NEW JERSEY’S ALL-TIME DRAFT TEAM: SCOUTS AND ROCKIES AND DEVILS, OH MY

Kansas City was awful, Colorado was almost equally as bad and New Jersey wasn’t good for a long time, either. But then everything changed, mostly thanks to these Devils-drafted players.

Scott Niedermayer and Martin Brodeur|USA Today

Scott Niedermayer and Martin Brodeur|USA Today

The Kansas City Scouts lasted two seasons in the NHL in the mid-1970s, winning 27 out of 160 games. They relocated and became the Colorado Rockies, who lasted six NHL seasons, the best of which was a 22-45-13 showing in 1980-81. So when the franchise relocated, again, to New Jersey and became the Devils in 1982, it’s fair to say that expectations were low. And the Devils lived up to those rock-bottom expectations in the early going, not coming close to the playoffs in their first five seasons and famously being called a “Mickey Mouse” operation by none other than Wayne Gretzky in 1984 after the Oilers destroyed the Devils 13-4 – in New Jersey – with Gretzky collecting eight points in the decidedly non-Disney-friendly debacle.

But then a funny thing happened. Lou Lamoriello took over as team president and GM in 1987, and success – thanks in large part to the Devils’ diligence at the draft – soon followed. The franchise quickly rose from a league laughingstock to an NHL powerhouse, breaking through with its first Stanley Cup championship in 1995, and winning again in 2000 and 2003.

The first line for the franchise’s all-drafted team features the superb two-way play of centre Kirk Muller – selected second overall behind Mario Lemieux in 1984 – between a couple of all-time power forwards in wingers Brendan Shanahan and Bill Guerin. You can expect lots of goals from this trio, and zero liberties taken against them.

Scott Gomez, who arrived as a Calder Trophy-winning rookie in 1999-2000 and helped spark the team to its second Cup, gets a couple of prime time Pattys in Pat Verbeek and Patrik Elias as his wing men. This unit is all about offence, plus Verbeek can get a few jabs in, too.

Bob Bourne, drafted by Kansas City in 1974, never played for the franchise – he was almost immediately dealt to the New York Islanders and had a key defensive role during the Isles’ 1980s dynasty – but his shutdown ability and the fact he could put the puck in the net make him an ideal third-line checking centre. He gets plenty of offence and two-way help in the form of elite wingers Zach Parise and Petr Sykora.

On the fourth line, current Devils pivot Travis Zajac gets the nod over the likes of Brendan Morrison, Adam Henrique and Sergei Brylin. John MacLean, whose game-tying and overtime-winning heroics in the final contest of the 1987-88 regular season vaulted the Devils into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, plays the right side, with hard-shooting Brian Rolston on the left. Wilf Paiement, Aaron Broten and Brian Gionta were also in the mix for spots on the wing.

On defence, the first pairing is as good as it gets with Scott Niedermayer and Viacheslav Fetisov. That’s like having Bobby Orr and Larry Robinson on the same duo. Barry Beck, the mountain-sized defender who was one of the very few bright spots during the franchise’s run as the Rockies, matches up with offensively inclined Bruce Driver on the second pair. And let’s go with booming shooter Sheldon Souray and hard-rock Devils lifer Ken Daneyko on the third pair, with nods of appreciation to Rob Ramage, Jason Smith, Colin White and Paul Martin. (Scott Stevens, remember, was drafted by Washington, not New Jersey.)

In net, well, it’s easy to name the starter when he’s the winningest goalie in NHL history. Martin Brodeur is No. 1 and nothing more needs to be said. Sean Burke, who arrived in the spring of ’88 and promptly went 10-1-0 to send the Devils into the playoffs for the first time (with a little help from MacLean), gets the backup gig.

Here’s a look at New Jersey’s all-time all-drafted team, including players picked by Kansas City and Colorado. The 20-player lineup is based on players’ entire NHL body of work.

CENTRES
Kirk Muller (2nd, 1984)
Scott Gomez (27th, 1998)
Bob Bourne (38th, 1974)
Travis Zajac (20th, 2004)

RIGHT WINGERS
Bill Guerin (5th, 1989)
Pat Verbeek (43rd, 1982)
Petr Sykora (18th, 1995)
John MacLean (6th, 1983)

LEFT WINGERS
Brendan Shanahan (2nd, 1987)
Patrik Elias (51st, 1994)
Zach Parise (17th, 2003)
Brian Rolston (11th, 1991)

DEFENCEMEN
Scott Niedermayer (3rd, 1991)
Viacheslav Fetisov (145th, 1983)
Barry Beck (2nd, 1977)
Bruce Driver (108th, 1981)
Sheldon Souray (71st, 1994)
Ken Daneyko (18th, 1982)

GOALIES
Martin Brodeur (20th, 1990)
Sean Burke (24th, 1985)