Tracers: The First Universal Draft

Nowadays, NHL teams use measured language for everything. It was probably inevitable that prepared releases and orchestrated media conferences would win the day, but 40 years ago the quotes from NHL team employees were a lot more fun. Example: the 1969 Amateur Draft–the first universal draft.

When the sponsorship era of NHL history ended (for the most part with 1948 born players) expansion teams had a full swing at the best available amateurs. 1969 saw a large number of exceptional talents available, and the Montreal Canadiens plucked the two best players from Quebec as part of a special rule that gave them the first two selections in any draft should a player or two of high quality from that province have a French Canadian father (hey, I’m not making this up!).

With that advantage, Montreal scored wingers Reggie Houle and Marc Tardif before any other team had a chance to talk out loud. Wayne Overland of the Edmonton Journal reported the story on June 12, 1969 in an article entitled"Why Canadiens Dominate the NHL."

Among the quotes that I found to be most interesting:

  • Del Wilson, Montreal’s director of player personnel: "We got 10 of our top 33. We were hoping to fluke out and get maybe 4."
  • Again Wilson: "(Bobby) Clarke would have been Los Angeles’ best player. He could be Philadelphia’s leading scorer this year. Philadelphia was lucky to get him. They don’t deserve it."
  • Wilson again: "Clarke checks so well the other team can’t get out of its own end when he’s on the ice. He plays 45 minutes a game, how strong is that?" (this was in response to critical comments about Clarke’s checking ability and as a diabetic he might not be strong enough).

Clarke did indeed have a tremendous career and Wilson’s quotes stand up over time. Wouldn’t the NHL draft be more entertaining if (say) the Detroit Red Wings openly questioned selections or the commentators on tsn’s broadcasts were former scouts with some strong opinions?

tsn does a great job on just about everything they do, but I can’t help but feel it might be an idea to give Pierre McGuire time off around the draft. Hire a crusty old scout with a potty mouth and no fear. Hire a modern Del Wilson.

Ratings would skyrocket.