Bobby Clarke: The big draft risk that paid off

Bobby Clarke: The big draft risk that paid off
June 24, 2014, 9:00 am
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Bobby Clarke was drafted in the second round (17th overall) of the 1969 NHL draft. (AP)

To Ed Snider, one draft will stand apart from the rest.

It wasn't 1970, when the Flyers selected Bill Clement and Bob Kelly. It wasn't '72 either, when they picked Bill Barber, Tom Bladon and Jimmy Watson. Nor was it 1982, when the Flyers added Ron Sutter, Ron Hextall and Dave Brown.

1990 brought with it a talent-rich draft, which saw the Flyers pluck Mike Ricci, Chris Simon, Mikael Renberg, Chris Therien, and Tommy Soderstrom.

“Yeah, but we passed up on one guy and he’s still playing,” Snider said.

That would be Jaromir Jagr, who was selected fifth overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins -- right after the Flyers chose Ricci with No. 4. Back then, the Flyers had little faith in whether a Czech player would come to North America. Losing out on Jagr still burns.

In Snider’s mind, the draft that stands out is 1969, when the Flyers did what no other club was willing to do: take a chance on Bob Clarke.

There had already been two previous amateur drafts for the expansion clubs.

“I wasn’t even there in Montreal in 1967 when we got [Serge] Bernier,” Snider said. “The ’67 draft was meaningless. The 1968 draft was meaningless. The Original Six teams kept so many things to themselves, it wasn’t a universal draft. We were picking up scraps.

“The first universal NHL draft was 1969. That’s when we got Bob Clarke. I was at the draft, and I became the reason why we drafted him.”

The late Jerry Melnyk was the Flyers’ scout who discovered Clarke playing in Flin Flon, Manitoba. He was the one credited with bringing Clarke to the Flyers' attention, but it took Snider’s intervention at the draft table on June 11 in Montreal to make it happen.

“In those days, the original teams didn’t have a full-time western scout,” Snider said. “Don’t ask me why. Yet we did have one in Melnyk and the only reason we did was because Melnyk had a heart attack at training camp and when he recovered we made him a scout in the west.”

Melnyk lived in Edmonton. He not only scouted Clarke, but did his homework on finding out how Clarke’s diabetes would affect him if he had to endure the rigors of travel playing close to 80 games a season.

“Jerry had gone to the trouble to go to Clarke’s doctors to find out if he could play professionally even though he was a diabetic,” Snider said. “No one else did that. Everybody was afraid of him because he was a diabetic.”

The 1969 draft at the Queen Elizabeth hotel represented Snider’s first in-person appearance at a draft.

“This was my first draft experience … I didn’t know anything about anything,” Snider said. “Bud Poile was the GM and had a friend who recommended we draft Bob Currier, who no one really knew anything about.”

The Flyers chose Currier with the sixth pick.

“Everybody’s eyebrows went up at the table,” Snider said. “Everybody was going crazy. No one said anything. But I saw the atmosphere. No one could believe we took Currier. Jerry Melnyk looked like he was going to have another heart attack.”

Snider turned to his coach and future GM, Keith Allen, and whispered, 'Jerry looks like he is going nuts. Go talk to him and find out what this is all about.’”

Allen came back minutes later and told Snider that Melnyk felt strongly about a kid from Flin Flon named Bobby Clarke.

“Keith said to me, ‘Jerry thinks this kid will step in and be our best player,’” Snider said. “And we took Currier. I said, ‘Tell Bud about this and then I want you to check out this kid with your own sources.’”

Allen had played in the Western Hockey League years earlier and had good scouting sources scattered about Canada. Allen told Snider his sources said Clarke was “sensational,” but teams were leery of his illness.

“I told Keith, ‘Tell Poile to take him in the second round if he’s still available,’” Snider said.

That produced an argument at the draft table because Poile had already taken a center in Currier and didn’t want another centerman.

“Finally, I had to say, ‘You will pick Bob Clarke,'” Snider said. “I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t know anything, I was still a novice. Poile didn’t like me from that day on, but it worked out.”

Clarke, long since retired as the organization’s senior vice president, would become the greatest Flyer ever and deliver two Stanley Cups.

He still holds the club’s all-time marks in assists (852), points (1,210), games played (1,144) as well as shorthanded goals (32).

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