After their 38-36-8 (84 points) finish, the New Jersey Devils earned the No. 11 overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. The last time the Devils owned that slot was 1991. It was such an impressive First Round for the Devils, that it almost canceled out the rest of their selections that year.
At No. 3, New Jersey selected Hall of Fame defenceman Scott Niedermayer, from the Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. All Niedermayer did was win four Stanley Cup titles, including three with the Devils. In addition to having his No. 27 retired with the Devils, Niedermayer also severed as team captain and is the only blueliner in franchise history to earn the Norris Trophy.
If not for Niedermayer, the Devils still would’ve had a solid First Round. Which brings me back to that No. 11 overall selection. With that draft choice, New Jersey selected left-wing Brian Rolston, from Detroit Compuware of the NAHL.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) May 2, 2016
Before joining the Devils, Rolston spent two years playing college hockey with Lake Superior State University, in the CCHA. In his second season there, Rolston led the squad with 33 goals, 31 helpers and 64 points. From there, Rolston was a member of the last amateur USA Olympic hockey team in 1994, at Lillehammer, Norway, along with future Devils teammate and goalie Mike Dunham. Rolston would represent team USA on three occasions, including the Silver Medal winning squad in 2002.
Following the Olympics, Rolston joined the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League, recording ten points in 17 games and three more across five Calder Cup playoff contests against the Portland Pirates in 1994. After a contractual squabble allowed him to play, Rolston rejoined Albany during the lockout, posting 20 points in 18 games.
When the lockout ended, Rolston joined New Jersey for the remainder of the 1995 campaign. Playing in 40 games, Rolston posted 18 points. During the Stanley Cup playoffs, the rookie Rolston netted two goals in the Eastern Conference Finals, against the Philadelphia Flyers. Rolston and the Devils would go on to win the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history that season.
In addition to his rocket shot, Rolston was known for his defensive acumen. Rolston netted five short-handed goals in 1998-99. The short-handed tallies were good enough for a single season franchise best, until John Madden netted six in 1999-00.
During his first time around with the Devils, from 1994-95 to 1999-00, Rolston netted 81 goals in the regular season and eight more in the postseason. In his final full season with New Jersey, Rolston netted to that point a career best 24 markers. However, after consecutive First Round playoff exits and looking for a veteran piece to put them over the top, New Jersey dealt Rolston to the Colorado Avalanche for Claude Lemieux.
The trade helped the Devils secure a second Stanley Cup title and it also allowed Rolston’s career to blossom. Following 50 games with the Avalanche, Rolston was traded again that season to the Boston Bruins, in the Ray Bourque deal.
Out from under the Devils defensive system, Rolston posted four double-digit goal campaigns across parts of five seasons with the B’s. Under his former Albany and New Jersey head coach Robbie Ftorek in 2001-02, Rolston posted 31 goals, 62 points and nine short-handed goals with Boston.
Moving on from Boston, Rolston signed a free agent deal with the Minnesota Wild in 2005, reuniting with another former New Jersey head coach, Jacques Lemaire. It was during that stretch where Rolston would play some of his best hockey. In all three seasons with the Wild, Rolston posted 30 plus goals, including a career best 34 in 2005-06. Rolston was named a Western Conference All-Star in 2006-07.
After becoming a free agent again, Rolston returned to New Jersey in 2008. Although the reunion wasn’t quite what Rolston or the Devils envisioned, he did post 49 goals across three seasons.
Following what was a lost season for both in 2010-11, New Jersey traded Rolston to the New York Islanders. After 49 games with the Isles in 2011-12, Rolston was traded to the B’s, playing 21 games and helping them reach the postseason.
On the whole Rolston was a solid all around star player. Across 17 seasons, Rolston played in 1,256 games, netting 342 goals, dishing out 419 assists and totaling 761 points. In the postseason, Rolston potted 20 goals across 77 games.
Whomever the Devils draft at No. 11 this year, will have a lot to live up to if they want to be the next Brian Rolston.
Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.