October 14, 2009

Meet Steve Peters: The Kid Drafted Ahead Of Gretzky

This is a photo of Steve Peters.

"Steve who?" you might say, and I certainly would not blame you. He played just 2 games in the NHL, both with the old Colorado Rockies. Otherwise he was a forgettable 4th round pick in 1979, who never really found his comfort zone in junior or in the minors. He extended his career by playing in Europe, most notably in Finland, until the end of the 1980s. I believe he is now in the Peterborough area, working in the insurance business.

Hardly the stuff of hockey legend. But, believe it or not, as their junior careers began Steve Peters was considered to be a better prospect than Wayne Gretzky!

Let me take you back to the 1977 OHA midget draft. Now you probably assumed Gretzky was the obvious first choice. After all he had been making headlines throughout Ontario and even Canada for several years already. But, amazingly, Gretzky was not selected until the third overall pick.

Tom McCarthy, the future Minnesota North Star, went first overall to Oshawa. McCarthy put two really impressive years with the Generals, so his talent level was unquestioned. He also had a huge size advantage on Gretzky, who at the time was considered by everyone to be too small and frail. McCarthy went on to a solid NHL career but injuries prevented him from becoming an upper echelon star. McCarthy over Gretzky back in the midget draft might not make much sense in hindsight, but at the time it is understandable. Even the Soo Greyhounds, the team that drafted Gretzky, were on record saying McCarthy was the man they wanted.

Steve Peters also was drafted directly before Gretzky, going #2 to Niagara Falls. With the benefit of hindsight this pick seems amazing. Not only did he become just a suspect NHL prospect at best, but his career lasted only two games. Peters never really found his game in junior. He was moved around from center to wing and even to defence, rushed by the impatient Niagara Falls team. After just one season they traded him away, to McCarthy's Oshawa team.

Hind sight is 20/20, but obviously at one point there was reason why Steve Peters was such a highly regarded prospect. To understand that, we must examine the situation back as it happened in 1979.

We must understand the Gretzky family had meddled with the draft, threatening that Wayne would not report unless he could play close to his Brantford home. The Gretzky camp wanted Peterborough, and you can bet the Petes wanted the youngster in return.

The Petes held the fourth overall selection, but Gretzky would not slide through. Despite the pleas of the family, Gretzky would be selected by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, basically the farthest team from home possible. He would report only once he found out family friends were also relocating to the Soo, and he could live with them.

By the way: Peters' selection by the Colorado Rockies in 1979 not only never panned out, but it cost them an intriguing prospect and future Hall of Famer. The Rockies often made a point of drafting "home town" players, namely players who starred at the University of Denver, one of the better hockey programs at the time. While Peters was selected 64th overall, just 5 picks later the Edmonton Oilers drafted University of Denver winger - and future Wayne Gretzky teammate and occasional linemate - Glenn Anderson.

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