50 Greatest New Jersey Devils Players of All Time: Numbers 50-41

Damon Severson #28 and Jesper Bratt #63 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Damon Severson #28 and Jesper Bratt #63 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /
8 of 11
New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils – Valeri Zelepukin (Mandatory Credit: Rick Stewart Getty Images) /

Greatest New Jersey Devils player of all time: 44. Valeri Zelepukin

Where could we possibly rank Valeri Zelepukin? If a freak practice injury never happens, Zelepukin could be in the same breath as the players in the top ten on this list. Instead, he’s in the 40s. He was incredibly crucial to the Devils’ run in 1994 that ended in overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Then, in 1995, an injury cost him all but four regular-season games. He returned for 18 games in the postseason for the Devils’ run to the Stanley Cup, but his main contribution was a series-clinching goal against the Boston Bruins in the first round.

Let’s stop focusing on the negative. There were a lot of positives in Zelepukin’s short Devils career. He had 64 points in his first full season. This was a rising Devils team, and a 24-year-old Zelepukin looked to be hitting his stride at the perfect time. He hit 57 points the next season, but he increased his goal numbers to 26. Zelepukin was a go-to scorer for a team that prided itself on defense. The team couldn’t win 0-0.

The one moment people will remember Zelepukin for is his goal against the Rangers. It could have been one of the most epic goals in history, but overtime changed the narrative. Remember when Zach Parise scored with seconds left for Team USA? Maybe not, because Sidney Crosby scored the “Golden Goal.” This is the same thing, only it’s the NHL, not the Olympics.

There were less than ten seconds left. Zelepukin went to the front of the net. A desperate Claude Lemieux threw the puck to the front of the net, and Zelepukin put it past Mike Richter. 7.7 seconds left, and the Devils had new life. This is Zelepukin’s legacy. It’s a good one at that, but we’ll always ask what if.