The Montreal Canadiens ensured they were first served by establishing perhaps the greatest farm system in sports history, with junior and senior teams on the prairies, minor pro teams in the U.S. and entire leagues in Quebec. The Leafs operated a similar network in Ontario and beyond. All players signed to those teams remained the exclusive propoerty [sic] of the NHL “sponsor” team until they were released or traded.
The onset of the 1963 draft system changed all that, though Fitzpatrick notes that those teams continued to benefit from their previous system for many years after.
The NHL began their entry draft in 1963 (known as the NHL Amateur Draft then) and from ‘63 till ‘68, it was a slightly different set-up from what it is now, as noted by Wikipedia:
First held in 1963, the draft prior to 1969 was a shorter affair. Any amateur player who was 17 years of age and older and was not already sponsored by an NHL club was eligible to be drafted. In 1969 the rules were changed so that any amateur player between the ages of 17 and 20 was eligible to be drafted.
Since the top draft picks of any year tend to have the most scrutiny and the highest expectations associated with them, I thought it might be interesting to look at how each of their careers progressed. Given the long-established development system in Canada, it’s probably not that surprising that every single #1 pick in the NHL Draft from 1963-1982 was Canadian-born. Here is the list of those selected in first place in the 1960s:
1963—Garry Monahan—Montreal Canadiens
Garry Michael Monahan was the first ever draft pick of the NHL (take note, trivia buffs) but after being drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, he spent the next two years in the minors, then making stops with the Detroit Red Wings, the LA Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, where he played for several years. Finally, in 1974, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks where he played until 1978 and then ended up back with the Leafs for a brief stint, and ultimately finished his career in Japan, where he retired in 1982.
The Hockey Hall of Fame notes that “As a junior player, Garry Monahan displayed an offensive prowess that never followed him to the NHL. But he enjoyed it while it lasted.”
He played 748 games in the NHL over 12 seasons. Not too shabby.
After his playing career, Monahan spent a couple years in broadcasting for the Vancouver Canucks, as a studio analyst from 1988-90.
1964—Claude Gauthier—Detroit Red Wings
Gauthier was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings, “from a midget team in Rosemont, Quebec. He never played in the NHL.”
The only notation about him (hockeydb.com)is that he played with the St. Jerome Alouettes during the 1964-65 season, but no stats are available.
After that, he seems to have disappeared.
1965—Andre Veilleux—New York Rangers
Veilleux was drafted by the NY Rangers but never played in the NHL. His career, as far as can be found online, was cut short after time with the Trois Rivieres Reds of the QJAHL
I can’t seem to find anything else out about Veilleux after his short time in hockey.
1966—Barry Gibbs—Boston Bruins
A defenseman, Gibbs was drafted by the Boston Bruins and had a substantial career in the NHL and the CHL. From Wikipedia:
Gibbs played 796 NHL games after being drafted first overall in the 1966 NHL Amateur Draft. Throughout his career he played for the Boston Bruins, Minnesota North Stars, Atlanta Flames, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. He retired in 1981.
Gibbs was named the CHL’s most outstanding defenceman in 1969, and went on to play in the NHL’s All Star Game in 1973.
For a random bit of hockey history, Joe Pelletier who writes Greatest Hockey Legends once wrote about how Gibbs was the reason he fell in love with hockey.
1967—Rick Pagnutti—Los Angeles Kings
While he never played in the NHL, Pagnutti nonetheless had a substantial career in the minor leagues, playing in the AHL, WHL, CHL, IHL and finally the NAHL, before retiring in 1977.
He was once honoured with the Governor’s Trophy as the IHL’s best defenseman in 1972.
Incidentally, Pagnutti’s son, Matt Pagnutti, had a solid minor league career himself, playing defense in the ECHL for 8 years before retiring in 2005.
1968—Michel Plasse—Montreal Canadiens
Plasse was the first goalie to be drafted #1 in the NHL draft. After two years in the minors, Plasse went on to play for 12 years in the NHL, making stops with the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Rockies, Quebec Nordiques and St. Louis Blues.
Plasse is also remembered for this little piece of NHL history:
On the night of February 21, 1971, Plasse was in net for the Kansas City Blues who were struggling to hang on to a 2-1 advantage over the Oklahoma City Blazers late in the game. The Blazers had pulled their goalie and were storming the Blues’ zone when Plasse fired the puck the length of the ice in an effort to stave off the charge. He did such a good job that the disk slid all the way into the unguarded enemy cage. He became the first professional goalie in the history of the game to score a goal.
I’m almost positive that this question came up in one of the first games of Trivial Pursuit that I ever played. No doubt, I got it wrong. Fortunately, you won’t.
In the Montreal Canadiens archives is this great photo of Plasse at work. On a sadder note, Goaltending Legends notes that Plasse died of a heart attack in 2006.
1969—Rejean Houle—Montreal Canadiens
Houle seems to have had the most diverse hockey career of all our 1960s top picks. Initially drafted by the Montreal Canadiens, he also played for the Quebec Nordiques (when they were in the WHA) for several years, before returning to the Canadiens for the remainder of his playing career. In all, his playing career spanned some 16 years, finally retiring from the ice in 1983.
Houle left the Habs to become an executive with Molson breweries, but he wasn’t done with hockey yet. In 1995, the Canadiens hired Houlse as their General Manager, a position he held till 2000. His years there were contentious, to say the least. Wikipedia summarizes a few of the issues:
His tenure as the Habs’ GM was viewed as a disaster by many fans. He pulled the trigger on the infamous trade which sent Patrick Roy and Mike Keane to the Colorado Avalanche for Jocelyn Thibault, Martin Rucinsky and Andrei Kovalenko just six weeks into the job. Following this trade, he traded away marquee players like Mark Recchi, Vincent Damphousse and Pierre Turgeon for players of little value. He was also criticized for frequently trading with non-contending teams, being unable to sign big name free agents and signing marginal players to inflated contracts. Houle’s drafting was considered even worse as he was criticized for taking players like Matt Higgins, Jason Ward, Eric Chouinard and Marcel Hossa, the younger brother of then rising star Marian with his first round selections as well as trading away a top ten pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft for an underacheving Trevor Linden.
Houle was dismissed from his position with the Canadiens in 2000, but continues to be involved in hockey. The Canadiens website notes that, among other things, Houlse was responsible for “assembling the team that played the Edmonton Oilers Oldtimers in the Heritage Classic, held outdoors before more than 55,000 spectators in November 2003.”
A remarkable career.
—4 of 7 number one draft picks of the 1960s went on to play in the NHL, most for a substantial amount of time.
—Upcoming posts will look at the #1 picks from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s, and sharing a bit more of the history of the draft and how it changed through the years.
—Anyone with any further details or stories about the players I’ve mentioned above, I’d be grateful for anything you wanted to share in the comments. Thanks!
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