Top 10 Forwards in New Jersey Devils History
After we previously took a look at the goaltenders in Devils history, it's only right that we tackle the forwards next. Although you would expect him to be very high on this list when it's all said and done, Ilya Kovalchuk is not on the list yet, having only played in 27 regular season games thus far as a Devil.
Again, this is only based on their contributions to the Devils franchise, not their overall NHL contributions, which definitely impacts the potential rankings of players like Doug Gilmour, Peter Stastny, or Dave Andreychuk. It also impacts players like Zach Parise or Travis Zajac who are not being judged on what they may be expected to do in the coming years, only on what they have done thus far.
I analyzed the 26 forwards that have scored at least 200 points in their Devils careers, and used that as a starting basis to narrow it down to my top 10.
Keep in mind, points definitely were far from the only criteria used to compile this list, playoff scoring, defensive play, etc. all were factored in.
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No. 10: Jamie Langenbrunner
Having played in 533 regular season games, and 68 playoff games, Jamie Langenbrunner has had a pretty distinguished Devils career. He has scored 138 goals and added 233 assists in the regular season, but stats do not tell the complete story of Langebrunner's contribtutions, as he brings a ton of intangibles to the team, and has served as team captain the last three seasons.
He's also filled a ton of different roles, whether it was playing on a checking line with John Madden and Jay Pandolfo in the 2003 playoffs, or on the top line in 2008-09 with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, Langenbrunner has always proven to be a quality asset ever since his acquisition from Dallas via a trade at the 2002 deadline.
There was a bump in the road this past season, when Langenbrunner butted heads with Head Coach Jacques Lemaire, and he didn't produce well in the 2010 playoffs. However, that is not enough to knock Langenbrunner off this list, his resume as a Devil is just too great.
Best moment as a Devil: 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Langenbrunner scored 11 goals (four of them game winners) in 20 games to help lead the Devils to their third Stanley Cup.
Worst moment as a Devil: The team not winning a playoff series as Captain, losing three straight seasons in the first round.
No. 9: Petr Sykora
A famed member of the "A-Line," Petr Sykora developed outstanding chemistry with Patrik Elias and Jason Arnott to form one of the more memorable lines in Devils history.
He was drafted in the first round (18th overall) by the Devils in 1995 after over a year in the IHL. The Devils drafted Sykora despite some injury concerns, and the pick paid immediate dividends as Sykora scored 18 goals and added 24 assists in 63 games as a rookie.
Sykora amassed 145 goals and added 205 assists in 445 games as a Devil, adding another 22 goals and 24 assists in 63 playoff games, including a team record six game-winning goals (tied with three others).
He ended up being dealt away in 2002 to Anaheim in a draft day trade that brought the Devils back Jeff Friesen. Sykora had some of his toughness questioned during the 2002 playoffs when he allegedly was able to walk without a limp, but was unable to suit up for a game. T
here also was a prevalent thought that Sykora thought the "A-Line" had become bigger then the team itself, something that GM Lou Lamoriello does not allow. The crest on the front is always more important then the name on the back (an ode to the late Herb Brooks as well).
Best moment as a Devil: Sykora helped lead the Devils to the 2000 Stanley Cup title, where he scored nine goals and added eight assists in 23 games.
Worst moment as a Devil: His departure in the summer of 2002 after he allegedly missed a playoff game GM Lou Lamoriello thought he should have played after suffering an ankle injury that did not leave Sykora limping.
You also could throw in that he was not on the ice when the Devils won the Stanley Cup in 2000 after being hospitalized after a Derian Hatcher hit. Head Coach Larry Robinson ended up wearing Sykora's jersey on the ice during the celebration after the winning goal.
No. 8: Scott Gomez
A player who has turned into a villain amongst the Devils faithful, Scott Gomez had a Devils career filled with many high points, including being a big part of two Stanley Cup Championships. After being drafted 27th overall by the Devils in 1998, Gomez played an additional season in the WHL, before jumping straight to the NHL in 1999 and becoming the first native Alaskan and first Latino player to make it into the league.
Gomez won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 1999-2000, posting 19 goals and 51 assists for 70 points in 82 games. He also added four goals and six assists in 23 playoff games to help the Devils en route to their second Stanley Cup Championship.
He went on to score a total of 116 goals and added 334 assists for 450 points in 548 games. In 97 playoff games, he added 21 goals and 44 assists, winning the Stanley Cup in 2000 and 2003.
He probably goes down as the best playmaker in team history (at least thus far), but wasn't exactly known for his defensive prowess. However, he is a strong part of the Devils success during his seven seasons as a Devil, even despite some nasty contract situations along the way. None were worse then when he departed on July 1, 2007, when he departed via free agency to the cross river rival New York Rangers, signing a 7-year $51.5 million contract. He has since moved on to the Montreal Canadiens, sent via an off-season trade last year.
Best moment as a Devil: As one of four rookies on the Devils in 1999-2000, Gomez was an All-Star as a rookie, and rode that success to the Calder Trophy and the Stanley Cup Championship as well.
Worst moment as a Devil: The moment he signed with the cross river rival
No 7: Patrik Sundstrom
Patrik Sundstrom was acquired by the Devils from the Vancouver Canucks on September 15, 1987, a deal that brought GM Lou Lamoriello one of his favorite Devils. Sundstrom was acquired along with a second round draft choice from Vancouver (Jeff Christian) and a fourth round draft choice (Matt Ruchty) in a trade that sent LW Greg "The Hawk" Adams, G Kirk McLean and a second round draft (Leif Rohlin).
Sundstrom was an excellent two way player who unfortunately was not always able to stay healthy, which cost him to retire from the NHL at age 30. In his four plus seasons with the Devils, he played in 305 games, scoring 86 goals and adding 160 assists for 246 points, and played at a +23 during that time. In the playoffs, Sundstrom added 8 goals and 16 assists in 26 playoff games, and at 0.92 points per playoff game, has the all-time mark for a Devil in career points per playoff game.
It's unfortunate Sundstrom chose not to re-sign with the Devils after the 1991-92 season, because the sky really would've been the limit for Sundstrom, he really could've helped be a part of the foundation that grew in the mid 90s and the arrivals of key cogs like Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer, Martin Brodeur, and Jacques Lemaire. Unfortunately, because of his health issues, mostly a bad back, he likely wouldn't have been the contributor the NHL had become accustomed to seeing out of him.
Best moment as a Devil: This is a pretty easy one, as Sundstrom stole the NHL spotlight the night of April 22, 1988, when in Game Three of the Patrick Division Finals, Sundstrom set an NHL record (subsequently tied by Mario Lemieux) with eight points (three goals and five assists) in a 10-4 win over the Washington Capitals. Sundstrom scored on all three of his attempted shots in that game, and helped Mark Johnson post four goals scored, which remains a team record for most playoff goals in a game.
Worst moment as a Devil: Injuries took their toll on Sundstrom, limiting him to just 17 games in what turned out to be his final NHL season in 1991-92. Had he stayed healthy, he'd likely be much higher on this list.
No. 6: Zach Parise
This one was probably the most difficult for me in terms of where to place him on the list. Sure, we all know Zach Parise is a special player, who was brought in by the Devils as the 17th overall pick in the first round of the famed 2003 draft. And it's painfully obvious, Parise will be significantly higher on this list before his career ends as a Devil. However, how does that equate to his current ranking?
Without too much post-season success, I felt this was the best place for Parise. Thus far in 407 games as a Devil, Parise has netted 160 goals, already good for sixth place on the all-time team list, and added 175 assists, good for 335 points. It's not like he's been a bust in the postseason either, scoring 13 goals and adding 15 asissts for 28 points in 37 post season games. Unfortunately, he hasn't helped lead the team to playoff success thus far.
Parise is another complete player who not only shows prowess in the offensive end, but also comes back and plays good defense as well. He plays well in the corners, does dirty work in front of the net, makes plays and can skate. His ability to get to loose pucks is a talent few other players can match. His motor never seems to stop working and the biggest reason for his success is not that he is more talented than everyone, what separates Zach Parise from the pack is the fact that he outworks his opponents. That isn't to say Zach is void of talent, because that would be far from the truth, but its his work ethic that sets him apart.
Here's hoping the Devils can lock Zach up long-term in the upcoming season, when Parise will be eligible to become a restricted free agent at year's end.
Best moment as a Devil: A couple of possibilities here for sure, but I'd have to say his debut game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, on October 5, 2005, when the crowd at the Meadowlands Arena was chanting "Parise's better" during the 5-1 victory over the Penguins, a game in which Parise had a goal and an assist. Not a bad NHL debut to say the least.
Worst moment as a Devil: April 28, 2009. The Devils blow a late 3-2 lead to Carolina in a very humbling minute twenty seconds no Devils fan will soon forget. Just an absolutely devastating moment this Devils fan still has yet to fully recover from.
No. 5: Bobby Holik
Bobby Holik was a unique player with the Devils, who originally came to the Devils in a trade with the Hartford Whalers, a deal that sent Sean Burke and Eric Weinrich to Hartford in exchange for Bobby Holik and a second round draft pick (Jay Pandolfo). Holik was a player who other teams hated playing against, because he added a physical and hard-nosed style that few other players could match.
His best value was as a checking center who played against opponents' best players and eliminate their effectiveness while also adding some offense of his own. In 786 games as a Devil, he scored 202 goals and added 270 assists, along with 863 penalty minutes. He also played in 124 playoff games, scoring 20 goals and adding 37 assists, along with 107 penalty minutes and five game-winning goals in the playoffs.
Holik was a very cerebral player, and always talkative, being one of the best quotable players for beat reporters, as he never really would hold back if he had something to say. In his second tenure with the Devils, Holik became a little outspoken as some frustrations grew in his final NHL season. His most famous contribution was as a member of the famed "Crash Line" in 1995, along with wingers Mike Peluso and Randy McKay, who all thrived under the tutelage of Head Coach Jacques Lemaire. He also was a main cog in the team that won the 2000 Stanley Cup, and finished the year as runner up in 2001.
Best moment as a Devil: The 1995 playoffs, when the famed "Crash Line" really emerged as a significant threat for the team. Holik only had four goals and four assists in those 20 playoff games that year, but his impact went far beyond the stats. Holik started building the reputation of being a big game player that catapulted Holik to playoff success throught his Devils career.
Worst moment as a Devil: Similar to Scott Gomez, Bobby Holik departed for the cross-river rival New York Rangers, signing a five-year $45 million contract on July 1, 2002. His career took a significant turn downward with the move, although his bank account obviously did not. This contract turned out to be one of the biggest reasons the salary cap was so aggressively pursued by the NHL, and it was bought out by the Rangers just after the last CBA was signed.
No. 4: Claude Lemieux
"Pepe" as he was affectionately known amongst his friends and fans is another player who could be compared to sandpaper, as he was known to be a little rough against teammates. One thing that is near impossible to debate however, is that Claude Lemieux was a winner, who was a part of four Stanley Cup championships with three different franchises. He was originally acquired by the Devils on September 4, 1990, from the Montreal Canadiens for winger Sylvain Turgeon, offsetting what was a terrible trade for the Devils that saw them acquire Turgeon from the Hartford Whalers in exchange for the popular Pat Verbeek.
Lemieux started his Devils career with three straight 30-goal campaigns, and posted 142 goals and 155 assists for 297 points in 423 regular season games. However, it was in the playoffs where his value was displayed and maximized and where Claude really earned his money and reputation as a big game player. He scored 34 goals and added 23 assists in 82 playoff games, and is tied for the team high with six playoff game-winning goals in his Devils career.
Lemieux was a central force in the Devils first taste of playoff success, scoring 18 points (7 G, 11 A) in 20 games in the 1994 playoffs, and scoring 13 goals and adding three assists in 23 games in 1995. He scored many big goals including one Philadelphia Flyers fans won't soon forget, scoring the game winning goal against Ron Hextall with 44.2 seconds left in Game Five of the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals giving the Devils a 3-2 series lead, and propelling them towards their first Stanley Cup Final.
Lemieux left after the 1995 season via a contract dispute and was sent to Colorado for Steve Thomas. He later was brought back before the 1999-2000 season in return for Brian Rolston, and stayed only one season but helped lead the Devils to their second Stanley Cup in April 2000. He wasn't the same player he was in 1995, but Lemieux gave the Devils an element that was missing in the late 90's, and that element was winning playoff games.
Best moment as a Devil: 1995 Stanley Cup Playoffs, where Lemieux won the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player in the Playoffs. Lemieux had 13 goals and 3 assists and was always there seemingly every time the Devils needed a big goal.
Worst moment as a Devil: After the 1995 season, Lemieux reneged on an agreement he supposedly had in place with GM Lou Lamoriello. When Lemieux tried to renegotiate, Lamoriello sent Lemieux packing, dealing him to Colorado. Whatever hostility transpired from this, could not have been too great, because Lamoriello traded for Lemieux again, bringing him back along with first and second round draft choices for Brian Rolston and a first round draft choice on November 3, 1999.
No. 3: Kirk Muller
"Captain Kirk" was the "consolation prize" for the Devils in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft, coming to the Devils #2 overall in the draft behind the legendary Mario Lemieux. The Devils were forced to settle for Muller after the Penguins allegedly threw some of their games to finish with the worst record in the league, and the owner of the Devils John McMullen would not allow his team to follow suit. Muller was not Lemieux, but he was far from a slouch either, and was probably the first legitimate superstar the Devils had. During his Devils career, Muller posted 185 goals and added 335 assists for 520 points (which ranks third in team history) in 556 games. His regular season per game total of 0.94 points per game currently is the highest this team has seen (minimum 200 games).
Muller's best season as a Devil was in 1987-88 when he set a then team record with 94 points (37 G, 57 A) in 80 games. Predominantly on a line with Aaron Broten and Pat Verbeek, the trio was easily one of the best in franchise history. Muller also owns the franchise record for most points in a regular season game with six, a feat he did on October 29, 1986. His tenure with the Devils didn't end pretty, but it was an excellent run for Muller, who is remembered highly by the fans and organization.
Muller was a central part of the Devils trying to overcome the "Mickey Mouse" label that had been bestowed upon them by Wayne Gretzky after a 13-4 shellacking on November 19, 1983. In fact, after the playoff success of 1988, the Devils featured ads in the newspaper with Kirk Muller holding Mouse ears and asking "Hey Wayne, can we put these away now?" Muller was a charismatic player who fit in well with the Devils of the mid 80's as the generally young players grew a nice bond and created a core for the Devils to begin building some success around.
Best moment as a Devil: The 1988 playoffs, where Muller had 12 points in 20 playoff games, as the Devils not only played in their first playoff games in team history, but won two series over the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, before succumbing to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Worst moment as a Devil: His holding out for a new contract in 1991, led to his being dealt to the Montreal Canadiens along with Roland Melanson on September 20, 1991, in return for winger Stephane Richer and Tom Chorske. While Muller went on to win the Stanley Cup in 1993 with Montreal, Richer and Chorske both won the Cup with New Jersey in 1995. Many wonder how it would have been had Muller still been with New Jersey.
No. 2: John MacLean
Currently the Head Coach of the Devils, John MacLean has had a storied career and has done a lot of things no other player has done as a Devil. Let's start with the numbers, as he has 347 goals (first), 354 assists (third) and 701 points overall (second), with 55 game-winning goals (second). MacLean was part of the first wave of success for the franchise, along with (Captain at the time) Kirk Muller, Bruce Driver, Pat Verbeek and many others who helped put together the building blocks of what would become one of the more successful franchises in the NHL the last 20 years or so.
While Muller may have been the big superstar of those teams, MacLean was easily the big goal scorer. Taken No. 6 overall by the Devils in the 1983 draft, MacLean quickly joined the team during the 1983-84 season. MacLean went on to score 347 goals (first in team history), and added 354 assists for 701 points in 934 career games as a Devil. He scored 40 goals in three straight seasons, topping out at 45 in 1990-91 before an injury to his knee in training camp eliminated his 1991-92 season.
MacLean would come back from the injury but was not able to reach the 40-goal plateau again, topping out at 37 in 1993-94. His highlight moment in his Devils career had to be when he hoisted the Stanley Cup for the first time in 1995, but the biggest Devils moment in MacLean's career probably took place on Sunday, April 3, 1988, when he scored the game winning in overtime against Darren Pang and the Chicago Blackhawks to earn the Devils their first playoff berth in team history. It came down to the final game of the NHL season, and the Devils were able to top the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers with the victory over Chicago. It was at the time, probably the biggest moment in Devils history, and it began a magical run that many old time Devils fans won't soon forget.
Best moments as a Devil: (tie) April 3, 1988, and June 24, 1995. Two dates that are probably right at the top of any top 10 list of Devils moments in their history (perhaps another list to come?). The first playoff berth earned, and the first Stanley Cup championship won, it doesn't get much better than that, and John MacLean was a key component of both events.
Worst moment as a Devil: An ugly trade demand took place in 1997, when MacLean demanded a trade on December 2, 1997. MacLean had been insulted by not receiving a contract offer yet, although Scott Stevens, Doug Gilmour and Martin Brodeur had at that point. Five days later, MacLean was sent to San Jose along with Ken Sutton for Doug Bodger and Dody Wood. It was a disappointing finish to what had been such a spectacular Devils career.
No. 1: Patrik Elias
Patrik Elias is the leading scorer in team history, and has been intimately involved in some of the largest moments in team history as well, and while his greatness is overlooked, it doesn't get missed here. Elias became property of the Devils after being drafted in the second round (51st overall) of the 1994 NHL Draft. Atter a year in Czech, he came over to join the Devils' AHL affiliate in Albany, where he posted 63 points in 74 games, earning a one game promotion with the Devils.
The following season, Elias bounced back and forth between Albany and New Jersey, and surprisingly played in the playoffs for both teams that season. In 1996-97, after three more games in Albany, he was a Devil to stay. Along the way, there's been a lot of ups and a couple of downs, but Elias pretty much epitomizes what it is to be a Devils forward, not only being productive on the offensive end, but he plays a complete game in all three zones of the ice.
For his career, Elias has 314 goals and 440 assists in 880 career games. On top of that, he has added 40 goals and 77 assists in 138 playoff games, and many were of the clutch variety. He is amongst the list of four players who have six game winning goals in the playoffs. As for the regular season, he has scored as many overtime goals then any NHL player in history, as well as 70 game winning goals (also a team high) in his storied career.
He has scored 25 or more goals in six seasons, and topped the 60 point mark also six times. Other then two big scares he has given Devils fan, one health related due to getting hepatitis B while playing in Russia during the lockout and teasing the Devils by negotiating with the Rangers on a potential contract during free agency, Elias has given the Devils and their fans just about anything one can ask of or hope for from a player.
Best moment as a Devil: Elias finished off the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win in Philadelphia. He then went on to lead the charge against the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup Finals. culminating in a feed to Jason Arnott in the second overtime of Game Six to win his first Stanley Cup.
Worst moment as a Devil: Elias had the Devils and their fans greatly concerned when he contracted hepatitis during the lockout and it was not only a concern of whether or not Elias would be able to resume his career, but at one point his general health was even a question mark. Thankfully, he recovered, and returned to prominence.
Side note: I had to include this picture of him after the March 17, 2009 game, the night Martin Brodeur set the all-time wins record, it was an amazing night, and happened to also be the night Elias set the franchise record for most points. It will certainly always be remembered as a magical and memorable night for the New Jersey Devils.