Behind the Scenes
When the National Hockey League holds its 40th annual Entry Draft on June 21-22, at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville, there will be hundreds of eligible players and their parents in attendance, joined by thousands of Predators fans and a couple thousand more team devotees from far-flung NHL cities who make the Draft an annual pilgrimage.
Three North American networks -- ESPN2, TSN and RDS -- will broadcast the first three rounds on Saturday, June 21, from 1-4 p.m. ET.
Why not? The Draft combines many of the best things in life: Youth, hope, anticipation, big money and drama.
Who will be the first pick and what will that be worth in the player's first contract?
Will it be Eric Staal, the 6-foot-3, 182-pound center of the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League? Or will it be Marc-Andre Fleury of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League who played so well for Canada at the World Junior Championships? Perhaps the first pick will be a European: Russian left wing Nikolai Zherdev or Czech goalie Jakub Cech.
Florida Panthers fans will be abuzz with rumors that the team will either take one of these players or trade the No. 1 overall pick for a package of current NHL players, prospects and draft picks. Hockey beat reporters will be hounding their general managers to keep abreast of possible Draft-related trades, like the blockbusters Mike Milbury pulled off in 2001 when he acquired Alexei Yashin and Michael Peca.
It wasn't always this way.
In 1963, when Garry Monahan learned he had become the first player ever drafted by the NHL, his response was, "Into what? The Army? I'm 16 and in the ninth grade." When told, no, the Montreal Canadiens had drafted him to play hockey, his next response was; "You sure you're not looking for my older brother, Pat?"
"I didn't know there was a Draft. There was no publicity," Monahan recalled. "Montreal GM Sammy Pollock came to my house and explained what was going on and offered me a choice of playing for the Montreal Jr. Canadiens or the Peterborough Petes, two junior teams they controlled. I chose Peterborough because it was closer to home. My first coach was Roger Bedard who served the Canadiens in many roles for a long time."
NHL President Clarence Campbell instituted the Draft in 1963 in response to complaints that the talent distribution system was unfair. The Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings had won all but one of the Stanley Cups since 1941, partly due to having territorial rights to players developed in their areas.
"I had enrolled in St. Michaels School in Toronto because it was near my home, my Dad went there and my brother, Pat, was already there," Monahan said. "Many of the Maple Leafs' great players went to St. Mike's, guys like the Mahovoliches, Dave Keon and Cesar Maniago. I went on my own accord and wasn't sponsored by the Maple Leafs. That's why I was eligible for the Draft. Bobby Orr, two years younger than me, was playing for the Oshawa Generals then and had been signed to an NHL contract since he was 14! I guess if there had been no Draft I probably would have filtered up through the Maple Leafs' system. Instead, I went with the Canadiens. I thought the really big change came a few years later when the NHL teams were forced to give up their junior-hockey affiliates."
Every NHL team has a scouting department employing observers all over North America and Europe. They're highly competitive and very secretive. With thousands of players all over the world playing in thousands of games, it would be impossible for a team to try to see every potential Draftee a sufficient number of times to form an opinion of his skills.
For that reason, the NHL created the Central Scouting Service prior to the 1975-76. It operates under the auspices of NHL Senior Vice President Jim Gregory and Director Frank Bonello. The department consists of two staff at the NHL offices in Toronto, plus nine full-time scouts, and six part-time scouts throughout North America. To report on prospects playing in Europe, the NHL employs the services of Goran Stubb and his staff of five scouts at European Scouting Services, based in Finland. All twenty-two scouts reporting for Central Scouting will combine to see approximately 3,000 games this season.
Bonello has the perfect background for the job. He was a member of the Whitby Dunlops that won the 1957 Allan Cup along with Harry Sinden who went on to be Boston Bruins GM; future Detroit Red Wings goalie Roy Edwards and future Maple Leafs forward Sid Smith.
He was managing the youth hockey Knob Hill Farms team, sponsored by Steve Stavro, who went on to become chairman of the Maple Leafs. Gregory was coaching a high-school team. Gregory hired Bonello to coach the Neil McNeil Junior "B" team and when Gregory became GM of the Maple Leafs, he hired Bonello to coach and then manage the Toronto Marlboro's junior team. Bonello spent 18 years there and it was the quality of that organization that persuaded Gordie Howe to place his sons, Marty and Mark, with the team, where they won the 1972 Memorial Cup.