Through the years: The NHL draft's evolution

Through the years: The NHL draft's evolution

John Boruk goes one on one with Paul Holmgren

June 23, 2014, 1:00 pm
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Greg Joly was the No. 1 overall pick in 1974, the first of four straight drafts to take place at the NHL headquarters in Montreal. (AP)

Garry Monahan owns a distinction no other NHL player will ever have.

Monahan was the first player taken by the Canadiens in the league's inaugural 1963 draft, hosted by the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal.

But here’s the catch: He didn’t know there was such a thing as a draft or that Canadiens general manager Sam Pollock had selected him.

And he was just 16 years old at the time.

“The reality was, none of us knew what the hell the draft was,” the 67-year-old Monahan, who lives in Vancouver these days, said.

“It was just starting. What happened was that Sam Pollock of the Canadiens phoned my house and talked to my parents after the fact and said, ‘We’ve drafted Garry to the NHL.’ They didn’t know what he was talking about.”

On that day -- June 5 -- the draft was in its primitive stages. There was no arena. There were no spectators or even players. And certainly no television or media coverage.

While today’s NHL draft sometimes resembles an elaborate, well-orchestrated circus, back then it was nothing more than a one-act high school play -- but without a single spectator.

All you had were the NHL’s Original Six, their general managers and their assistants sitting in a rented small ballroom at the Queen Elizabeth with a telephone and some bottles of soda, pitchers of ice water and carafes of coffee.

The Queen Elizabeth would host the draft through 1972 before it moved to the Mount Royal Hotel in 1973.

The league’s Montreal headquarters then hosted the draft four straight years (1974-77). It wasn’t until 1978 that the draft moved into an NHL arena -- the historic Montreal Forum.

The Forum hosted the event through 1984, when the league began alternating sites under then-NHL president John Ziegler. It continues to alternate sites to this day under NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

This year, the Flyers will host the draft for the first time at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday and Saturday (see story).

Only amateur players under age 20 were draft eligible in 1963.

“I wasn’t even thinking about playing hockey as a pro,” Monahan, a center, said. “I was 16 and I had just gone to St. Mike's in Toronto. That used to be a school where the Maple Leafs would send all their prospects.”

Monahan went on to play 15 years in the NHL with five clubs.

The second player selected in that inaugural draft was winger Peter Mahovlich. He went to Detroit. Six years later, Monahan and Mahovlich were traded for each other.

Both Monahan and Mahovlich were teenagers at St. Michael’s Juveniles when they were drafted.

“Before the draft, the Maple Leafs ran around Canada and signed players like Mahovlich and Dave Keon, then sent those players to St. Mike’s,” Monahan recalled.

“The high school in Toronto had an arena on campus and a boarding school too. My dad went to St. Mike’s, my brother went and I followed suit in the family tradition. But it had nothing to do with playing hockey. I just got caught up in the system with others. …

“I guess because the league had decided it would expand in a couple years they created the draft. They must have thought they needed a different system [to stock teams].

“There was no publicity for the draft, no razzmatazz. If there were anything in the papers, I was out of the loop and never saw it.”

As it turned out, Roger Neilson knew about Monahan. He put a word in that someone should draft him.

“Roger was a bird dog for Montreal,” Monahan said.

The Canadiens wanted Monahan in Peterborough. Again, Monahan said playing pro hockey was the furthest thing from his mind.

“As a teenager, I was bird-dogging chicks like everybody else,” Monahan said. “I had no aspirations to do anything at that age. But once I got drafted, it became a different story. I went to Peterborough, played for Roger and began to think that maybe pro hockey was a possibility.”

It was in Peterborough that Monahan would make another future Flyers tie-in: He played with Andre Lacroix.

The Petes were a formidable team back then with Lacroix, Monahan, Mickey Redmond, Danny Grant and Bill Plager, all of whom had NHL careers.

Monahan’s first year in the NHL was 1967 during the league’s first expansion.

When he retired in 1982, Monahan stayed in hockey via the broadcast route with the Vancouver Canucks for another 15 years before living the good life and traveling, or as he says, “globetrotting” around the planet.

Does he ever wish he could have been a No. 1 overall pick in today’s NHL draft when a contract would have six zeroes tacked onto the end of it, instead of three?

“Nope, I can’t complain,” Monahan said. “I got lucky, and I’m retired golfing, skiing and traveling and having a pretty good life.”

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