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Caps Draft History: 1979 Entry Draft

The Caps made only five picks in 1979, but all five players eventually played in the NHL.

by Washington Capitals @Capitals /

The 1979 Entry Draft marked the first time the process was termed "Entry Draft." (Prior to 1979, it was actually called an Amateur Draft.) The NHL and WHA had finally agreed to merge after seven seasons of direct competition for talent, and the infusion of underaged players with pro (WHA) experience made the 1979 Entry Draft a general manager's candy store.

The Caps made only five picks in 1979, but all five players eventually played in the NHL. Washington struck gold with its top pick while the other four were journeymen at best. With the fourth overall pick, the Caps took 19-year-old winger Mike Gartner. Gartner had scored 27 goals with the Cincinnati Stingers as a WHA rookie in 1978-79. He scored 36 goals in his first season with Washington, the first of 15 straight seasons with 30 or more goals. Gartner went on to become one of only five NHL players to score more than 700 goals. He is second on the Capitals' all-time franchise list with 397 goals. Gartner was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.

Of the Caps' four remaining picks, defenseman Greg Theberge had the most successful NHL career. He appeared in 153 games over parts of five NHL seasons, all with the Caps.

The first round of the 1979 Entry Draft produced many players who would star or serve as steady support players in the league for the next decade and beyond: Rob Ramage, Mike Foligno, Gartner, Rick Vaive, Craig Hartsburg, Keith Brown, Raymond Bourque, Laurie Boschman, Mike Ramsey, Paul Reinhart, Brian Propp, Brad McCrimmon, Jay Wells, Duane Sutter, Michel Goulet and Kevin Lowe.

The remainder of the draft was also loaded with pleasant surprises and stellar picks. The Edmonton Oilers, who selected Lowe with the last pick of the first round, grabbed Mark Messier (48th overall pick) and Glenn Anderson (69th) with their next two picks. Combine that trio with Wayne Gretzky, sprinkle in a Jari Kurri, a Paul Coffey and a Grant Fuhr and presto, you have a dynasty.

Among other 1979 draftees who went on to play in more than 900 NHL contests: Brent Ashton (26th), Mark Hardy (30th), Dave Christian (40th), Dale Hunter (41st), Neal Broten (42nd), Guy Carbonneau (44th), John Ogrodnick (66th), Thomas Steen (103rd) and Doug Crossman (112th). Former Caps assistant coach Tim Hunter was taken by the Atlanta Flames with the 54th overall pick. Hunter played in 815 NHL games.

Hindsight is 20/20: Obviously, the Caps could have come away from this draft with Gartner, Messier and Anderson but every club in the league passed on the latter two at least once. Dirk Graham was taken by Vancouver with the pick after Tookey; he played in 772 NHL games and was a solid character player. The Blackhawks took Doug Crossman just three picks after the Caps selected Theberge. Crossman had a 914-game NHL career as a blueliner.

Gartner, Messier, Anderson, Graham and Crossman. Hindsight may be 20/20, but it also illustrates just how hard it is to make consistently solid draft picks and what a crapshoot the process actually is.



Mike Gartner
Played 10 seasons with Caps, was team's all-time leading scorer (789) until surpassed by Peter Bondra late in 2002-03 season.


Errol Rausse
Seven goals in 31 games with Caps. Played 11 seasons as a pro in Italy.


Harvie Pocza
Pro career lasted four seasons; NHL career lasted three games.


Tim Tookey
Played 106 NHL games for five different teams over seven seasons.


Greg Theberge
Spent five seasons with Caps; eight goals and 36 points in 1982-83.

Full Draft Results Here

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