For many years, New Jersey was not a hotbed of homegrown hockey talent. The first player from New Jersey to crack the NHL was New Brunswick born Brian Lawton in 1984. He played his high school hockey in Rhode Island, though. It wasn’t until 1992 when Jim Dowd(Brick) and David Williams(Plainfield) played their first NHL games, that a player born and trained in New Jersey became an NHL player.
Since 1992, hockey has grown in the Garden State, and youth programs like the New Jersey Junior Titans, New Jersey Hitmen, and the North Jersey Avalanche are busy developing the next generation of New Jersey-born hockey players. These junior programs are supplemented by other junior programs throughout the state and the state’s ever-growing number of high school hockey programs.
Goaltender: Anthony Stolarz
Anthony Stolarz hasn’t made that much of an NHL impact yet, but a lot of that owes to the Anaheim Ducks keeping him as their third goaltender behind Ryan Miller and John Gibson. In the limited NHL action he has seen, he’s averaged a .911 save percentage. The Ducks seem happy to keep him around for the future, though, as they recently gave him a two-year contract extension worth $1.9 million.
Stolarz was born in Edison in 1994 and played youth hockey with the New Jersey Junior Titans. In his draft season, he played with Corpus Christi Ice Rays of the NAHL, and he was impressive enough to get drafted 45th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. After a brief stint in the NCAA with the University of Nebraska-Omaha, he joined the London Knights of the OHL to play junior hockey in 2013. He took over the starting job and helped backstop the Knights to a J. Ross Robinson Cup victory in the OHL Finals and an appearance in the 2013 Memorial Cup.
So far, his AHL career has been very solid. He has posted a record of 74-53-24 with a career .913 save percentage. It’s not unreasonable to believe that he could get more NHL time once Miller is finally ready to hang up his skates. There’s still time for Stolarz to add more to his hockey story.
Defense: Paul Mara
Ridgewood’s Paul Mara was one tough customer. For 734 NHL games, the 6-foot-4 defender battled his way to a reputation as a fierce competitor and shut-down defender. A major shoulder injury, requiring rehab in 2009-10, shortened Mara’s career, and he retired in 2011, at the age of 31, after 12 years in the league. Mara was a “minute muncher” for much of his career. He finished his career averaging 20:55 of ice time. He only spent a few years playing for a serious contender, and much of his career was spent providing much-needed defensive stability to struggling teams.
He played for the Ducks, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, and Arizona Coyotes after having been drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, seventh overall in 1997. Mara was what is referred to as a “coach’s player.” Anything it took to get the job done he was willing to do. These days Mara is the head coach of the NWHL’s Boston Pride. His team recently captured the Isobel cup, winning the league this season.
Defense: Trevor van Riemsdyk
Trevor Van Riemsdyk is one of three players born in New Jersey whose name is on the Stanley Cup. He is the only defender to earn this distinction and was the third player chronologically to do it. He accomplished this in 2015 while he was a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks had originally signed him as an undrafted free agent in March of 2014 after he completed his third season at the University of New Hampshire. He is currently ranked second among New Jersey-born defenders with 373 games played in NHL.
Van Riemsdyk is playing for his third team, the Washington Capitals. The Vegas Golden Knights selected him in the expansion draft from the Blackhawks but he never played a game for them. He was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes the next day after the expansion draft was over. This off-season, he signed a one-year deal with the Capitals. In spite of not seeing a lot of action with them so far in 2020-21, the team signed him to a two-year extension on March 21 that carries him through the 2022-23 season. If he sees more playing time with the team he could be the ninth player from New Jersey to reach the 400 game threshold.
Left Wing: James van Riemsdyk
James van Riemsdyk has been so good for so long at what he does, that his name has become synonymous with the art of scoring goals in tight around the net. Anytime there is a tall, physically imposing, young forward who does their best work within about seven feet of the goal crease, they will inevitably be compared against van Riemsdyk. For 12 years, he has scored goals at a pace that averages over 25 goals per 82 games.
Van Riemsdyk currently sits second all-time in both goals and points for players born in New Jersey with 260 goals and 512 points in 776 NHL games played between the Flyers and Maple Leafs. Like his younger brother, he also played college hockey for the University of New Hampshire. The Middletown native was drafted second overall by the Flyers in 2007. He was traded to the Maple Leafs in 2012 but recently rejoined the Flyers via free agency. His effectiveness over the course of his career has caused many teams to target and draft young players who might be able to match his skill set. As he approaches his 32nd birthday though, he shows no signs of slowing down yet and will likely be able to claim the top spot for all-time goals by a New Jersey-born player.
Center: Randy Wood
New Jersey hockey fans might be more familiar with Randy Wood’s son Miles these days. Randy never played for the Devils, but during his 11-year career, he was a member of the New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, Maple Leafs, and Dallas Stars. He is fourth among all New Jersey-born skaters in points and third in goals with 334 points and 175 goals, respectively. Throughout his career, he developed a reputation as a hard-working player who could occasionally show some scoring touch. He also wasn’t afraid to stand up for himself or his teammates. This was during an era when the referees didn’t step in to break things up as often also.
His father, Norman, was coaching the Princeton University Hockey Team when Randy was born, in Princeton, in 1963. Not long after, the family moved to Massachusetts. Randy played hockey while attending Yale University and was actually undrafted. He earned himself a contract in 1986 with the Islanders and spent the 1986-87 season with their AHL affiliate. That hard-working drive to earn himself a contract from a camp invite was a keystone of his career. He was included in the 1991 trade that sent Pat LaFontaine to Buffalo in exchange for Pierre Turgeon. Wood retired in 1997 at the age of 33.
Right Wing: Bobby Ryan
Bobby Ryan was the first player picked after Sidney Crosby in the 2005 NHL entry draft. It took him a couple of years to catch on with the Ducks, but once he did, he put together four 30-plus goal seasons before the age of 25. He is currently the all-time New Jersey-born leader in goals (261), points(569), and games played(866). His meteoric rise with the Ducks and an expiring contract meant that he was due for a pay raise that the team just did not have the cap space to give him. This led to him being traded to the Ottawa Senators.
His time with the Senators saw him experience highs and lows. He was part of a team that came within an overtime goal of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. A scant few years later, that team was disassembled, and its pieces had been scattered. Ryan has a well-documented turbulent history. He’s been very public with the backstory surrounding his father and how hard the loss of his mother hit him. During the 2019-20 season, his demons caught up with him, and he took a three-month leave of absence from the team to enter alcohol rehab. He triumphantly returned, though, and scored a hat trick in his first game back. His efforts culminated in being awarded the Bill Masterton trophy.
With Senators buying out the final two years of his contract, Ryan signed with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent on a one-year deal. It’s hard to know how many years the 34-year-old forward has left in him, but as long as somebody is willing to take a chance on him, he’ll keep adding to his statistics.
Left Wing: Johnny Gaudreau
I wanted an actual center at center, so it left me two wing slots for three players. Johnny Gaudreau is from Salem, New Jersey, and is currently tied with Ryan for first all-time in assists for New Jersey-born players, with 308. Given the direction their respective careers are trending, he is likely to pass Ryan and gain some separation in that regard. However, from a goals-scored perspective, Gaudreau sits fourth behind Ryan, van Riemsdyk, and Wood. He’s a great hockey player, he’s an all-time great from New Jersey, but he just misses the starting lineup.
Center: Jim Dowd
It’s hard to keep Dowd off this list, but even though his career spanned 16 years, he lags behind Wood in games played, goals and points by a pretty substantial margin. Dowd was a key part of putting New Jersey hockey on the map. His career lasted from 1992-2008, and in that time, he played 728 NHL games. He was a grinder and a fourth-liner for pretty much all of his career, but he is synonymous with “Jersey Hockey.” Dowd is one of three New Jersey-born players to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. He was the first to do it, and he did it with the New Jersey Devils in 1995. He and Kenny Agostino are the only players born in the state to ever play for the Devils.
Right Wing: Drew Miller
Drew Miller was born in Dover, NJ, in February of 1984. He played in three playoff games for the Ducks in 2007, which was enough to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup. Miller has the uncommon distinction of being one of those players who got his name on the Stanley Cup before he ever played a regular-season NHL game. He managed to stay in the league for 10 years, spending eight seasons with the Red Wings. When all was said and done, he finished his career with 571 regular-season games played. That makes him sixth all-time among New Jersey-born skaters.
In 10 years, this list could look a lot different. Eric Robinson of Bellmawr seems to be catching on with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Robbinsville’s own Ross Colton has looked very good so far with the Lightning. Bruins defender, and Long Branch native, Connor Clifton continues to see his minutes expanded. Westwood’s John Leonard is asserting himself in San Jose.
Prospect: Alex Laferriere from Chatham was taken in the third round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft by the Los Angeles Kings. Haddonfield native, Tyler Boucher hopes to hear his name called at the 2021 NHL Draft. Every year, more and more young players from New Jersey are joining the NHL ranks. Maybe down the line, it will be one of these young players that tops the All-Time New Jersey Born statistics. Ryan and van Riemsdyk will be hard to unseat, but they’ll make for good targets to aspire to be.
Jack Dawkins is a freelance scout, analyst and avid watcher of “way too much hockey.” He has joined The Hockey Writers team to cover all things Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers. He’s an absolute data hound and loves using stats and analytics to calculate and extrapolate data for analysis.