Today in Hockey History: June 23

On this date, the Hockey Hall of Fame opened its doors to the greatest player who ever laced up a pair of skates in the National Hockey League. Also, we saw a pair of historic first overall draft picks made on June 23. So let’s begin our daily trip back in time to relive all the best moments.

The Class of 99

The Hockey Hall of Fame announced its newest class for induction on June 23, 1999. The class of ’99 was all about No. 99. The Hall of Fame waived the three-year waiting period and announced that Wayne Gretzky would be inducted that fall, just over two months after playing his final game in the NHL.

Wayne Gretzky #99 of the Edmonton Oilers
There was no waiting period needed for Gretzky. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

When Gretzky retired, he held 62 individual records. He still holds 61 of them (40 regular-season, 15 Stanley Cup playoff, and six All-Star Game records) 22 years later. Some of his more impressive are most regular-season goals (894), most goals, including playoffs (1,1016), most goals in one season (92), most regular-season assists (1,962), most assists, including playoffs (2,222), most assists in one season (163), most points (2,856), most points, including playoffs (3,238) and most points in one season (215).

Veteran referee Andy van Hellemond and Ian Morrison, who was honored as a builder, joined Gretzky in the 1999 induction class.

Historic First Picks

Sunrise, FL hosted the NHL Entry Draft on June 23, 2001, where history was made. Before the draft started, a couple of big trades went down. First, the Ottawa Senators traded center Alexei Yashin to the New York Islanders for defenseman Zdeno Chara, forward Bill Muckalt, and the second overall pick. Also, the Calgary Flames traded forwards Valeri Bure and Jason Wiemer to the Florida Panthers in exchange for center Rob Niedermayer and their second-round draft pick.

Once the draft began, the Atlanta Thrashers used the first overall pick to draft Ilya Kovalchuk. He became the first-ever Russian-born player to be selected number one overall. He scored a total of 328 goals in eight seasons with the Thrashers, including two 52-goal seasons. The Senators used the second pick acquired in the Yashin trade to draft Jason Spezza.

Jason Spezza, left, selected by the Ottawa Senators second overall, Ilya Kovalchuk selected by the Atlanta Thrashers first overall, and Alexander Svitov selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning
Kovalchuk (center) was taken first on this date in 2001. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Tony Gutierrez)

Other memorable picks for the 2001 draft include Stephen Weiss (4th, Panthers), Mikko Koivu (6th, Minnesota Wild), Ales Hemsky (13th, Edmonton Oilers), Derek Roy (32nd, Buffalo Sabres), Mike Cammalleri (49th, Los Angeles Kings), Jason Pominville (55th, Sabres), Tomas Plekanec (71st, Montreal Canadiens) and Craig Anderson (73rd, Chicago Blackhawks).

Among the late-round gems are Patrick Sharp (95th, Philadelphia Flyers), Ray Emery (99th, Senators), Christian Ehrhoff (106th, San Jose Sharks), Kevin Bieksa (151st, Vancouver Canucks), Mike Smith (161st, Dallas Stars), Dennis Seidenberg (172nd, Flyers), Marek Zidlicky (176th, New York Rangers), Jussi Jokinen (192nd, Stars) and Johnny Oduya (221st, Washington Capitals).

The 2017 NHL Entry Draft was held on this date in Chicago, IL. The New Jersey Devils made history when they selected center Nico Hischier with the first overall pick. He became the first player ever born in Switzerland to be taken this high in the draft. In addition, he is the second-highest scoring player of the 2017 draft class so far, with 146 points.

Nico Hischier New Jersey Devils
Hischier is the highest-scoring member of the 2017 draft class, so far. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Some other players selected during the 2017 draft who have already made an impact in the NHL are Nolan Patrick (2nd, Flyers), Miro Heiskanen (3rd, Stars) Cale Makar (4th, Colorado Avalanche), Elias Pettersson (5th, Vancouver Canucks), Casey Middlestadt (8th, Sabres), Nick Suzuki (13th, Vegas Golden Knights), Robert Thomas (20th, St. Louis Blues), Filip Chytil (21st, Rangers), Henri Jokiharju (29th, Blackhawks) and Emil Bernstrom (117th, Columbus Blue Jackets).

Kings Pull Off a Heist

On June 23, 1975, the Kings acquired one of their greatest players in franchise history in a trade with the Detroit Red Wings. They sent forward Dan Maloney and veteran defenseman Terry Harper in exchange for defenseman Bart Crashley and the rights to Marcel Dionne, who they quickly signed to a new contract.

Dionne went on to play nearly 12 seasons with the Kings, scoring 550 goals and a franchise-high 1,307 points. He had six seasons of at least 50 goals, including a career-high 59 in the 1978-79 season. He won the Art Ross Trophy following the 1979-80 season for leading the NHL with 137 points. Maloney scored 56 goals and 137 points in 177 games for the Red Wings while Harper played four seasons on the Detroit defense.

Odds & Ends

The Flyers named Terry Murray as their new head coach on June 23, 1994, replacing Terry Simpson and becoming the 10th head coach in team history. He went 118-64-30 over his three seasons behind the bench, but he was fired shortly after taking the Flyers to the 1997 Stanley Cup Final.

The Thrashers named Don Waddell, the former assistant general of the Red Wings, their first general manager on June 23, 1998. He served in this role the entire time the Thrashers played in Atlanta. When the team was sold and relocated to Winnipeg, he did not make the move with the team. Some of his best draft picks in Atlanta include Dany Heatley, Kovalchuk, Bryan Little, Zach Bogosian, and Evander Kane.

Don Waddell Hurricanes
Waddell became the Thrashers’ general manager on this date in 1998. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The NHL Expansion Draft was held in Calgary on June 23, 2000, to fill out the rosters of the Blue Jackets and Wild. 26 of the 28 teams were allowed to protect either a goaltender, five defensemen, and nine forwards or two goaltenders, three defensemen, and seven forwards. The entire rosters of the Thrashers and Nashville Predators were protected as they had both only been in the league for two seasons.

Per usual, in an expansion draft, goaltenders were selected first, with each team drafting three. The Wild drafted Mike Vernon but then traded him to the Calgary Flames for the rights to center Dan Cavanaugh and an eighth-round pick. Some of Minnesota’s notable picks included Sean O’Donnell, Curtis Leschyshyn, Jim Dowd, and Joe Juneau. Columbus landed players like Dwayne Roloson, Jamie Pushor, Lyle Odelein, Mathieu Scheider, Dallas Drake and Kevin Dineen.

On June 23, 2003, the Boston Bruins named Mike Sullivan as their new head coach, replacing Mike O’Connell, who had stepped in after firing Robbie Ftorek in March 2003.

Mike Sullivan
Sullivan got his first NHL head coaching job on this date in 2003. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

He only lasted two seasons with the Bruins before being let go after the 2005-06 season. Sullivan did not get another head coaching job until he was hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2015-16 season and led them to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles.

On June 23, 2021, long-time St. Louis Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson announced his retirement in an essay published on the Blues’ website. He was selected all the way down in the seventh round by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2007 and was acquired by St. Louis in 2014, a franchise he spent his final seven seasons with. He finished his career with 30 goals and 138 points in 629 games, along with an impressive plus-55 in the plus/minus column. He also won a Stanley Cup with them in 2019, a series in which he scored the overtime winner in Game 2.

Happy Birthday to You

There are 18 current and former NHL players who share a birthday on June 23. The most notable among the group are Larry Playfair (64), Felix Potvin (51), Brooks Laich (39), Jordan Nolan (33), Charles Hudon (28), Austin Wagner (25), Lawson Crouse (25), David Farrance (23), as well as the late Reg Noble, Hal Laycoe, Gaye Stewart and Derek Boogaard.

*Originally constructed by Greg Boysen and updated by Matthew Zator

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