June 14, 2007

NHL Entry Draft History: 1978

All junior hockey eyes were on a 16 year old named Wayne Gretzky in 1978. He was not eligible for the NHL draft, but the phenom's greatness was already on display as he tore apart the Ontario League scoring race at such a young age.

The other player who scouts drooled about was the only player to outscore Gretzky that year - 20 year old Bobby Smith. Many scouts preferred Smith over Gretzky anyways, largely because of his big body (6'4" and 210lbs). Many were still skeptical about Gretzky's size.

Smith would go on to enjoy a fantastic career with Minnesota and Montreal, but he was just one of many solid NHL players selected in this draft.

Two-way center Ryan Walter was selected #2 by Washington. Wayne Babych went in the 3-hole to St. Louis. Big Behn Wilson, Ken "the Rat" Linseman, Willie Huber, Brad Marsh, Brent Peterson, Larry Playfair, Steve Tambellini, Al Secord and Dave Hunter were all first rounders.

Another first rounder was Danny Geoffrion, son of Boom Boom Geoffrion. In what was one of several mistakes the usually draft savvy Canadiens would make in coming years, the Habs took a chance on Danny at the 8 spot. Geoffrion never could last in the NHL.

The Habs would have been better off drafting any of Steve Payne, Joel Quenneville, Steve Christoff, Don Maloney, Tony McKegney or Al Jensen, all notable second rounders.

The 1978 Draft proved to be big and plentiful. 234 selections were made, including 31 by the St. Louis Blues alone. It is hard to miss with the third overall pick, and they didn't with future 50 goal scorer Babych. But of the other 30 players selected only Jim Nill and Paul MacLean would play in St. Louis, and both were traded away too early. The Blues also drafted Risto Siltanen and Bob Froese, though neither would play for the Blues. The other 25 draft selections were all misses.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand had only 3 selections, 2 of which played with the Penguins in the NHL, albeit for a combined total of just 5 games. The two players - Rob Garner and Mike Meeker, nephew of the legendary Howie Meeker.

Some notable mid to late round finds include Captain Canuck Stan Smyl at #40, notable US Olympian Rob McClanahan at 49, tough guy Glen Cochrane at 50, undersized defenseman Curt Giles at 54, Swedish sensation Bengt-Ake Gustafsson at 55, Louie Franceschetti at 71, stay at home defender Tom Laidlaw at 93, Mark Taylor, Cyclone Taylor's grandson, at 100, 1000+ NHL game man Keith Acton, the last helmetless player Craig MacTavish at 153, Viking Alberta's Darryl Sutter at 179 and super tough guy Chris Nilan at 231!

Two other notable late round picks would ultimately re-enter the NHL draft and one day star in the NHL, but not with the teams that originally selected them. At 198 Philadelphia took a flyer at on Anton Stastny. This was before his brother Peter Stastny had defected to North America. Anton re-entered the draft in 1979, chosen by the Quebec Nordiques. At 201 the Montreal Canadiens took a real long shot and drafted up and coming Soviet superstar Viacheslav Fetisov. He would re-enter the draft in 1983 and drafted by New Jersey, but he still didn't arrive in the NHL until the turn of the decade.

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