Tuesday, July 26, 2011

17 year old Gretzky almost played in Sweden?

"At the moment, I would consider it very unlikely that I play four more years of junior hockey before turning pro. The NHL rules now say I can't be drafted before then, but if and when I'm ready for the pros I want to be sure I can go." This was a 16 year old Wayne Gretzky, quoted in the Jan. 3, 1978 Montreal Gazette.

Gretzky stated himself that he figured he'd need only one more year of junior hockey. "to grow physically and learn a little more about hockey. He added "But after that I don't know what will be left to learn. By then I would have a reputation and I think I would be a sitting duck for other players out to make a reputation for themselves at my expense. I do't want that to happen. There's just too much chance an injury could finish me off before I ever get a chance at the pros."

In 1978 the NHL draft eligible age was 20 years, so there really were few options for an 18 year old player. He could follow other underagers Mark Napier, Wayne Dillon, John Tonelli and Ken Linseman to the WHA, but there was apparently another option... Sweden.

Gretzky figured Sweden, if all else fails, could provide the next-best solution of what to do at the age of 18 or 19. "I could just go over there and play with one of their major-league teams for a couple of years. The risk of injury wouldn't be so great and it would be a good learning experience for my hockey skills. I could play over there for two years and then come back to the NHL when I was eligible."

Just imagine if Gretzky had went to play the 78/79 and 79/80 seasons for Farjestads with and against the likes of Hakan Loob, Thomas Steen and Mats Naslund. Of course, he did opt for the WHA route one year sooner than even he expected, and the NHL eentually instituted the under-age draft allowing 18 year olds to play.

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