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Davidson has seen his share of NHL Drafts

From being the No. 5 overall pick to overseeing the Jackets' draft, president of hockey ops looks back

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

John Davidson reported to Montreal for the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft expecting to end up a Boston Bruin.  

The home Canadiens, meanwhile, had other ideas. 

Hockey's most decorated franchise had quite a rivalry with Boston at the time and didn't want to see the standout goalie from the Calgary Centennials -- now the Blue Jackets' president of hockey operations -- end up in the Hub. 

So the Canadiens made a series of trades on draft day, sending the No. 2 overall pick to Atlanta for the No. 5 overall pick, among other considerations. Montreal then dealt the No. 5 overall pick to St. Louis for the No. 8 pick, and it was there that the Blues -- one spot ahead of Boston at No. 6 -- chose Davidson to be their franchise goaltender. 

"I thought I was going to Boston," Davidson remembered, as the Bruins were looking for a young goalie to replace veterans Eddie Johnston (37 years old), Ross Brooks (35) and Jacques Plante (44), who played a combined 69 games the year prior.  

"All the predraft scuttlebutt was I was going to be drafted by the Boston Bruins. Montreal made a trade which allowed St. Louis to get the pick and I went to St. Louis."  

How different would Davidson's life have been had he ended up in Beantown?  

"From A to Z, every single thing," said Davidson, who will oversee a draft that features the No. 5 overall pick -- as well as two more first-rounders -- for the Blue Jackets beginning Friday. "(The draft) was a really interesting experience. It's something you wait and dream about and read about, and boom, there it was. It was cool.  

"I had never been to eastern Canada. I went down to Montreal, and it was outstanding. We went over to the Montreal Forum and things like that. It was great, just great. A hell of an experience." 

But what happened to that No. 8 pick that Montreal acquired in the deal including Davidson? The Canadiens chose Bob Gainey, who would go on to become a Hall of Famer as well as a Montreal captain and legend. 

"Pretty good move," Davidson says now with a laugh. 

Of course, Davidson had a pretty good run himself in the NHL after being chosen by the Blues. He was compared to Hall of Fame Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis netminder Glenn Hall coming out of juniors, where he had two standout seasons with Calgary and set the WCHL record for goals-against average in a season, and it didn't take the big man long to find his spot in the NHL.  

Davidson became the first goaltender ever to jump from juniors to the NHL as a rookie in 1973-74, splitting the Blues starting job with veteran Wayne Stephenson. Davidson went 13-21-5 that first season, posting a 3.08 goals-against average before being injured late in the season against Minnesota. 

"In hindsight, it was great," he said. "I was the first goalie ever to do it out of junior, but maybe some seasoning might have helped a little bit. I had a good first year, too, until I hurt a knee late in the season. That was pretty much the end of the season. I was in the race for rookie of the year, and Denis (Potvin) won it and he certainly should have. He was just terrific." 

Indeed, the thing that sticks out the most to Davidson -- who spent two years with the Blues before being traded to the New York Rangers for eight more seasons before retirement -- all these years later about his draft year are the names that were chosen around him, with many of them becoming teammates, friends and hockey legends.  

Potvin went first overall to the New York Islanders and would go on to become not just the 1974 Calder Trophy winner but a Hall of Famer as a key part of the Isles' four Stanley Cup wins. There were two other Hall of Famers taken in the draft -- Gainey and Lanny MacDonald, who was chosen by Toronto - as well as All-Stars in Tom Lysiak (No. 2 to Atlanta), Dennis Ververgaert (No. 3 to Vancouver), Blaine Stoughton (No. 7 to Pittsburgh), Bob Dailey (No. 9 to Vancouver), Darcy Rota (No. 13 to Chicago), Rick Middleton (No. 14 to the Rangers), Ian Turnbull (No. 15 to Toronto), Eric Vail (No. 21 to Atlanta), Blair MacDonald (No. 86 to Los Angeles) and Norm Barnes (No. 122 to Philadelphia).  

Other notable names drafted included Colin Campbell, the longtime coach and NHL executive who went 27th overall to Pittsburgh; Pat Hickey, a Rangers teammate of Davidson's who went 30th overall; longtime NHL player and coach Dave Lewis, who was taken 33rd by the Islanders; and Bob Gassoff, a teammate of Davidson in St. Louis whom the Blues chose to cap the third round. 

"I ended up playing with Rick Middleton with the Rangers before he got traded to Boston," Davidson remembered as he looked over the draft list from that year. "Pat Hickey, I played with with the Rangers, he was drafted 30th. Colin Campbell was 27th by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is one of my really good friends. It's amazing how all this stuff happens. 

"Dave Lewis, I forgot he was in that draft! Wow. Bob Gassoff was a third-rounder with St. Louis, too. He was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was one tough, tough, guy. Great, great guy. It's just something else with all these names. Holy smokes. I haven't looked at these names in years. 

"One of my dear friends, Lanny MacDonald, was picked right before me. Right now, he is the chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame, I am the chairman of the selection committee for the Hockey Hall of Fame. This is how many years later? It's just wild." 

Davidson has seen plenty change in the draft since he was taken, and the festivities have added more and more pomp and circumstances over the years. It's also become a much more international event as well, as the '73 draft that featured Davidson included 154 Canadian-born players, 14 Americans and zero Europeans.  

Davidson has seen it all develop from the other side the past decade and a half while running organizations in Columbus, St. Louis and New York, but what he went through in his draft year still informs his love and appreciation for the annual event. 

"I still find it a great experience," Davidson said. "The reason you find it as great an experience as it is is because you were there. You know what the butterflies were like. You know what it feels like when a team calls your name.  

"I got drafted by St. Louis, I knew St. Louis because they had been in the finals from that side with Scotty Bowman coaching them and Jacques Plante as the goalie, but I really wasn't sure where St. Louis was on the map. I was just a Western Canadian kid, that's all I knew. But it was a great experience." 

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