In the 1990 NHL entry draft, two teams were looking to draft their goalie of the future. Both the New Jersey Devils and Calgary Flames had carefully scrutinized Trevor Kidd, Martin Brodeur, and Felix Potvin. Their scouting staffs had watched them play and sifted through their statistics, trying to figure out who would be the best at the NHL level. New Jersey sat with the 11th overall pick, Calgary at #20.
On Calgary’s draft board, the scouting staff had Trevor Kidd, the reigning Canadian Major Junior Goaltender of the Year, as the top goaltending prospect. Wanting Kidd, and fearing another team would grab him first, Calgary proposed a swap of first round picks with New Jersey, throwing in a couple of later round choices into the deal.
Lamoriello had sent his scouting staff to look into Kidd and Brodeur as well. The reports he got back from his scouts indicated that Brodeur was the better bet. Gambling that none of the teams in between them would draft a goaltender, Lamoriello agreed to the Calgary trade proposal. Kidd went 11th, and Brodeur fell to the Devils at #20. Potvin went third, taken 31st overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Usually in draft retrospectives, sportswriters look at what each player accomplished over their career and give good grades to teams that drafted players who turned out to be good. By that logic, Calgary blundered horribly by trading up to get Kidd, while New Jersey got a steal in Brodeur. I’m going to approach it from a different angle – my argument is that the three goalies were essentially fungible. Their junior and early pro careers were comparable, and it was primarily the team situation that determined their successes and failures. It is not unreasonable that either Kidd or Potvin, if they had gone to New Jersey, could have emulated Brodeur’s success and even potentially had a Hall of Fame career.
Coming out of juniors, all three goalies were top prospects. They were all very athletic, although with slight variations in style: Kidd relied more on his size, Potvin favoured the butterfly, while Brodeur had a hybrid style. Potvin and Brodeur played in the QMJHL, while Kidd played in the WHL. As 18 and 19 year olds, all 3 had goals against averages of around 4 on middle-of-the-road teams, but were impressive enough to be drafted highly by NHL teams.
In 1990-91, Brodeur had a decent season (.886 save percentage in the high-scoring QMJHL) for St. Hyacinthe. Over in Chicoutimi, Potvin had an outstanding season. He registered a .910 save percentage and a 2.70 GAA for Chicoutimi, which finished 1st overall in the league. The team was a powerhouse, and Potvin likely faced easier shots than average, but his save percentage was very high for his league and his stats were much better than the other goalies on the team. Kidd was traded from Brandon to Spokane, and having finally been given the opportunity to play behind a strong team he helped the Chiefs win the 1991 Memorial Cup.
The next season Brodeur was still in junior. Trevor Kidd spent the year touring with the Canadian National Team. Potvin made the jump to the AHL. He posted an excellent .908 save percentage, much better than his playing partner and future NHLer Damian Rhodes’ .889. All three goalies were also called up during the season to experience a few games at the NHL level.
For the 1992-93 season, the Leafs were ready to give Felix Potvin a serious look. Grant Fuhr was the starter, but he was aging and coming off a poor 1991-92 season. Over the course of the season, Potvin took Fuhr’s job, posting a .910 save percentage, which was the 2nd best in the NHL. Potvin was a Calder Trophy finalist, and played in 21 playoff games as the Leafs went to the Western Conference Finals. With that kind of performance, and playing in the large media market of Toronto, Potvin was quickly becoming an NHL star.
Meanwhile Brodeur and Kidd were both trying to make their mark in the minor leagues. Brodeur played in the AHL with the Utica Devils, alongside fellow 1990 draftee Corey Schwab. The two goalies split the games, and had nearly identical statistics (.884 save % for Brodeur, .883 for Schwab). Trevor Kidd played for the IHL’s Salt Lake Golden Eagles, posting an .887 save percentage while backing up Andrei Trefilov.
Heading into the 1993-94 season, Potvin was recognized as one of the top goalies in the game. He was the undisputed #1 goalie on the Leafs, one publication ranked him as the #3 goalie in hockey, and he would be chosen to play in the mid-season All-Star Game. Kidd and Brodeur both caught on as their team’s backup, Kidd behind Mike Vernon and Brodeur behind Chris Terreri.
To that point in his career, Terreri had been a mediocre goaltender. His career best save percentage was .893, and at the age of 30 there wasn’t much reason to expect a major improvement. The Devils had finished 4th in the division for three years in a row, each time losing in the first playoff round. But something significant happened in 1993-94. The team hired Jacques Lemaire as its new coach, and he implemented a new defensive strategy known as the neutral zone trap. The effects were immediate: Terreri’s save percentage soared to .907. Brodeur was even better, posting a .915 save percentage as the goalies split the games. The Devils took second place in the Atlantic Division with over 100 points. Brodeur became the starter for the playoffs, where the Devils went to overtime in game 7 of the Conference Finals before losing to the Rangers. Brodeur was awarded the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. He had truly arrived in the NHL a most opportune time.
Trevor Kidd’s situation was more difficult. The Flames’ starting goalie was Stanley Cup winner Mike Vernon. Kidd was initially unable to unseat Vernon, although he managed to get into 31 games and post statistics that were comparable to the veteran’s. It was enough to convince Flames management that Kidd was their goalie of the future. At the end of the year Calgary traded Vernon to Detroit, and the starting job was handed over to Kidd.
By 1994, all three goalies had starting jobs on their teams, and had proven themselves at the NHL level. Potvin and Brodeur were on noticeably similar career paths – they broke in with excellent rookie seasons, and experienced initial playoff success. But 1995 was to provide the springboard for one of the goalies from promising to elite. As so often happens, it would not be the goalie with the best performance – it would be the goalie with the best teammates.
Read part 2 here.