft busts in team history, while Cormier only managed to dress in 52 career NHL contests.
Henrique’s 51 points during his rookie season in 2011-12 ranked fourth on the team and his four shorthanded goals led the squad. Not only were his four shorthanded tallies an impressive feat for a rookie, but the total earned a spot as the fourth most (tied) scored by a Devils’ player in a season.
In parts of eight seasons with New Jersey, No. 14 recorded 257 points while netting 122 goals. It’s safe to say that Henrique overachieved given his draft status and was also the first Devils’ pick selected past the second round that recorded more than 100 career points with the team since Brian Gionta (1998).
Speaking of Gionta, the 5-foot-7 forward was one of the biggest surprise players in Devils’ history.
After New Jersey selected Gionta in the third-round (82nd overall) at the 1998 NHL Draft, No. 14 didn’t truly blossom until the 2005-06 campaign. Yes, Gionta was a member of the 2002-03 Stanley Cup squad, but his 25 points that season were overshadowed by his career year after the 2005 NHL lockout.
In 2005-06, the Boston College product recorded career-highs across the board with 48 goals and 41 assists for a total of 89 points. The winger’s 48 tallies are a franchise record for most goals in a season and his 89 points rank fifth-best. What’s also impressive is that Gionta’s 10 game-winning goals in 2005-06 are the second-most in franchise history, and his 25 power-play tallies stand tall as the most in Devils’ history. There’s a strong likelihood that both accolades won’t be surpassed for quite some time.
Overall, Gionta spent parts of seven seasons with the Devils while recording 312 career regular-season points. He also netted 20 or more goals in five out of those seven campaigns and recorded 40 career postseason points in 67 contests.
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The fan-favorite is one of the few Devils’ draft picks selected past the second round who inked his name all over the team’s record book.
When fans think of notable defensemen in Devils’ history, the chances are that Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens, Brian Rafalski, Andy Greene and Ken Daneyko immediately come to mind. All but Greene won at least one Stanley Cup with the club.
But then there’s the former blueliner in Paul Martin, who was also selected with the 62nd overall pick at the 2000 draft. The Minneapolis native arguably exceeded his draft-status expectations after joining the team in 2003-04. For starters, his rookie campaign was the same season which marked Stevens and Niedermayer’s last with New Jersey. Martin’s transition to excel as a top-tier defenseman was impressive considering he replaced two Hockey Hall of Famer’s on the team’s blue line.
Yes, the 6-foot-1 defenseman was a second-round pick, but no one expected Martin to thrive as he did for six seasons. Other than his final year with the team in 2009-10, No. 7 dressed in 70 or more games in every campaign with the Devils. The left-handed shot also recorded 20 or more points a season other than his shortened 2009-10 campaign.
Martin’s composure and smooth-skating abilities on the backend rank among the best for any Devil to lace up the skates as a defenseman. After watching him blossom, most would have thought he was a first-round draft pick – that’s how high his hockey IQ was and how dynamic his skills were.
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He was the only defenseman for 2000 decade who was drafted by the Devils and skated in over 300 contests with the organization. His humble and dedicated approach on a nightly basis was never overlooked, and he’ll go down as one of the best blueliners the team ever drafted.
While only one of these players won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey, they were all fan-favorites in large part because of their surprising success with the team. New Jersey can only hope moving forward that recent draft picks overachieve and help the Devils clinch just their second postseason birth since 2011-12.
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