John MacLean: How He Became a Devils Legend

John MacLean became a club legend during his New Jersey Devils career, which included two Stanley Cups — one as a player and one as an assistant coach. The forward helped the Devils, once an underrated relocation franchise, grow into a bona fide NHL contender.

Devils head coach John MacLean
John MacLean as the Devils’ head coach, 2010. (THW Archives)

MacLean was a consistent scorer, recording 347 goals and 701 points as a Devil. He added 31 goals and 75 points in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Oshawa, Ontario native twice represented the Devils in the NHL All-Star game.

MacLean: Devils’ First-round Pick in 1983

MacLean (born Nov. 20, 1964) was the Devils’ first-round pick in the 1983 Entry Draft. He went sixth overall. The club was new — it came into being after the Colorado Rockies had relocated to New Jersey in 1982. “I was going basically to an expansion team. The team wasn’t great at the time, but there was a lot of opportunity,” MacLean recalled on in 2017.

John MacLean New Jersey Devils
John MacLean, New Jersey Devils, circa 1990 (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

“I knew the Devils were probably going to take me, but you can never be quite sure. It was an exciting time to don the sweater. We started to get our identity as far as how to play and compete night in, night out. It was an exciting time for everybody.”

Related: The 8 best Defensive Forwards in Hockey History

MacLean’s rookie season was underwhelming — one goal in 23 games — but much more was to come. In the next three seasons, he scored 13, 21, and 31 goals, respectively.

MacLean and the Famous Goal in 1988

MacLean scored hundreds of goals for the Devils, but few were as important as the one that saw the daylight on April 3, 1988. In an overtime game against the Chicago Blackhawks, he picked up a rebound and scored — taking the Devils to the playoffs for the first time in the club’s history.

In the playoffs, he showed no signs of slowing down, recording seven goals and 18 points. On the Devils, only Patrik Sundström did better with 20 points.

Things started to fly for MacLean after the first playoff spring. He accomplished three straight seasons with more than 40 goals (42, 41, and 45). Prior to the 1994-95 season, he had 278 goals and 559 points.

The Stanley Cup Run of 1995

The Devils, once called a Mickey Mouse organization by Wayne Gretzky, climbed to the top of the hockey world in 1995. Head coach Jacques Lemaire led the team to its first Stanley Cup.

In the conference quarterfinals, the Devils defeated the Boston Bruins (4-1) and in the semis, beat the Pittsburgh Penguins by the same margin. New Jersey then outlasted the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Final, 4-2.

In the Stanley Cup Final, the Devils swept the Detroit Red Wings. Among players who had played the entire season with the Devils, MacLean was the top scorer in the four-game series with one goal and four assists (Neal Broten, who was acquired by the Devils from the Dallas Stars in February, went 3-3-6). MacLean finished third in scoring for the Devils with five goals and 18 points in 20 playoff games.

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Finally, after a 5-2 win at Meadowlands on June 24, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman handed out the Cup to the Devils. And who was the first to hoist the Cup after captain Scott Stevens? MacLean.

MacLean’s Later Years

The Devils traded MacLean to the San Jose Sharks in December 1997. After recording 32 points in 51 games for the Sharks, he became a free agent. He joined the Devils’ local rivals, the New York Rangers, prior to the 1998-99 season. He played for two full seasons with the Rangers before moving to the Dallas Stars in February 2001. He retired in 2002 after 1,194 NHL games and 104 contests in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He scored 842 and 83 points in the regular season and postseason, respectively.

Not only was MacLean a consistent scorer, but he was also one of the leaders. He wore an “A” on his Devils jersey for years. His scoring touch and playmaking abilities were obvious, but he led by example in the physical game, too. He collected 1,328 penalty minutes in his NHL career.

MacLean’s career after the years as a player showed that he’s an analytical person — a fact proven by his work as coach and analyst/commentator in the media.

Return to the Devils

In 2002, MacLean didn’t rest on his laurels but quickly returned to New Jersey. He was appointed Pat Burns’ assistant coach. During his tenure as an assistant, he won his second Stanley Cup in 2003. He also served as the head coach of the Lowell Devils in the AHL and took the team to its best-ever record and first-ever playoff berth in 2009-10.

MacLean finally got the Devils’ head-coach job in 2010. Following a series of poor performances, however, the Devils fired MacLean after 33 games, thus ending his Devils career, which spanned from 1983 to 2010.

MacLean joined the Carolina Hurricanes as an assistant coach in 2011. In 2017, he became an assistant to the Arizona Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet.

MacLean Was One of Devils’ Credibility Builders

MacLean was the leading scorer in Devils’ history for years, only to be overtaken by Patrik Elias in 2009. MacLean holds no grudge, although he was let go by the club just before Christmas in 2010.

Patrik Elias Devils rumor
Patrik Elias – Devils’ all-time points leader (Rich Kane/Icon SMI)

“I was ecstatic to get the chance to be the head coach of the Devils. It didn’t go my way, but you just move on in life,” MacLean said on the Devils’ official website in 2020. “The game’s been great to me and I have no negatives about any of it. There’s always a place in my heart for the Devils.”

Despite the accomplishments, MacLean remains somewhat underrated. His number (15) may not be in the rafters with the five all-time Devils greats (Stevens, Elias, Martin Brodeur, Scott Niedermayer, Ken Daneyko) but the forward undoubtedly has his place as one of the players who were central in Devils’ rise to NHL legitimacy.