The Starting Six series comes to you to dive into the best player at each position all-time for every organization. The biggest and best at each position, with the most memorable moments in franchise history. Here is the New Jersey Devils all-time lineup.
Starting Six: New Jersey Devils All-Time Lineup
The New Jersey Devils have had a complicated history. They originally joined in 1972 as the Kansas City Scouts. Suiting up in a classic blue, red, and yellow uniforms; the team had many struggles right out of the gate. In their first season they ended with only 41 points. The following season they fell even lower, finishing with 36. After two very hard seasons, the Scouts relocated to Colorado and changed their name to the Rockies. In Denver, the team had a bit more success but still wasn’t consistent. Even with Don Cherry as the head coach the team was among the worst in the league. Because of their struggles on the score sheet, they relocated one last time to New Jersey and became the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils first year was the 1982-83 season, but their troubles weren’t over yet. The team stayed among the bottom of the league until the 1987-88 season, when they posted the organization’s first ever winning record. The team made the playoffs that season, but lost game seven of the Wales Conference Finals. They weren’t out of the doghouse yet, though. The next couple seasons were still a struggle, and the team didn’t see their championship team form until the early 1990’s. That era of Devils hockey was the pinnacle of the franchise thus far and comprises the entirety of this list.
Center: Bobby Holik (1992-2002, 2008-09)
Bobby Holik is barely challenged for the top line center spot. However, the Devils legend wasn’t originally drafted by New Jersey. Instead, he was acquired through somewhat of a blockbuster deal. The Devils sent away Eric Weinrich, a defenseman who had put up three 30-point seasons in a row, and Sean Burke, a reliable goalie. In exchange, the Devils not only received Holik, but also got two draft picks. At the time, Holik aleady had two seasons of over 40 points in his first two years. He showed a lot of promise as a rookie. As a young center, New Jersey brought him in to kick off a rebuild
Holik came in as a strong center right away. He only played 61 games his first year in New Jersey, but still recorded 39 points. Holik was a key top line center during the Devils’ golden years. Playing a gritty, strong style that was classic to him; Holik recorded 472 points in his 786 games as a Devil. His strength around the net was matched by his strong shot and two-way ability. Holik was a solid faceoff taker, and strong on both ends of the ice. While his biggest weakness was his skating, he did see time as a penalty killer as well. His play style and contribution to the team is comparable to Keith Tkachuk‘s. The two were both prolific power forwards of their era, and led their teams to victory with their strength.
Overall, Holik was the power forward the Devils dreamed of. His contributions at center didn’t go unrewarded. With the Devils, Holik was a part of two Stanley Cups. Having a big body like Bobby to lead your team is always very helpful, but his ability to score was the icing on the cake. Holik averaged just shy of 50 points during his first ten years with the Devils. He was, easily, the best center in the history of the organization.
Left Wing: Patrik Elias (1995-2016)
When people think of the most well-known Devils, Patrik Elias is a likely name to pop up. His 20-year career started with the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. Elias had an iffy career in the Czech Republic’s highest league, but was a dominant force of in the 1994 European Junior Championship. While he didn’t blow away the competition, he did well enough to earn a second round selection. His eye for the game and ability to be the pillar of a team caught the Devils’ eye.
Those were the two traits he held throughout his entire career as well. Fairly quickly into his tenure, Elias became a pillar of the Devils organization. His average ice time never exceeded 20 minutes a season, but he was a top six forward for the team the majority of his career. He earned his time too. He was a key component in two of the team’s three Stanley Cup wins. His ability to lead by example and be the finishing piece of any line was a gift the Devils were very lucky to have. Elias was a strong offensive presence, with a surprisingly well-rounded skillset.
In March of this year, Elias announced his retirement. For the entire tenure of the 2016-17 season, he was a free agent. He didn’t play overseas, and few teams in the NHL seemed interested in pursuing him. Instead of going through that once again, Elias has decided to hang them up. He retired as the Devils leader in all time goals, assists, points, power-play goals, power-play assists, and doubled all those records when you take the playoffs into account. He played 1240 NHL games, all as a New Jersey Devil. With a total of 1025 points in those games, Elias’ spot in history is solidified. To further enunciate that, New Jersey will retire his number in the upcoming season. He will be the first forward to have his number, 26, retired by the club.
Right Wing: Claude Lemieux (1990-1995)
Claude Lemieux didn’t play many years as a Devil, but made the most out of the years he did. He was originally acquired in exchange for Sylvain Turgeon. New Jersey came out the winners of the deal without question. While the Montreal Canadiens got a player who put up a combined 32 points over his course with the team, Lemieux became a cornerstone piece of the Devils offense, and one of the most annoying pieces.
Nicknamed ‘Pepe’ because he resembled a skunk, Lemieux was notorious for his aggression. He didn’t care who the player was, or the size difference, he’d make a point of pestering them. He’s notorious for the number of fights and penalties he got, racking up 1777 career penalty minutes, but Lemieux was good for more than being irritating.
Most Devils fans of the era would label him as a wonder of the playoffs and regular season alike. With the team, he set his career high in goals, assists, and points. In the Stanley Cup winning playoffs of 1995, Lemieux racked up 13 goals and 16 points in 20 games. The year prior, he had 18 points in 20 games. On the right wing he became a point machine.
Though he is arguably the biggest pest in Devils history, and possibly the league’s, there’s no denying Lemieux was an asset for New Jersey. His scoring ability, matched with his intimidating presence, created a 6’0″ bundle of terror. Though he wasn’t with the Devils long, he recorded more points in six years with New Jersey than he did with any other given team. He had roughly 38 percent of his career points with the Devils alone. Though not a great name to have brandishing such a title, it’s hard to argue against Lemieux’s spot as the best right winger in Devils history.
Defenseman: Scott Niedermayer (1991-2004)
Scott Niedermayer is one of the best players in Devils history, not just one of the best defensemen. He was highly touted since his draft date in 1991, when the Devils snagged Niedermayer at third overall. In a draft that housed many legends, Niedermayer could be argued as the best of them all. He went on to win four Cups, a Norris Trophy, a Conn Smythe, and appeared in five all star games.
Niederymayer was the youth in the Devils top four defensemen. His skating and playmaking ability molded perfectly with his impressive willpower for the game. He had immense heart for the game, and showed it off every shift. It’s even represented by his career point totals. In his rookie season alone, he tallied 40 points. He stayed conistent throughout his career as well, fluctuating between 33 to 57 points during his years in New Jersey. His skating abilities allowed him to be an excellent two way player. When he wasn’t participating in goals for, he was stopping goals against.
Many said Niedermayer had the ability to be everywhere at once with his stride. Standing at 6’1″, Niedermayer had as much power in his stride that he did in his heart. Randy Carlyle, who coached the defenseman after his New Jersey years, said, “If you asked Scott Niedermayer to climb Mount Everest, he would give it his best effort. He could play the game at a high level, shift in and shift out and take a 15-second rest and do it again.”
Niedermayer brought that same power to the Devils, but arguably in more forms. In his last season as a Devil, he won his only Norris Trophy after recording 54 points. On a team filled with strong and pestering forwards, Niedermayer was the extra ‘oomph’ in back. Paired with another New Jersey legend, Scott Stevens, most of his career helped as well. Together the two became one of the strongest, figuratively and literally, defensive pairings in the NHL.
The Devils retired his number in 2011.
Defenseman: Scott Stevens (1991-2004)
Scott Stevens was the other half of what was a dynamic duo on defense. The older Stevens beared a bit more responsibility than Niedermayer, though. So much so, that he wore the ‘C’ for the Devils in all but his first year of his tenure there. Originally, Stevens was actually acquired as compensation. When the St. Louis Blues signed free agent Brendan Shanahan, they sent Stevens to the Devils. Though it wasn’t a trade, the Devils couldn’t complain about the swap.
Stevens went on to be one of the best leaders the team has had. He held the title of captain for more than double the length of any other Devils player. That wasn’t the only title he’d hold though. Before joining New Jersey, he made his name as a physical force who could score just as well as he could hit. When he got to the Devils, they encouraged him to flip it all into overdrive, and he delivered.
Larry Robinson, Devils coach in 2000, said a big hit by Stevens could electrify the team just as much as a big goal. Stevens delivered a devastating hit to Eric Lindros in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. The hit was so jolting that Bobby Holik reportedly marked it as the turning point of the game. The Devils game back from a one goal deficit to win the game, as well as the series.
Stevens biggest contribution to the Devils wasn’t his physicality or his high scoring. While those help, they did nothing to match the sheer leadership he brought to the team. In his NHL Top 100 video, teammates and staff commented on Stevens ability to lead the team. Dave Andreychuk said, “[Stevens] made us better. He made me better.” Stevens had that effect on every player on the Devils. Throughout the history of the NHL, there are few leaders who matched the level Stevens was at. He gave it his all on the ice and in the locker room, and led the team to three Stanley Cups as a result.
His number was the first to be retired by the organization. They hung it in the rafters in 2006.
Goalie: Martin Brodeur (1991-2014)
Many people would agree that Martin Brodeur is the greatest NHL goaltender of all time. He holds records for almost every aspect of goaltending, even all time goals scored. It all started when he heard his name called 20th overall in the 1990 NHL Entry Draft. He was originally ranked third amongst North American goalies. Above him were Trevor Kidd and Felix Potvin. While both goaltenders turned out to have mediocre careers, they are nothing in comparison to Brodeur’s.
Brodeur was the brick wall behind a team of impeccable abilities. The team could score, hit, and defend, but they could never be the ones to face the shots from inside the crease. To fit with an all star lineup, the team needed an all star goalie. That’s exactly what ‘Brody’ was. In the height of his career, he went 10 consecutive seasons with 70 or more games played. He was virtually the only goaltender for the Devils during his entire career. He earned many trophies throughout his career, including a Calder Memorial Trophy, three Stanley Cups, four Vezinas, and five William Jenning Trophies.
Brodeur had an amazing glove hand, surprisingly good puck handling skills, and was generally the best goalie one could ask for. His puck handling was so good in fact, that he holds the record for all time goals, assists, and points by a goaltender. Those aren’t the only records he has though. To name the most prominient on a long list Brodeur has set; he had the most all time wins, losses and games played.
The Devils retired Brodeur’s number in 2016 after he retired in 2015.
Defenseman: Ken Daneyko (1983-2003)
Ken Daneyko played in the shadow of Niedermayer most of his career, and was never a big point generator like Stevens. What he did share with the two was his physicality and strength. Daneyko racked up penalty minutes even more than Claude Lemieux did. Daneyko was another very physical presence on the Devils defense.
What earned him his spot on the list wasn’t that, though. He joined the team the year after their conception, and participated in everything they went through. This included every single playoff game until the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Through every win and loss, Daneyko shared the emotion. The organization was beyond appreciative of Daneyko’s dedication as well. Through three Stanley Cups, a Bill Masterton, and 10 seasons of over 100 penalty minutes; the team retired his number 3 a month after they retired Stevens’ number 4.
Daneyko is an exceptionally rare occassion of a player being through every major moment with his team. His sheer dedication earned him a spot on this list, as an honorable mention, and a number hanging in the rafters.
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