The differences between the NHL draft today, and the NHL draft as it was when introduced in 1963, are enormous. As you might imagine, so much has changed in over 50 years that the former no longer bears anything resembling the latter.
Jim Gregory, who is in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder category, once explained how it was that the NHL added a draft in the first place:
“The original idea for the entry draft came from Stafford Smythe … [Among] the owners there was this feeling that Montreal and Toronto were getting all of the good players and the other teams were having a heck of a time signing anybody.”
Before the draft, teams were going out and sponsoring both amateur players and amateur teams in what was something of a wide-open free-for-all. Jean Beliveau was aggressively pursued by the Montreal Canadiens but he wasn’t interested, preferring instead to play for the Quebec Aces of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. In an unprecedented move, Montreal bought the Quebec league outright and flipped it from an amateur league to a pro league. Since they already owned the rights to Beliveau, when they turned that league pro, they turned Beliveau pro, and just added the reluctant future legend to their roster.
Scouts for almost all six teams discovered Bobby Orr when he was 12 years old and dominating a bantam tournament in Gananoque, Ontario. In an effort to land Orr, the Boston Bruins subsidized the local hockey club, and two years later, at 14, Orr signed with Boston.
In this respect, not a lot has changed, except it is no longer teams that pursue players with potential who are just entering their teens, but player agents. As agent Scott Norton told me a few years ago, “If you’re not talking to them when they’re 13 or 14 odds are you’re not going to represent the top talent.”
With that behind us, some NHL Draft trivia:
The First Ever
The first player ever taken in an NHL draft was Garry Monahan in 1963. Picked by the Canadiens, he spent the next three years playing for the Peterborough Petes of the OHA before debuting with Montreal in 1967. He bounced between Montreal and the minors for two seasons before being traded to Detroit. Monahan played 748 NHL games, mostly in Toronto and Vancouver. In 1979 he made the unusual decision to play pro hockey in Japan, spending three seasons with Seibu-Tetsudo before retiring.
The Second Ever
The second player ever taken was Pete Mahovlich, picked by Detroit after Montreal picked Monahan. When Montreal traded Monahan to Detroit in 1969, they got Mahovlich in return.
The Year No One Wanted A Draft
The talent pool for the 1965 NHL amateur draft was so lousy that just 11 players were selected. The Bruins had the first overall pick but decided to defer it for the next draft, while the Maple Leafs opted out altogether.
When The Draft Came Out From Hiding
The 1980 draft was the first publicly conducted draft. Prior to 1980 the NHL conducted the draft by conference call, and secrecy was the order of the day. In 1980, with the threat of the World Hockey Association gone, the NHL held the draft at the Montreal Forum in front of an estimated 2,500 fans.
The ‘Draft That Almost Was’ in St. Louis
Complicated ownership issues prevented the St. Louis Blues from taking part in the 1983 draft. Although they didn’t have a pick until the third round, they still lost out on 10 draft picks. Players who were still available when St. Louis would have begun drafting included Esa Tikkanen, Petr Klima, Kevin Stevens, Rick Tocchet, Uwe Krupp, and some guy named Dominik Hasek.
The Draft Catches Up to Technology
In 1984, the Entry Draft was broadcast on television for the first time– allowing Mario Lemieux to refuse to put on the Penguins jersey for the biggest draft audience to date. (The look on his face is classic)
Central Scouting Goes Public, Sort Of
For the first time, NHL Central Scouting made information about their top rated prospects public in 1985, although it was limited to biographical information, and did not include their ratings. Central Scouting itself was created under the direction of legendary scout Jack Button in the mid- 1970s.
We will present more draft trivia as the NHL Entry Draft, set for June 26-27 in Sunrise Fl, approaches.