The 2014 NHL draft featured the New Jersey Devils making the best out of a bad situation. In his final draft year as New Jersey’s president and general manager, Lou Lamoriello tried to pick the best player for the organization at #30 overall. Five years later, we’re still wondering if John Quennevile was the right choice, or if the Devils should have taken Brendan Lemiuex.
Originally, the Devils were without a pick in the first round, following punishment from the NHL for salary cap circumvention in the Ilya Kovalchuk debacle. The Devils were forced to forfeit one of their first round picks between 2010 and 2014. When the Devils decided not to forfeit their 2013 pick, where the ninth overall selection was traded in front of a Prudential Center crowd to the Vancouver Canucks for Cory Schneider, New Jersey was locked into losing its 2014 first round pick.
We all know what happened that summer though, when Ilya Kovalchuk famously “retired” to return to Russia. The Devils were left in the terrible situation of not only losing their lone remaining superstar, but still without the draft pick they more or less gave up to retain him. Since the pick was meant to be taken away as punishment for signing Kovalchuk, and since Kovalchuk had since left and removed himself from the equation, the NHL had pity on the Devils and gave back the first round pick with multiple strings attached. New Jersey would be forced to pick 30th overall and the pick could not be traded.
The Devils were forced to pick in the spot usually occupied by the Stanley Cup winner in a year they didn’t even make the playoffs, and there was nothing they could do to change that. Considering that they almost had no pick at all, the team was at least grateful. No matter how bad the situation, they were going to make the 30th pick work.
New Jersey’s Two Choices
One name that was thrown around as a potential Devils pick when the order came to number 30 was Brendan Lemiuex, who was then a left wing for the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts and was projected to fall either late in the first round or early in the second. Also drawing interest from Devils fans was the connection he shared with New Jersey. Brendan’s father is Claude Lemieux, four-time Stanley Cup champion, twice with the Devils, and the 1995 recipient of the Conn Smythe award. Aside with the offensive upside, it looked like it was destined that, like father like son, Brendan would find himself playing with the Devils.
Also hovering around the same draft position was Brandon Wheat Kings Center John Quenneville. Since he lacked the connection that Lemiuex had, most Devils fans paid little attention to him and instead thought it was a foregone conclusion that the family lineage of Lemieux’s would continue. If most Devils fans knew anything about John Quenneville, it was limited to the fact he was a distant relative of then highly successful Blackhawks coach Joel Qunneville.
After the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings picked Adrian Kempe, the Devils were officially on the clock. It was a minor surprise, though not a huge shock, when Lamoriello announced the Devils were selecting Quenneville and not Lemieux. Some critics said it was the better choice, and that Devils fans were overvaluing Lemiuex due to the emotional connection to his dad. After all, Quenneville was ranked higher than Lemieux in Central Scouting’s report of that year’s draft picks. It seemed that Lou had made the slightly safer choice between the two. Lemieux would go immediately afterwards to the Buffalo Sabres with the 31st overall pick.
Where Are They Now?
Fast forward five years and Lemieux is currently on his 3rd NHL team. First, he was traded by the Sabres to the Winnipeg Jets in a trade that saw them acquire controversial player Evander Kane. This past season he was sent from Winnipeg to the New York Rangers in a trade that saw the Jets acquire Kevin Hayes. After a cup of coffee stint with Winnipeg in 2017-2018, Hayes played the closest thing he has to full NHL season this past year with 63 games and 12 goals and 5 assists for 17 points.
While those numbers may not be great, or even good for a borderline first round pick if we want to be critical, let’s take a look at John Quenneville. Queneville finally turned pro in 2016-2017 and played parts of the last three seasons with the Devils, though never playing more than 19 games in his various stints. He’s more a stay on the Devils’ AHL team where he’s found considerable success, including a 39 point performance in 37 games with Binghamton this past year. Quenneville also made hockey headlines after a highlight reel goal he scored in the Memorial Cup playoffs with Brandon in 2016.
By now, Devils fans are disappointed that Quennevile hasn’t been able to break through and be a consistent NHL player. Nobody ever expected him to be the next Patrik Elias, but the fact he only has five NHL points in 33 games over the past three years is extremely disappointing. Some blame how the Devils have handled Quenneville, arguing he spends too much time in the AHL and has never gotten solid chance with the NHL. Those cries rang out once again this past season when the Devils dealt with injury after injury to their starting roster.
That argument would have some merit if when Quenneville gets called up to the NHL and he actually produced, but he hasn’t. After three years and multiple opportunities, he should be comfortable enough with the NHL that the excuse of “he hasn’t had a chance” is no longer a crutch he can fall on. Understandably, fans have begun losing their patience as well.
Compare that to Lemiuex. Lemieux may not be putting up head turning numbers, but he’s at least morphed into a full time NHL player, which is more than can be said for Quenneville. One thing working in Quenneville’s favor is that the Devils seem committed enough to him to keep him around, while Lemiuex moves around and has been rendered expendable in multipole situations. Perhaps Lemieux’s NHL tenure is due to the increased chances he’s been getting on a rebuilding Rangers team, but until Quenneville gives people a reason to think otherwise, Lemieux seems like the more successful of the two picks.
For all we know, maybe Quenneville will find his scoring touch this season, make the NHL roster, and show everyone what they’ve been waiting to see. Looking at his past history however, it’s more likely he spends most of his time playing on AHL ice instead. But it could be worse, we could have had no chance to pick anybody in 2014 at all.