Canucks and Beyond
by Alanah McGinley on 08/11/11 at 05:11 PM ET
This series has been taking a look back at #1 draft picks since the draft’s inception in 1963, their careers on the ice and after they hung up their skates. Links to the previous decades are at the bottom of this post, but for now, let’s tackle the 1980s.
First off, 1980 was the year the NHL Amateur Draft actually became the NHL Entry Draft we refer to today. It’s also the first year the event was open to the public, and in 1984 was televised for the first time. In short, the NHL draft went from being a purely utilitarian exercise intended only for teams to select players, to becoming an actual ‘event.’
The draft process itself had changed at roughly the start of each decade, and 1980 was no different. Here’s some background from Wikipedia:
Beginning in 1980, any player who is between the ages of 18 and 20 is eligible to be drafted. In addition, any non-North American player over the age of 20 can be selected. From 1987 through 1991, 18 and 19-year-old players could only be drafted in the first three rounds unless they met another criterion of experience which required them to have played in major junior, U.S. college and high school, or European hockey.
Another change this decade was the location of the event. From 1963-79, all drafts were held in Montreal, either at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel or the NHL’s Montreal office. But as the event became a public one, 1980-84 Drafts were held at the Montreal Forum, and after that, finally managed to spread out into other cities as well. For the 80s, those cities were Toronto, Detroit, and Bloomington, Minnesota.
Finally, this decade was also the first in which a non-Canadian was drafted in the number one spot… and there were three of them: two Americans and a Swede.
So, without further adieu…
1980 Montreal Canadiens—Doug Wickenheiser
Wickenheiser’s NHL career wasn’t quite what his Major Junior one was with the Regina Pats, but he did play 556 games in the league for various teams, before moving on to Europe and into the North American minors. He eventually retired from hockey altogether in 1994.
Tragically he died of cancer only 5 years later. His wife Diane shares some of her memories:
“Doug knew all the people. Doug stopped and talked to everyone. He talked to the ushers. He was friends with everyone.
“That’s what I liked about him so much. Everyone was important to him. He always had friends from all different areas. It was always very important for him to find out about everybody.
“It’s hard to pinpoint just one quality that I liked about him, except that he was just so nice. He was nice to everyone. He was just a gentleman. I always liked that. He had a gracious way about him.”
1981 Winnipeg Jets—Dale Hawerchuk
Hawerchuk had an impact on his new team, and quickly:
Hawerchuk immediately became Winnipeg’s star attraction, leading the Jets to what was at the time the largest single season turn-around in NHL history, a 48-point improvement. He became the youngest NHL player in history to reach 100 points (a record since broken by Sidney Crosby in 2006), finishing with 103, and winning the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.
A good start became a legendary HOF career, eventually collecting 1,409 points in 1188 games.
Hawerchuk retired from the ice in 1997 and is currently the General Manager and Head Coach of the OHL’s Barrie Colts.
Random: For a weird pop culture hockey-music collision, here’s Les Dales Hawerchuk to take us out…
1982 Boston Bruins—Gord Kluzak
Kluzak played for the Bruins from 1982 til 1990, though only played 299 games in that period due to recurring knee injuries and surgeries. But despite the misfortunes in his NHL career, he went on to be very successful off the ice:
After being forced to retire prematurely, Kluzak enrolled at Harvard University, graduating in 1994 with a degree in Economics, and spent two years as the Chief of Staff for the state lottery. He then returned to Harvard, earning an MBA in 1998. Since then, he has worked for Goldman Sachs.
He’s also maintained a side-career in broadcasting, covering Bruins games for NESN, including during this year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
1983 Minnesota North Stars—Brian Lawton
Lawton is distinguished as being the first non-Canadian to ever be drafted in the top-spot, and said to be the only US high school player to ever be drafted number one. He went on to play nearly 500 games in the NHL (scoring 266 points). Seemingly a respectable enough career, yet is widely regarded to have been a disappointment on the ice. Forbes magazine went so far as to rank him in their list of The Biggest Draft Flops Of The Past 25 Years, which seems like an overstatement but is, nontheless, the reputation that followed him throughout his career.
After finishing with playing, Lawton found success as an agent, then in team management, becoming GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008. He was eventually fired from that position in 2010, replaced by one of his former clients, Steve Yzerman.
1984 Pittsburgh Penguins—Mario Lemieux
What needs to be said about Lemieux? Unless you just discovered hockey yesterday, you probably know everything there is to know. Drafted first by the Penguins, he played his whole career there, conquered cancer, went to the Hockey Hall of Fame, played another whole career there, and played/managed his way to a few Stanley Cups. And, oh yeah, he bought the team somewhere in the middle of it all.
Just your average career.
But for something you maybe didn’t know, Pensblog provides these fun ‘facts’ for you to digest:
—It’s a little-know fact that during the 04-05 lockout, there was an NHL all-star game. It was Mario Lemieux vs. himself; the game is still going on.
— Mario Lemieux can score a hat trick…with only two goals.
—Mario Lemieux can smoke two packs of cigarettes with one match.
—There wasn’t a second gunman on the grassy knoll that killed Kennedy. It was a Mario Lemieux slapshot that missed the net…and he wasn’t even born yet.
—Mario Lemieux can find the square root of a negative number.
—The doctor couldn’t catch Mario Lemieux when he came out of the womb…Mario Lemieux deked past him, got in his ‘vette and drove home.
—Mario Lemieux doesn’t use a Mach3 razor…he uses a rusted pair of skate blades.
You’ll have to go to Pensblog for the rest. Their sources are impecable.
1985 Toronto Maple Leafs—Wendel Clark
“Captain Crunch” played for a surprising number of teams (Quebec, NYI, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Chicago) given that at the end of the day, his career with the Leafs is how he’s best remembered, a team he played for in three separate segments of his career.
Today, Clark still works for the Leafs in the role of ambassador and accepts other public speaking engagements. A busy guy in general, you can check out his personal website here and that of one of his restaurants here.
1986 Detroit Red Wings—Joe Patrick Murphy
While he struggled in his early days with the Wings, Murphy’s career ultimately took him through nearly 800 games, racking up over 500 points. When all was said and done, he had played for the Wings, Oilers, Blues, Sharks, Bruins, Capitals and Blackhawks, before retiring in the 2000-01 season.
Random factoid: Boston Bruins Tim Thomas credits Murphy for giving him one of his early breaks. According to Stu Hackel at SI.com, Murphy found himself practicing with the NAHL Lakeland Jets in the 1993-94 season, keeping in shape while in a contract stalemate with the Chicago Blackhawks. After struggling to get pucks past the goalie while working out, Joe had an question for the Jets staff.
“Joe turned to the coach one day and said, ‘How come this kid isn’t playing?’ ” recalled Thomas. “That was my big break there.”
1987 Buffalo Sabres—Pierre Turgeon
Turgeon had a 20 year career in the NHL, playing in nearly 1,300 matches, participating in four All-Star Games, and winning the Lady Byng Trophy in 1993.
And from Wikipedia, we learn Turgeon was a thoroughbred… in more ways than one:
George W. Strawbridge, Jr., an active shareholder of the Buffalo Sabres and director and member of the team’s executive committee for more than 30 years, named one of his thoroughbred racehorses in Pierre Turgeon’s honor. Turgeon raced for Strawbridge’s racing stable in France where he won several conditions races and, after retiring, is developing into a successful sire.
On a much less happy note, Turgeon and his wife lost one of their three daughters in a car accident in December, 2010. Elizabeth Turgeon was only 18 years old, a freshman at the University of Minnesota.
Random: Sylvain Turgeon, Pierre’s brother, was drafted #2 behind Brian Lawton in the 1983 Entry Draft.
1988 Minnesota North Stars—Mike Modano
Only the second American player to be drafted in the #1 spot, Modano is also the first player on the list to still be currently active in the NHL. In fact, he is one of the last two remaining 1980s draft choices still playing in the league, along with Niklas Lidstrom.
Modano played his entire career for the Stars franchise (Minnesota then Dallas) until 2010 when he joined the Red Wings. As of this writing, Modano has yet to announce his intentions for the 2011-12 season.
Random: Modano’s mom Karen has been known to tell embarrassing stories about her son on his website. It’s very sweet.
1989 Quebec Nordiques—Mats Sundin
Sundin was the first European player to be selected #1, and his 20 year playing career led him from the Nordiques to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and ultimately to a brief and final stop with the Vancouver Canucks. Along the way, the one-time Leafs’ captain achieved numerous milestones in the NHL and for the Swedish national team.
Probably the most notable controversy of Sundin’s career came near its tail-end. After his contract with the Leafs expired in 2008, the Canucks offered him a 2 year, $20 million deal on June 1st of that year. It would be nearly six months before Sundin agreed to sign on for that season, and he retired finally in 2009, having played only 41 games for Vancouver.
Sundin now lives in Sweden, where he was married in 2009.
Random: If you ever wanted to see Mats Sundin propping up about 1,000 lbs of sedated grizzly bear, you’re in luck.
Next up, the 1990s, where we’ll close this little series out.
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Alanah McGinley has been blogging hockey since 2003 (with a notable gap in time through 2010, kicking it with new baby Lucy while living knee-deep in chaos while reading "parenting for complete idiots" during every spare minute) sharing opinions, rants and not-so-deep thoughts with anyone who will listen.
In addition to writing Canucks & Beyond and helping manage Kukla's Korner, Alanah was one of the founders and co-hosts of The Crazy Canucks Podcast. She has contributed pieces to FoxSports.com and the New York Times Slapshot blog, as well as other stray destinations in cyberspace.
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Alanah's Twitter: [@alanah1]