New Jersey didn't even have a team nickname when they drafted Rocky Trottier in the first round of the 1982 NHL Draft. Fresh off of their relocation from Colorado, the team formerly known as the Rockies hadn't decided on a new name just yet. But they had decided that, with the 8th overall pick, Trottier was the player they wanted to be the face of their new franchise. And that's exactly what he became, though not in ways that either side had ever hoped.
Rocky Trottier - yes he is the brother of Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier - was an 18 year old center from Saskatchewan who was supposed to be a can't miss prospect. Except he did miss. And since the New Jersey Devils would ultimately struggle as a franchise for much of the 1980s, he became a symbol of the lack of success.
Trottier would go on to play just 38 NHL games - all with the Devils.
Bert Marshall, a former New York Islanders defenseman, was the man who made the draft pick. He even admits now that he never actually watched Rocky Trottier before he picked him. Hey, this was the days before the internet, mass sharing of scouting resources and even excessive video. Plus Trottier missed much of his draft year with a knee injury.
"We had other guys that had seen him," said Marshall. "But somebody has to hold the hammer and it was me. I had a lot to say because I played with his older brother. So I was willing to go with the bloodlines. Unfortunately he was not quite in that same ballpark."
Not that we should be too hard on Marshall. He also drafted Ken Daneyko 18th and Pat Verbeek 43rd in the same draft and they turned out pretty well. But it's funny how he was drafted largely because of bloodlines, but those same bloodlines placed a lot of extra pressure on him.
"That first year I think the expectations were to have a face. And with my last name and Bryan being real close (on Long Island), they looked at that, too. There were a lot of expectations, but it was very understandable," said Rocky.
"I think some expectations are ridiculous," Bryan Trottier said. "You want to be your own player. I hope Rocky was comfortable with that. Talking to him later, he maybe underachieved in some areas and is still kicking himself in the butt for it. But overall, he wanted to be his own player. He didn’t want to be like Bryan."
Rocky doesn't blame the Devils or circumstances as for why he never panned out in the NHL.
"The one thing I probably lacked and hurt me and kept me from sticking with the Devils at the time was the mental prep of the game and playing night in and night out. It takes a little while to (adjust) to that. I wasn’t quite there yet," he said.
"Doing that night in and night out is what the good players do. That was probably more on me than anyone else. I probably had to prepare a little better. The minor leagues did that for me. After a few years down there I kind of knew where I was at, but by then it was a little too late.
In addition to being the team's first ever draft pick, Rocky Trottier is the answer to another New Jersey trivia question. On December 17th, 1984 he scored on the first penalty shot in Devils history. He beat Andy Moog of the Edmonton Oilers, and he did it reportedly with a borrowed stick.
After his career in the minor leagues Rocky Trottier settled in Indianapolis and ran hockey schools and clinics.