Winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal for every National Hockey League player, but being selected in the NHL Draft is the first dream that comes true en route to that unforgettable achievement. Such a selection is a tremendous honor, and it’s the first sign that a player has a chance to make it to the greatest hockey league in the world.
But the Draft has not always been the main way that players arrived on the scene. In fact, the original draft that was held in 1963, then called the “NHL Amateur Draft,” held the position that today’s free agency holds in one sense: it produced some NHL players, but was not the primary method of procuring the future stars of the world’s fastest game.
For instance, if the San Jose Sharks were in business back in the 1960’s as one of the “Original Six,” the media guide would not have had the following phrase next to Logan Couture’s name: “Selected by San Jose in the NHL Draft (1st round, 9th overall).” Instead, the more likely phrase would have been, “Product of San Jose Sharks organization.”
Now, even though one could use that phrase about many current Sharks, it had a slightly different meaning back in those halcyon years. By the mid-1940’s, NHL clubs were directly subsidizing what are now called “major junior” teams, and had either outright ownership or working agreements with affiliated American Hockey League clubs, and that gave them exclusive playing rights for the players who played on these teams and who had signed a “C-Form” commitment. Once a player signed such a form, he became an apprentice in the trade of professional hockey, and his entire existence was in the control of the NHL team that had signed him.
Transporting a modern player into that era, a young Logan Couture would have likely signed a C-Form after being watched as a bantam and perhaps a midget by Sharks super-scouts. The Sharks would have subsidized a team in, say, the Ontario Hockey League, and Logan would have automatically become property of that club. Invited to an NHL training camp, he would have likely progressed through a team’s system, first to the American Hockey League, and then to the Sharks.
As is the case today, the rare exception would jump directly to the NHL, and that’s essentially how it all happened for one of the greatest players of all time, Bobby Orr. Signed to a commitment by scout Wren Blair and the Boston Bruins when he was just 14 years of age, Orr played junior hockey with the Oshawa Generals, the Bruins-subsidized organization in the OHL. Then, at 18, in 1966-67, he cracked the Bruins roster, and the rest was history.
While this system certainly vacuumed up most of the burgeoning young talent and provided them a competitive place to play, there were always those who developed later or whom the scouts missed. The NHL Amateur Draft was developed as a way to distribute those talented players around the League.
So it was on a quiet summer day in 1963, at a non-public event at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, that the first NHL Amateur Draft was conducted. The first player ever selected was Garry Monahan, a winger who wound up playing in 748 NHL games for Montreal, Detroit, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Toronto.
After the 1969-70 season, the last vestiges of this system slipped into the modern format of what is now the NHL Draft, which today is a hugely public event that is conducted with much pomp and circumstance over two days, including prime national television coverage. It is in this system that the San Jose Sharks will select their future stars, and in which they possess three picks in the top 60.
The Sharks will select 20th this year, based on their ending position in the standings. Over the course of their history, they have selected with the 20th pick only once. It was 2001, at what is now known as the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida, and the Sharks stepped to the podium to select center Marcel Goc.
Goc, of course, would have a memorable first run in the NHL during the 2004 Stanley Cup playoffs. After spending a full season in the AHL with the Cleveland Barons, he found himself in the lineup for his first NHL game of any kind in Game 5 of the first round against St. Louis, and he picked up an assist on the series-winning goal by Mark Smith. Then, in round two against Colorado, he scored his first-ever NHL goal of any kind in Game 6, on a play that turned out to be the series-winning goal.
|Brent Burns at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft in Nashville, TN. (getty images) |
Some other notable 20th-overall selections in the history of the NHL Draft include Larry Robinson (Montreal, 1971), Brian Sutter (St. Louis, 1976), Michel Goulet (Quebec, 1979), Martin Brodeur (New Jersey, 1990), Scott Parker (Colorado, 1998), Brent Burns (Minnesota, 2003), Travis Zajac (New Jersey, 2004), and Michael Del Zotto (N.Y. Rangers, 2008).
Who could the Sharks get with the 51st and 53rd selections? Historically speaking, here are a few names for you: Butch Goring (LA, 51st, 1969), Nicklas Lidstrom (DET, 53rd, 1989), Patrick Elias (NJ, 51st, 1994), David Booth (FLA, 53rd, 2004), Mason Raymond (VAN, 51st, 2005), and Derek Stepan (NYR, 51st, 2008), to name a few.
But in every draft, there is always the hidden gem who turns up, and these players are prime examples of that in Sharks history: Marcus Ragnarsson (99th, 1992), Alexander Korolyuk (141st, 1994), Evgeni Nabokov (219th, 1994), Vesa Toskala (90th, 1995), Miikka Kiprusoff (116th, 1995), Matt Bradley (102nd, 1996), Mark Smith (219th, 1997), Mikael Samuelsson (145th, 1998), Douglas Murray (241st, 1999), Ryane Clowe (175th, 2001), Joe Pavelski (205th, 2003), Alex Stalock (112th, 2005), Justin Braun (201st, 2007), Tommy Wingels (177th, 2008), and Jason Demers (186th, 2008).
Beyond that, there are the free agent players who are also scouted, signed, and developed alongside all those who had the “head start” of being selected in the draft. An outstanding example is Andrew Desjardins, who played in the OHL for four years and was neither drafted, nor signed immediately, by an NHL team. His path to the League went through Laredo, Texas (CHL), Phoenix, Arizona (ECHL), and Worcester, Massachusetts (AHL), before getting to the NHL here in San Jose for the first time in 2010.
As is the case with all of the draftees, past and present, “Desi” has worked his way up through the system, and has earned the right to be identified as the earlier players used to be: “Product of the San Jose Sharks organization.”
It is a designation that all home-grown Sharks players have the right to be proud of, and it is a tribute to the dedication and professionalism of these players, and that of the staff that discovered them, that deserves to be celebrated this week. Whether they’re drafted, acquired in trades, or signed as free agents, they all become products of the organization that developed them.
Make sure that you pay close attention to each and every selection that is made at this week’s draft. You’ll be reviewing some household names of the future, and some Stanley Cup champions in years to come. But on Friday and Saturday, you’ll also see the first dream of young players coming true, with the chance to achieve the ultimate goal.
See you at Stanley’s on Friday at Sharks Ice at San Jose, for the NHL Draft Viewing Party, presented by Coors Light. For more information on that event, click here.