The NHL Draft: Curious Facts and Trivia

The NHL has been around longer than most of its other professional sport league counterparts, but its draft was one of the last developed. Since the league’s official development in 1917, the NHL managed without a draft until 1963, almost fifty years later.

The Taro Tsujimoto Rookie Card Honoring an Unreal Player

The once-called Amateur Draft originally included only players between the ages of 17 and 20, who were of amateur standing. With the dissolution of the World Hockey Association (WHA) in 1979, however, the draft rules were changed to be able to include former WHA players in addition to “new recruits.” For this reason it was retitled the “Entry Draft.”

If you were a hockey fan in 1974, you might remember Taro Tsujimoto, the star center of the Tokyo Katanas of the Japan Ice Hockey League (JIHL). He was the eleventh round pick of Buffalo Sabres’ general manager “Punch” Imlach, a man well known for both his bark and his bite.

For those of you thinking, “Wasn’t Tsujimoto bogus?” You’re absolutely right! As the story goes, Imlach was so frustrated with the lengthy draft that year he decided to create the fictional Japanese player in hopes of having some fun at the NHL’s expense. Not knowing any better, the league made the pick official: even The Hockey News claimed it a legitimate pick. It wasn’t until weeks later that Imlach revealed the truth of his pick.

More recently, in 2003, the Florida Panthers attempted to draft Alex Ovechkin, of Russia, but were not allowed. Why? The cut-off date for the NHL draft fell two days before his eighteenth birthday! Allegedly, the Panthers tried to convince the NHL that the extra days involved with it being a leap year should count toward Ovechkin’s age. Incidentally, 2003 was NOT a leap year.

While on the topic of players who didn’t originate from Canada, how many do you suppose were players drafted first, overall into the NHL? Of the forty-six players chosen first overall, eleven were not from Canada. That’s less than a quarter of the players! The eleven are as follows, including draft year and origin:

Brian Lawton, 1983, US
Mike Modano, 1988, US
Mats Sundin, 1989, Sweden
Roman Hamrlik, 1992, Czech Republic
Bryan Berard, 1995, US
Patrik Stefan, 1999, Czech Republic
Rick DiPietro, 2000, US
Ilya Kovalchuk, 2001, Russia
Alexander Ovechkin, 2004, Russia
Erik Johnson, 2006, US
Patrick Kane, 2007, US

Finally, of the forty-six players ever drafted as first overall in the Entry Draft, only two played as goaltender, Rick DiPietro, in 2000 to the New York Islanders and Marc-Andre Fleury to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003. There was only one previous goaltender ever drafted, Michel Plasse of Montreal, to the Canadiens. However, Plasse was drafted during the days of the Amateur Draft and is generally discounted.

Before reading this article, did you know any of these facts? How many other sports can claim such oddities in their own draft histories?

-Dan “The Wisconsin Hockey Fan”

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