The magic of Lou Lamoriello can best be translated by examining his outstanding rookie collection, which began with center Kirk Muller, no Mario Lemieux but a solid citizen all the way, productive, too.
Emperor of them all was Martin Brodeur, whose nonpareil puck-stopping caused double-takes in his freshman year and seasons after.
Following Marty’s first Cup win in 1995, Lou rebuilt on the fly and by 1999-2000 he had the likes of Scott Gomez, John Madden and Brian Rafalski all vying for the Calder Trophy that ultimately went to Gomer.
When Lamoriello’s underdog Devils sprinted all the way to the 2012 Cup Final, it was Adam Henrique who catapulted them — and himself — to enduring fame. His sudden-death goal which eliminated the rival Rangers is permanently etched in Devils history as “one of the best.”
Before Nico Hischier was drafted with the first overall pick in 2017, Muller was the highest Devils draft selection when he was taken second overall in 1984. New Jersey missed snatching up Mario Lemieux by just one pick, but even so, Muller’s rookie season remains one of the franchise’s best, especially considering the team around him.
The mid-80s were a difficult time for the Devils, new to the Garden State after relocating from Colorado. Muller gave the team a much-needed breath of fresh air and hope for the future. In an abysmal 1984-85 campaign that saw the Devils go 22-48-10, the 18-year-old Muller was fourth in team scoring with 17 goals and 37 assists for 54 points.
It didn’t take Brodeur long to prove his worth as a starting netminder.
In 1993-94, at the age of 23, Marty took the Devils by storm. His effective puck-handling immediately set him apart from the NHL’s elite. He split his time in the crease with Chris Terreri, who had been the Devils’ starter for years prior. But Brodeur and his 2.40 GAA — second-best in the league — and .915 SV% — fourth-best — was enough of a reason to give him the nod in 47 games over Terreri’s 44.
By the time the postseason rolled around, Marty had effectively stolen the net from Terreri. The Devils infamously lost to the Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but despite this, his numbers speak for themselves: 17 games, 1.95 GAA, .928 SV%.
Brodeur was awarded the Calder Trophy, the first Devil ever to win the award and just the second goalie to do so since 1984.
Gomez’s rookie campaign in 1999-2000 was numerically the best in Devils history and described by hockey author Andrew Podnieks as “like a dream.” With 70 points — 19 goals and 51 assists — Gomer finished second in team scoring only to Patrik Elias. His silky-smooth passes, heads-up plays and fast breakouts made him a key contributor (7 goals, 20 assists) with the man advantage.
Not only was he named an All-Star in his first year, but he appeared in the All-Star Game with none other than Super Mario himself. Alongside another elite scorer in his own right, Russian sniper Alex Mogilny, Gomez added 10 points along the way to a Stanley Cup victory over the Dallas Stars.
He was the most productive freshman skater in the NHL, earning him the Calder by a landslide.
Louis Mass trained with Gomez in their home state of Alaska during the offseason and asked Scott about his first games in the NHL: “I said, ‘Weren’t you nervous?’ He said, ‘No, not at all,’ and he just laughed. He wasn’t afraid. He was excited, couldn’t wait to get out there and show everybody how good he was.”
Most of the reason Madden wound up on this list is that he earned the coveted Stanley Cup in his first year playing pro.
When Madden broke into the NHL in 1999-2000, he immediately made an impact as a player with a strong work ethic and a great deal of tenacity. This was especially apparent on the penalty kill. In fact, six of his 16 goals were short-handed. He scored a shorty in the playoffs as well en route to the Cup win over Dallas. “Mad Dog” also added nine assists for a total of 25 regular season points.
Madden played with Jay Pandolfo and the duo quickly became popular as members of a hard-working third line. His role became increasingly important in the playoffs, and Madden garnered much more ice time. He wound up with three goals — two of them game-winners — and four assists in 25 games.
Henrique’s first year began with a quick demotion to the AHL, but within a month, he earned his spot back with the big club and never looked back.
With 16 goals — four short-handed, the most in the league — and 35 assists, Henrique’s biggest contributions came in the Devils’ run to the Cup Final in 2012. He scored the series-clinching, double-overtime goal vs. the Panthers in Game 7 of the first round. That goal was the second of its kind; the only other freshman to score a Game 7 OT winner was Claude Lemieux in 1986.
But Adam didn’t stop there. It was deja vu in Game 6 of the Conference Finals against the Rangers, as Henrique netted the game-winner one minute into overtime — the only rookie to ever score two extra-time goals in the postseason. A third GWG that came in regulation tied him for most playoff game-winners by a rookie.
If you don’t believe The Maven, take it from then-Devils coach Pete DeBoer who told Dave Caldwell of the New York Times: “I haven’t seen a performance like that out of a rookie that I can remember. We obviously wouldn’t have been (in the Stanley Cup Final) without him.”