Anything can happen at the NHL draft

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:07 PM ET

TORONTO - The NHL draft has had its share of humour, heartbreak and historical highlights. Some examples:

- 1967: In the first amateur draft involving expansion teams, none of the first four selections (Rick Pagnutti of L.A., Steve Rexe of Pittsburgh, California’s Ken Hicks and Minnesota’s Wayne Cheesman) would play an NHL game. Philadelphia’s Serge Bernier, however, had a long career in the NHL and with the WHA and NHL Nordiques.

- 1970: First pick between the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks was decided by a spin of a wheel of fortune. Vancouver had every digit below 10, so when league president Clarence Campbell announced that the spin was a 1, the Canucks were ecstatic. But Buffalo general manager Punch Imlach, wearing the same ‘lucky’ suit from the night the Leafs won the ‘67 Cup, argued the arrow was actually on 11. He was right and forward Gilbert Perreault became a Sabre superstar, while Vancouver took the significantly less talented defenceman Dale Tallon.

- 1974: Imlach created a stir when he announced Buffalo had taken Taro Tsujimoto from the Tokyo Katanas 183rd overall.

The player existed only in Imlach’s fertile imagination. The name translated as `sabre’.

- 1975: The Atlanta Flames were patting themselves on the back for taking Torbjorn Nilsson from Sweden, 192nd overall, believing they were on the cutting edge of the European movement. But they’d mixed him up with Kent Nilsson. Thankfully, the Flames hushed up the error and took the right player a year later at 64th.

- 1979: No draft has yet to match this bumper crop when all 21 first-round picks played at least one NHL game. Leading the class, Ray Bourque, Mike Gartner, Rick Vaive, Michel Goulet and Kevin Lowe. The 22nd pick to lead off Round 2 was another keeper, Blake Wesley.

- 1981: Selected in the third round by the Flyers, First Nations star Barry Tabobondung hurtled the rails at the Montreal Forum to rush to Philly’s table, only to get his foot caught in a folding seat. It took a couple of maintenance men almost an hour to free him.

- 1984: Mario Lemieux, come on down. Or not.

When the No. 1 pick refused to leave his seat because of a contract dispute with the Penguins, the anger in working class Steeltown could be heard all the way to Montreal. But the two sides eventually patched things up. More drama came later when Chicago traded up to take hometown boy Ed Olczyk third and the Habs announced Petr Svoboda fifth and produced the supposedly exiled Czechoslovakian teen from a secret room.

*1985: Hartford scout Dave McNab was getting bugged all morning from someone in the Toronto crowd to draft Randy Burridge. The heckler turned out to be Burridge’s brother, who was proven right in the seventh round when the Whalers’ bitter rivals, the Bruins, chose him. At the same draft, Mark Hunter of the Habs showed up just out of curiosity and got to watch himself get traded to the Blues.

- 1988: After being introduced to No. 1 pick Scott Pearson in 1988, Leaf owner Harold Ballard snapped that the mulleted youngster “better get his (bleeping) hair cut”. The excited Pearson didn’t hear him. Daniel Marois did hear Ballard make the same comment at the table the year before, but at the time, did not understand English.

At the same draft in Montreal, ruffian Link Gaetz of the North Stars was sporting a pair of black eyes.

“Did it playing baseball,” he insisted, though the real story had something to do with a brawl a few days earlier.

- 1991: Eric Lindros went first overall to Quebec, but also stayed glued to his seat, refusing to play in the French-speaking market. The saga dragged into the next draft in Montreal where the Nordiques somehow managed to trade him to both the Rangers and Flyers.

- 1999: In the year when Brian Burke stunned the floor by acquiring the Sedin Twins for Vancouver, the Islanders generated some yucks when western scout Earl Ingarfield announced the team had chosen Nelson Pyatt from the Sudbury Wolves.

Ingarfield was thinking of the ex-NHLer from his era, but meant to say Taylor Pyatt, his 17-year-old son.

Nelson, by then a Thunder Bay fireman, enjoyed his brief return to fame.

“When I heard my name, I said ‘where is my gear?’,” the elder Pyatt said. “I wanted to go down there and sign.”

- 2001: Andy Chiodo was also a victim of mistaken identity. The goalie was announced by the Thrashers as the 135th overall pick. He hugged his family, shook hands with friends and went down the stairs for what he hoped would be an emotional sweater presentation.

But he was intercepted by an Atlanta official, who explained the team registered Colorado College centre Colin Stuart’s name, but announced his by mistake. Chiodo went to the Isles a few minutes later.

- 2003: By now, goalies going first was not a novelty, but Florida Panthers’ boss Rick Dudley traded the top pick to Pittsburgh for Marc-Andre Fleury. He was able to get Nathan Horton, the player he did want, plus Mikael Samuelsson.

Just prior to the 13th pick of that draft, commissioner Gary Bettman announced the passing of Roger Neilson.

- 2009: The Penguins drafted by team bloodlines. They took Philip Samuelsson, son of former defenceman Ulf Samuelsson, and Andy Bathgate, the grandson of the Hall of Famer and a ‘67 charter Pen, as well as Alex Velischek, son of Randy Velischek, who played there in the 1980s.

lance.hornby@sunmedia.ca


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