5 Best Devils Longshot Draft Picks of All-Time

From their origins in Kansas City and later Denver, the franchise that was to become the New Jersey Devils was once the National Hockey League’s laughing stock.

Struggling to find traction for his losing club, owner Dr. John McMullen finally shook up his high-command in 1987 and imported Providence College sports icon Lou Lamoriello to put the Devils on the right track.

The sextet Lou inherited had potential, mostly because of a couple of earlier longshot draft picks via previous GM Max McNab‘s regime. At the time, neither of them figured out a way to make New Jersey a playoff team. Yet, that duet would provide a nucleus for winning teams down the road.

Those unexpected aces who followed also excelled beyond expectations and were instrumental in converting the Devils into one of the most respected championship teams in the league.

Here’s how each of them made the big club:

1 Chris Terreri (5th Round, 85th Overall, 1983)

MONTREAL, CANADA: Chris Terreri #31 of the New Jersey Devils makes a glove save during a game against the Montreal Canadiens Circa 1992 at the Montreal Forum. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

Chris Terreri, out of Providence College, was an unlikely pick. This was mostly because of his size, listed at 5-foot-9, which frightened most scouts away.

By current NHL standards, Chris could have been considered a Lilliputian. Goalies of Terreri’s stature would have been more common in 1923. But, Lamoriello knew Terreri first-hand and persuaded McNab that Terreri had the goods. Chris eventually would prove that he was up to the challenge, but only after Lamoriello took full charge of the Devils.

The first sign that Chris was a star-in-the-making was when he took Providence to the NCAA Final Four in 1985. MVP of that tourney, he soon made his debut with the Devils.

He eventually made the USA Olympic team in 1988 and after that joined the Devils full-time. He emerged as the club’s No. 1 goalie until Martin Brodeur moved to New Jersey. At that time, Chris became one of the best backup netminders in the league.

Adding to the Terreri credits is the fact that he won two Stanley Cups for Lamoriello and 20 NHL games on three different occasions. Chris and Marty got along like good friends and combined for a superior one-two goalie punch.

2 Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov (8th Round, 145th Overall, 1983)

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – JULY 7: Lou Lamoriello of the New Jersey Devils stands with Viacheslav Fetisov #2 (Left) and Sergei Starikov #4 (Right) of the Soviet Union after they signed with the Devils during a press conference on July 7, 1989 at the Brendan Byrne Arena. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)

By contrast, Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, who was drafted three rounds after Terreri, (eighth) and 145th overall in 1983, was a much bigger gamble. For starters, Slava was skating for the Russian National team and lived in the Soviet Union when the Iron Curtain still was thick.

Often referred to as “the Bobby Orr of Europe,” Slava was considered the continents’ greatest hockey player throughout the 1980s.

Writing in his book, “Players,” author-historian Andrew Podnieks said of Fetisov: “He played at the Olympics in 1980, ’84, and ’88; he played in the 1981 and ’87 Canada Cups; and he played in every World Championships tournament, winning a neck-load of gold medals along the way.”

It took many Lamoriello visits to Moscow to soften the Russian stance and eventually open the door for Slava to sign with New Jersey.

After arriving with the Devils in 1989, Slava made the difficult adjustment to North American hockey and fit in perfectly. He played more than five solid years for Lamoriello before being traded to Detroit in 1995. All in all, Fetisov proved to be an astonishing draft pick who beat all odds.

3 Valeri Zelepukin (11th Round, 221st Overall, 1990)

November 24, 1993: Valeri Zelepukin of New Jersey is checked from behind by Buffalo defenseman Dan Moller and defenseman Ken Sutton skates in from the right during the Devils game versus the Sabres at The Aud in Buffalo, New York. (Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart)

One reason why this gifted forward was a low draft choice had nothing to do with his talent. Scouts considered him a sure-fire NHL prospect, but there was doubt he would leave Russia to play in North America. Some worried that it might even take a decade.

But a year after Lamoriello plucked him from the draft, Valeri became one of the most underrated left wings in the league. He enjoyed three superior seasons with New Jersey and — following a serious eye injury — recovered to help the Devils win its first Stanley Cup in 1995.

Zelepukin later was traded to Edmonton and two other major league clubs before moving down to the minors. To Devils fans, he’ll always be remembered for tying Game 7 of the 1994 Rangers-Devils series, scoring with only 7.7 seconds left in the third period.

4 Brian Gionta (3rd Round, 82nd Overall, 1998)

2002 Season: Brian Gionta. (Photo by Jim Leary/Getty Images)

For decades, Boston College has been a breeding ground for NHL performers. Rarely, however, does a BC grad move up to The Show when he stands no more than 5-foot-5. (Oh, sure, the guides have listed him at 5-foot-7, but nobody who has stationed himself next to Brian ever believed that.)

On the other hand, Gionta’s accomplishments on the university level might have led you to believe he was a giant. During his final two years of college hockey, Gionta led the Hockey East Association in goals, was a regular on the All-Star team and was crowned Hockey East Player of the Year in his last season.

“What Brian lacks in size,” Lamoriello said at the time, “he has more than made up for with his big heart.”

Fearless to a fault, Gionta gained a regular berth with the Devils and was a key performer on New Jersey’s Stanley Cup winner in 2003, defeating the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

Brian’s battles with the gigantic Zdeno Chara thrilled Jersey fans every time the two clashed.

During the 2005-06 season, Brian tallied 48 goals and 41 assists for 89 points in 82 games. His final season in New Jersey was 2008-09, and in of July 2009, he was signed as a free agent by the Montreal Canadiens and eventually moved on to Buffalo. He completed 2016-17 with the Sabres with whom he was Captain.

5 Adam Henrique (3rd Round, 82nd Overall, 2008)

Adam Henrique (Credit: AP Images)

After spending four seasons skating for the Windsor Spitfires in the Ontario Hockey League, the Brantford, Ontario native managed to play one game for the Devils in 2010-11 before becoming a regular with the Albany Devils, New Jersey’s farm team in the American Hockey League.

In 2011-12, Adam became a full-time Devil and starred in New Jersey’s run to the Stanley Cup Final against the Kings. He became immortalized in Devils’ lore when he ended the Rangers’ 2012 playoff season in the first overtime period of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Prudential Center.

At the one-minute mark of the sudden-death period, the Devils attacked the Rangers’ zone. Soon, the puck got lost in a scramble around the Blueshirts goal. His stick being in the right place at the right time, Adam poked the loose puck past Rangers netminder Henrik Lundqvist just 63 seconds into the extra period for the 3-2 Devils win.

Since then, Henrique has remained one of the most dependable two-way players on New Jersey’s attacking unit.

Yet another Draft gem who beat the odds.