Saturday, June 27, 2009

WHA Draft Oddities

I’ve been looking at some WHA drafts recently. In 1974, both the WHA and the NHL held “secret” drafts to hide picks from each other. The NHL was tired of the WHA poaching NHL draft picks so they held the draft three days earlier than the WHA and via telephone. The plan didn’t quite work as the phone drafting took far too much time and ended up spreading out over three days. Buffalo GM Punch Imlach was so frustrated by the proceedings, he made a claim for a fake player from Japan. Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas was selected by the Sabres with the 183rd pick. Tsujimoto was the name of an auto parts store one of the Sabres scouts occasionally drove past, and “Katana” meant “Sabre” in Japanese.

The WHA’s Toronto Toros took part in only four WHA drafts, yet their final draft in 1976 could well be described as better than anything their cousins the Toronto Maple Leafs have ever produced. Sure, not one of their picks that year ended up playing for the franchise even though the team shifted to Birmingham, Alabama that off season. The talent alone selected that year is better than anything the Maple Leafs have come up with in any single year. In 1976 the Toros selected among their first eight picks Kent Nilsson, Peter Lee, Paul Gardner, Mike McEwen and Mike Kitchen. These five players would go on to play 2621 games in the NHL, scoring 1811 points in the process. The best the Leafs can do in the draft era would have to be 1970 when they selected Darryl Sittler, Errol Thompson, Gerry O’Flaherty and Ron Low in net. The three skaters played 2133 games producing 1708 points, mainly on the back of Sittler. Ron Low would play 382 serviceable games in the NHL. The only other year that could be considered as closely successful for the Leafs is 1987 when they drafted Luke Richardson, Daniel Marois, John McIntyre, Joe Sacco, Mike Eastwood and Damian Rhodes with their first six selections. The five skaters would play 3948 NHL games, yet tallied a mere 945 points. Rhodes would play 309 games in net as well. It’s safe to say the Toros 1976 draft is better in quality than anything the Leafs have EVER produced.

One other draft year to look at is the 1974 Minnesota Fighting Saints. In this draft they selected some of the great names in hockey. They would select Dave Hanson, Steve Carlson and Jack Carlson, two of which would go on to star in the movie Slapshot the following year. Along with younger brother Jeff Carlson, Steve and Jack were slated to play the brothers in the movie. When Jack was called up to Edmonton just prior to shooting of the film, Dave Hanson stepped in to take his place. The Saints first pick in 1974 was Bruce Boudreau who would also have a bit part in the film playing one of the green shirted Hyannisport Presidents. That’s not all for Minnesota that year. Their third pick was William “Buzz” Schneider who would go on six years later to help lead the US to Olympic gold. Perhaps the best player they would select that year was in the 14th round when they took Reed Larson who would go on to star with the Red Wings for years. Interestingly, the year before with their first two picks the Saints selected Bob Gainey and Rick Middleton, neither of whom would spend a second in the WHA.

The Indianapolis Racers had a real “wishful thinking” draft in 1977 when the took Doug Wilson, Dale McCourt and one Mike Bossy with the 44th pick. All three would turn pro that winter, in the NHL of course.
Some other “what if “ picks in WHA draft history include Winnipeg selecting Danny Gare in 1974, the Oilers taking Bernie Federko and Brian Sutter in 1976 and Clark Gilles in 1974 and the Cincinnati Stingers taking Tiger Williams and Mike Palmateer in 1974.

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