On June 5, 1963, the first ever NHL Entry Draft took place in Montreal, Quebec. With the upcoming June draft also taking place in Montreal, I thought it would be interested to take a look back at past drafts, choosing the 10 best players from a random draft every article.
The 1978 NHL Amateur Draft was held on June 15, 1978. This was the last time the NHL would use the term "Amateur Draft", as it was renamed the "NHL Entry Draft" the following year.
Although the 1978 would not yield a crop of Hall of Famers as other drafts have, the 1978 draft features many future coaches as draft picks, notably Craig MacTavish, Joel Quenneville, Don Waddell, Keith Acton, Darryl Sutter, and Kevin Constantine.
Overall though, 1978 was a weak draft compared to many others in the past 46 years.
Brad Marsh was chosen by the Atlanta Flames with the 11th pick overall in the 1978 draft.
Marsh was a prototypical stay-at-home defenseman who patrolled the blue line for the Atlanta (later Calgary) Flames, Philadelphia Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, and Ottawa Senators, where he would become their first-ever captain during their inaugural season.
Although Marsh played 1,086 NHL games, he registered only 23 goals and 175 assists, the lowest point totals for any 1,000 game player ever.
Perhaps Marsh did not put the puck in the back of the net like many of his contemporaries, he was a great leader for many organizations during the 1980s and would be one of the last players to wear a helmet before retiring after Ottawa's inaugural season; 1992-93.
Chris Nilan, or "knuckles," was known more for his fighting prowess rather than his goal-scoring.
In a career spanning from 1980 to 1992, Nilan would score 110 goals, 115 assists and rack up more than 3,043 PIM for the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Boston Bruins.
Nilan was known as Montreal's enforcer throughout the mid-80s, and would win a Stanley Cup with the team in 1986, not bad for a guy drafted in the 19th round, 231st overall out of Northeastern University.
What makes him a top player from the 1978 draft is the fact that, outside of Larry Playfair, there was no better enforcer to come out of the draft. Nilan's presence on the ice opened up the ice for many of the Canadiens' rookies who would guide the team to a cup in 1986.
Ryan Walter, the second overall pick in the 1978 draft by the Washington Capitals, was drafted after a great WHL career for the Kamloops Blazers and the Seattle Breakers, having 12, 84, 96, and 125-point seasons in juniors.
Although his scoring prowess did not carry over to his NHL career, he did however post decent numbers early on in his career, with an 87-point 1981-82 season, before ultimately being dealt from Washington to the Montreal Canadiens, for among others Rod Langway, who would go on to anchor the Capital defense for many seasons.
Walter`s longevity—he played 1,003 games—as well as his role as proven leader lands him on this list. His cup victory in 1986 doesn't hurt either.
Walter is now an assistant in Vancouver, where he ended his career in 1992-93.
Paul MacLean, chosen 109th overall by the St. Louis Blues, would have a short yet productive career, mainly as a Winnipeg Jet.
MacLean, who is currently an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings, would post a respectable 673 points in 719 games for the Jets, Blues, and Red WIngs, ending his career in 1991 after 11 seasons.
Keith Acton, the current assistant coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs, was drafted 103rd overall in the 1978 draft by the Montreal Canadiens.
Acton would go on to have a respectable career in the NHL. Over a career that spanned from 1979 to 1994, he would play 1,023 games and amass 226 goals and 358 assists to go along with over 1,172 PIM playing for the Montreal Canadiens, Minnesota North Stars, Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and New York Islanders.
Acton's role as a team pest helped the Edmonton Oilers to a cup in 1987-88, and was a key component to the Flyers teams in the early 1990s. He`s been a respectable assistant in Philly and Toronto for over the past 10 seasons as well.
Craig MacTavish, the current coach of the Edmonton Oilers, enters the list at number 5 thanks in large part to his longevity and his all-around game.
MacTavish, the last helmet less NHLer, was chosen in the 9th round, 153rd overall by the Boston Bruins. He had played his college hockey at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
After playing two seasons for the Bruins, MacTavish spent the 1984-85 season in jail due to a vehicular manslaughter charge. After his release, he subsequently signed with the Edmonton Oilers and became an integral part of their future successes.
"MacT" would play a defensive role for the Oilers during their heyday, winning three Stanley Cups with the Oilers. After a trade to the New York Rangers during the 1993-94 season, MacTavish would go on to win another cup with the Rangers.
After spending time between the Philadelphia Flyers and St. Louis Blues, MacTavish would retire after playing 1,093 games, mostly has a shutdown centre.
Tony McKegney, the 32nd overall pick in the draft had a respectable career in the NHL, scoring scoring 320 goals while adding 319 assists in 912 games for the Buffalo Sabres, Quebec Nordiques, Minnesota North Stars, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings, Nordiques again, and finally retiring as a Chicago Black Hawk in 1991.
McKegney's significance, however, may have more to do with his impact as an African-American hockey player. Although Willie O'Ree had broken the colour barrier in hockey in 1958, there was no viable role model for any young Black Canadians wishing to be a hockey player at that time. McKegney would become the first significant black position player in the NHL, and along with Grant Fuhr, would help to change the landscape of hockey throughout North America.
Ken Linseman, the seventh overall pick, could be considered the forefather for today's current agitators, such as Sean Avery and Steve Ott.
Although Linseman was drafted into the NHL in 1978, he had started his pro career the season before with the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA before the team collapsed.
Linseman, who would gain the nickname "The Rat" for his style of play, was a known agitator throughout the league, perhaps the best of his time at being that sort of player.
Although Linssman was known for agitating his opponents, he would almost garner a point per game, scoring 256 goals while adding 551 assists in 860 NHL games for the Flyers, Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Linseman would also score 120 playoff points in 113 games, proving he was a big-game player.
Stan Smyl, one of the most beloved figures in Vancouver Canucks history, was chosen by the only organization he would play with their third pick, 40th overall.
Smyl, who would make his Canuck debut in 1978-79, would help lead the Canucks to the 1982 Stanley Cup Finals against the New York Islanders before ultimately losing to them.
Smyl would retire in 1991 after 12 seasons with the Canucks. He would go on to hold numerous Canuck franchise records, and up until December 2008, was the only Canuck with his number retired.
Over his decade-long career, Smyl would garner 262 goals and 673 points in 896 games for the Canucks.
After setting two OHL scoring records for the Ottawa 67s, Bobby Smith was taken with the first overall pick in the 1978 draft by the Minnesota North Stars. He would prove to be the best of the 1978 crop.
Smith, who would capture the Calder Trophy as top rookie in 1979, was a top flight centreman during his 14-year NHL career. His size and skill were well known, and were fully utilized by both the North Stars and the Montreal Canadiens, the only two teams he would play for during his career.
Aside from helping the Canadiens to a cup in 1986, Smith would play in 1,077 games racking up 357 goals and 1,036 points throughout his career, easily earning praise as the best player from the 1978 draft.