Suffice it to say that when the New Jersey Devils drafted Martin Brodeur in 1990, there wasn’t a person in the world who believed that some 19 years later, he would become the most prolific goaltender in NHL history.
But it’s funny. That’s the way it works with goalies. By picking up his 552nd career victory Tuesday night, Brodeur put himself at the top of the list for goaltender wins and probably has another 150 or more in him before his career ends. The funny thing is that among the top four goalies on the wins list, Brodeur came into the NHL as the most heralded and he was a 20th overall selection.
Second on the wins list, of course, is Patrick Roy, who was taken 51st overall in the 1984 draft by the Montreal Canadiens, 50 picks after the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Mario Lemieux. Now wouldn’t that make an interesting bar stool conversation? As in: you have the first pick of the 1984 draft, so who do you take – the man who would ultimately save hockey in Pittsburgh, win two Stanley Cups and become one of the greatest physical talents of all-time, or the goalie who would go on to win four Stanley Cups in two cities and revolutionize the position?
Roy was playing for an abysmal junior team in Granby and the fact was the Canadiens didn’t even think that highly of him or they probably wouldn’t have taken Petr Svoboda, Shayne Corson and Stephane Richer ahead of him.
Ironically, the Devils had the second pick that year and used it to select Kirk Muller. Had they taken Roy after Pittsburgh took Lemieux, they might have never drafted Brodeur in the first place.
No. 3 on the list is Ed Belfour, who wasn’t even drafted and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks out of the University of North Dakota in 1987. No. 4 is Curtis Joseph, who was drafted neither by the Ontario League or the NHL and had to go to play for the Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan just to get noticed enough to land a scholarship at the University of Wisconsin.
No debate about the greatest goalies of all-time would be complete without including six-time Vezina Trophy and two-time Hart Trophy winner Dominik Hasek, who was drafted 199th overall by the Blackhawks in 1983. He didn’t make his way to North America until seven years later and played most of his first two seasons in the minors before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres.
Brodeur’s beginnings were not quite as inauspicious, but he certainly wasn’t thought of as a future superstar in the league. In fact, Brodeur was the decidedly second consensus pick in that draft to Trevor Kidd, who went to the Calgary Flames 11th overall.
At that time, our annual Draft Preview edition profiled the top 60 prospects, but only the top 21 – which consisted of the first round of the draft back then – were ranked in order. The other 39 were ranked in alphabetical order and Brodeur, who was projected to be a second-round pick, was among that group.
Here’s what one scout, who represented the majority opinion, had to say about Brodeur: “He’s a big, aggressive kid who’s very intense. He has quick legs and feet. He’s not very polished, but he has very good physical tools. He’s a rookie (in major junior hockey) and Kidd is in his second year and you can see what a difference a year makes. But in the future, Brodeur might just rival Kidd in overall ability.”
Nineteen years later, some of that has turned out to be true. Brodeur has forged his path to the NHL with his physical tools and remarkably quick legs and feet. In junior he was a lot like Ron Hextall in terms of his approach to the game and his treatment of those who entered his crease, but by the time he got to the NHL he had become a much more mature, emotionally balanced goalie, traits that have served him well.
And now he’s the king of the crease. And he, along with Roy, Joseph, Belfour and Hasek should serve as an inspiration to all of those goalies whose abilities and potential go underestimated.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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