Puck Everything: The Blues and the 1978 Draft

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The 1978 Amateur Draft was held at Montreal's Queen Elizabeth Hotel.

Originally, I had the plan to do “Puck Everything”, a series on weird, off-beat hockey stories, but having done this article, the idea sprung into my head that maybe, in the future, I could do articles focusing on one particular team’s performance at a certain draft. If any of you guys have any suggestions for either weird hockey stories or specific drafts, please let me know.


The St. Louis Blues have been around for just over 50 years, and their NHL history has been… eventful, to say the least. In their first three years of existence, the Blues reached the Stanley Cup Final, thanks to being placed in a division with all of the other expansion teams; of course, the gulf in talent between the Original Six and the expansion clubs was such that the Blues were wiped out in the Cup Final each time, with Bobby Orr’s OT goal in 1970 standing today as an all-time highlight. St. Louis would go from near the very top of the league to one of the NHL’s financial headaches within fifteen years, as the team was being tossed around by owners throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, at one point even being considered for relocation to Saskatoon.

If you want to talk about a franchise not giving up, though, the Blues would be the poster child. In the midst of their financial troubles, the team started a playoff streak that would last up until 2004. The team found ways to win, and proved great at finding the talent necessary to win. Heck, even to this day that “never-say-die” reputation lingers, as St. Louis reached the 2019 Stanley Cup Final – and won the Cup in seven games – despite being in last placed in the league to begin January. A big part of their sustained on-ice success is the team’s unconventional methods for acquiring key players, especially in free agency. The Blues were one of the most active teams in signing restricted free agents, which led to more than a few complicated arbitration sessions – in the case of Brendan Shanahan, the compensation awarded to New Jersey was defenseman Scott Stevens, who had been signed to an offer sheet just a year earlier by St. Louis.

For all of their unconventional methods, however, none was more out of left field than their exploits at the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft. The draft itself was somewhat different back then, as not only was the minimum drafting age 20 instead of 18 (that number would be changed a year later when the Amateur Draft was re-named the Entry Draft), but there was no set number of rounds, so teams were removed from the board whenever they decided they were done picking. This rule was taken advantage of by Montreal who picked all the way into the 22nd Round that year before finally calling it a day.

There was another rule, however, that allowed teams to trade picks for cash, and this is where the St. Louis Blues ruled the day. As the rounds went on, and teams didn’t feel like picking any more players, the Blues began to offer cash for their selections, and quite a few teams were happy to receive the money in exchange for picks they weren’t going to use, anyway. The draft picks piled up quickly, and the Blues’ total really skyrocketed in the late rounds, as they had eleven picks in the 13th and 14th Rounds, combined. In total, St. Louis would make THIRTY-ONE selections at the 1978 Draft, a record that still stands to this day, and will likely never be broken due to the subsequent changes to both the draft format, and the rules regarding pick acquisition.

So, how did the Blues do with all of those picks? Well, let’s go through them, one by one:


THE THIRTY-ONE PICKS

#1 – RW WAYNE BABYCH (1st Round, 3rd Overall, Natural Pick) – Babych went into the 1978 Amateur Draft as one of the top prospects, having finished with 50 goals in two straight seasons with Portland in the WCHL (The predecessor to today’s Western Hockey League). Following his selection by the Blues, he was quickly given a spot on the NHL roster, and performed well in his rookie year, registering 63 points in 67 games in 78-79 en route to a Calder Trophy nomination. Wayne’s career high in points would come two years later, when he scored 54 goals and recorded 42 assists for a total of 96 points – good enough for second on the team behind Bernie Federko.

A pre-season injury sustained in a fight in 1981 would derail Babych’s career. After a few seasons of failing to break the 50-point mark, Wayne would be exposed in the 1984 Waiver Draft, with Pittsburgh picking him up. Babych would have a return to form of sorts, putting up 20 goals and 54 points with the Pens, but the next season would see him get traded twice – first to Quebec, then to Hartford. That year, he would register a career-low 39 points in 54 games. The next year, 1986-87, would be his last, as he played only four games with the Whalers; once again, a pre-season injury was his undoing, as he broke his left leg in an exhibition game, missing all but the last part of the campaign.

Babych’s totals with the Blues: 396 GP, 155 G, 190 A, 345 P, 384 PIM

Babych’s career totals: 519 GP, 192 G, 246 A, 438 P, 500 PIM

#2 – D STEVE HARRISON (3rd Round, 39th Overall, Natural Pick) – In his last year of junior hockey, Steve Harrison had a break-out year with the Toronto Marlboros, registering 58 points in 68 games to lead all Toronto blue-liners. For much of his early pro career, Harrison put up good point totals in the minor leagues, including 19 points in 17 playoff games with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the Central Hockey League in 1981. Unfortunately, his good production never led to a call-up with the Blues, as he bounced around different levels of the minor system throughout the ‘80s. He would additionally spend some time in Finland and France, eventually calling an end to his career in 1993.

The next player taken in the 1978 Draft was Stan Smyl, who would go on to play almost 900 games with the Vancouver Canucks.

Harrison would never play in the NHL.

#3 – D KEVIN WILLISON (5th Round, 72nd Overall, Natural Pick) – Much like Harrison, Willison led all blue-liners on the WCHL’s Billings Bighorns with 63 points in 68 games. And much like Harrison, Willison would go on to have some good results early on in his pro career at the minor level. And, of course, much like Harrison, Willison would never see his good minor-league play result in a call-up, finishing his pro career in 1986.

Willison would never play in the NHL.

#4 – RW JIM NILL (6th Round, 89th Overall, Natural Pick) – Nill finished 2nd in both points (93) and penalty minutes (252) on the 77-78 Medicine Hat Tigers, in what would be his last year in the juniors. After a short stint with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, Nill would be called up in time for the 81-82 campaign, but would eventually be traded to Vancouver, playing 16 playoff games and scoring 7 points as the Canucks went to the Stanley Cup Final. The next year, Nill would play 65 games with the ‘Nucks, putting up 22 points – his most with a single team in a single year in the NHL.

For most of his career, Nill would be used as a depth forward, rarely playing a full season. He would move on to Boston, Winnipeg, and Detroit over the course of his career, eventually retiring in 1991 to join the scouting staff of the upstart Ottawa Senators. After a few years in the Canadian capital, he would join the scouting team of the Detroit Red Wings, also serving for a while as the GM of their minor-league affiliate Adirondack. In 2013, he would be hired by the Dallas Stars as General Manager, a role he holds to this day.

Nill’s totals with the Blues: 61 GP, 9 G, 12 A, 21 P, 127 PIM

Nill’s career totals: 524 GP, 58 G, 87 A, 145 P, 854 PIM

#5 – C STEVE STOCKMAN (7th Round, 106th Overall, Natural Pick) – Stockman started the 77-78 season with the London Knights, with whom he had just recorded a 108-point season, but he would soon be moved to the QMJHL’s Cornwall Royals. It was from this team that he would be drafted, having put up 53 points in 51 games with the Royals across the regular season and playoffs.

Stockman’s pro career got off to a quiet start, and he would never really find his footing until the 1983-84 season, when he would score 70 points in 49 games with the IHL’s Flint Generals. His good play with the Generals wouldn’t get him noticed by the Blues, however, and he soon departed for Europe, signing with Vienna in the Austrian league in 1985. He would spend the rest of his career in Austria, eventually even playing five games in the 1989 World Championship for his adopted nation.

Stockman is not to be confused with the former U.S. Representative of the same name, who was convicted of several financial crimes in 2018.

Stockman would never play in the NHL.

#6 – RW PAUL MacLEAN (7th Round, 109th Overall, Pick acquired from the Penguins for cash) – The 109th pick was the first of the “cash picks”, having been bought from the Penguins; St. Louis would use the pick on MacLean, who had been playing with the Hull Olympiques in the QMJHL. The French-born MacLean would wait a couple of years before turning pro, eventually joining the Salt Lake Golden Eagles in 1980-81. He would finish with 79 points in 80 games with the Eagles, as well as getting a single game with St. Louis, for good measure. Paul wouldn’t stay in Salt Lake (or St. Louis) for long, as he would be shipped to Winnipeg in a package deal in the summer of ’81.

Given his chance on a young Winnipeg team, MacLean was an immediate star. He would regularly put up over 60 points a year, topping out at 101 in the 84-85 season. Over the course of his tenure with the Jets, he would fail to reach 60 points only once (1985-86), and cracked the 70-point plateau five times. Despite his success, he would be traded to Detroit in the 1988 off-season for Brent Ashton, spending a single year with the Wings and scoring 71 points. The next June, he would be traded once more, this time as part of another package deal: Adam Oates and MacLean to St. Louis in exchange for Bernie Federko and Tony McKegney.

The deal would turn out to be a fleecing, in large part thanks to Oates, who would begin to record 100-point seasons on a regular basis in St. Louis. MacLean, ever his steady self, would put up 67 points in the 89-90 season, but he would only play 37 games the following year thanks to a rib injury. He would retire with the team that he had been drafted by, having played 11 years in the NHL. His time in hockey was far from done, though, as he would rise up through the coaching ranks, eventually earning a job as the head coach of the Ottawa Senators from 2011-14 – and, in the process, earning himself an impersonator.

MacLean’s totals with the Blues: 116 GP, 40 G, 44 A, 84 P, 124 PIM

MacLean’s career totals: 719 GP, 324 G, 349 A, 673 P, 968 PIM

#7 – RW DENIS HOULE (8th Round, 123rd Overall, Natural Pick) – Houle had spent three years with the Hamilton/St. Catharines Fincups before being drafted, having become a regular with the team in 76-77 thanks to an 86-point season. Immediately after his drafting, Denis joined the IHL’s Port Huron Flags, and had two very good seasons at that level, amassing 201 points in 159 games. Though he also did decently well with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, he was never able to crack the Blues’ roster, instead settling for a few years playing pro in Austria, Germany, and Italy towards the end of his career.

Houle would never play in the NHL.

#8 – RW TONY MEAGHER (9th Round, 140th Overall, Natural Pick) – Tony is the first player that the Blues drafted out of the United States, having finished up his second year at Boston University alongside some future American Olympic team members in Dave Silk, Jim Craig, and Jack O’Callahan. Meagher wouldn’t quite have the same success the others did, as he would not play professionally.

Meagher would never play in the NHL.

#9 – F RICK SIMPSON (9th Round, 143rd Overall, Pick acquired from the Penguins for cash) – Simpson was the second Medicine Hat Tiger selected by the Blues this year, following in the footsteps of Jim Nill. In his first (and potentially only) year of pro hockey, Rick would play only 16 games for the Port Huron Flags, recording 7 goals and 1 assist. (NOTE: There is a possible conflict in info between hockeydb.com and eliteprospects.com in regards to Simpson’s career; while EP says that Simpson played a year in England with the Cleveland Bombers in 1986-87, hockeydb says that this was a different Rick Simpson. Either way…)

Simpson would never play in the NHL.

#10 – G JIM LOCKHURST (10th Round, 157th Overall, Natural Pick) – The Blues would start drafting for goalie help in the 10th Round, grabbing Lockhurst from the OMJHL’s Kingston Canadians, where he had finished a rather disappointing second season as a 1a netminder (38 games, 4.89 GAA). He would play 17 games over the next two years in the EHL, never earning consideration as anything more than a third-string goalkeeper.

Lockhurst would never play in the NHL.

#11 – G BOB FROESE (10th Round, 160th Overall, Pick acquired from the Penguins for cash) – Prior to his selection by the Blues, Froese had never managed a GAA below 4.60 in four seasons in the OMJHL. He would improve dramatically once he got to the IHL, eventually becoming the starting goalie for the Saginaw Gears. He would leave the Blues as an unrestricted free agent in 1981; by this point, the Blues had run out of money, and could not sign him. He would instead sign a contract with the Philadelphia Flyers, taking a spot on the roster of their AHL affiliate, the Maine Mariners.

In 1982-83, Froese would earn a call-up to the NHL, eventually finishing the year as the back-up to his old Maine teammate Pelle Lindbergh. His .896 SV% actually ranked first on the team that year, and over the next couple of years, he would be the first man called upon when Lindbergh struggled in net. Though Froese flirted with the starting job in 83-84, he would take the reins full-time two years later in tragic circumstances, following Lindbergh’s death in an auto accident. Needing an emotional spark, Philly found one in Froese, who would play some of the best hockey of his career en route to an All-Star Game selection in 1986. He would lead the league in wins, GAA, and SV% that year, while also finishing second in the Vezina Trophy voting.

Not even a season like that, however, kept Bob safe from either losing his job or being traded. As Ron Hextall ascended up the depth chart in Philadelphia, Froese was made expendable, plying only three games before being dealt to the New York Rangers on December 18th, 1986. Now a back-up to John Vanbiesbrouck, Froese would never see more than 30 games in a season, and his play would suffer for it, as his save percentage never rose above the .880 mark in his final three seasons in the NHL – the last of which was played as a third-stringer behind both Vanbiesbrouck and Mike Richter.

Froese would soon retire, and find a new career as a goalie coach, serving on the staff of the New York Islanders for two seasons in the mid-‘90s. When that ended, he would turn to a religious life, serving as a pastor at Faith Fellowship Church in Clarence, New York. He continues to work there to this day.

Froese would never play for the Blues.

Froese’s career totals: 242 GP, 128-72-20 Record, 3.10 GAA, .890 SV%

#12 – C DAN LERG (10th Round, 170th Overall, Pick acquired from the Bruins for cash) – At the time of his selection, Lerg had finished his second year at the University of Michigan, having put up 92 points in 77 games over the course of those two seasons. He would play two more years there, putting up 76 points in only 38 games in his final year there (1979-80). He would go on to play only one year of pro hockey, finishing with 27 points in 30 games for the IHL’s Port Huron Flags.

Lerg would never play in the NHL.

#13 – D RISTO SILTANEN (11th Round, 173rd Overall, Natural Pick) – Though he had been drafted by the Blues, Siltanen had already committed to join the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers, splitting the 1978-79 season between them and his original Finnish club Ilves Tampere. In 1979, the Blues would claim him prior to the NHL Expansion Draft for WHA teams, only to trade him right back to Edmonton in a deal that saw Joe Micheletti join St. Louis.

SIltanen would spend the next three years with the Oilers in the NHL, even leading all Oiler blue-liners in points in 80-81. With the rise of Paul Coffey the next year, Siltanen became expendable despite putting up a career-high 63 points; in the 1982 off-season, he would be dealt to the Hartford Whalers in a trade that brought Ken Linseman to Edmonton. Without the likes of Gretzky, Messier, and Kurri to pass to, Siltanen’s point totals would drop over the next few years, but he did manage to break the 50-point barrier in 1983-84 with 53. He would be traded to Quebec prior to the 1986 trade deadline, spending that season and the next with the Nordiques.

Following the 86-87 season, Siltanen would return to Europe, signing with Bern SC for a year before returning to Ilves. After four years with his first pro club, then four more years with TuTo Turku, he would close out his career in the German third tier with SC Bietigheim-Bissingen.

Siltanen would never play for the Blues.

Siltanen’s career totals: 562 GP, 90 G, 262 A, 355 P, 266 PIM

(NOTE: Risto Siltanen is the last player taken in this draft by the Blues that would go on to play in the NHL.)

#14 – LW DAN HERMANSSON (11th Round, 175th Overall, Pick acquired from the Penguins for cash) – Having just drafted their first Finnish player, the Blues would follow it up by taking their first Swede of the Draft in Hermansson. He had scored five goals in the 1978 World Junior Championship, and had picked up 12 goals and 17 points in 22 games with Karlskoga. Whatever promise he might have had was left in Sweden, where he would play for thirteen more seasons, eventually hanging up the skates in 1991.

The next player selected was Steve Weeks, who would go on to play almost 300 games in the NHL

#15 – LW JEAN-FRANCOIS BOUTIN (11th Round, 181st Overall, Pick acquired from the Maple Leafs for cash) – Boutin had slipped somewhat under the radar in this draft, having put up 108 points for the Verdun Black Hawks in the QMJHL. His good junior numbers would never translate to the pro game, as he would play only 17 games the next year, splitting time between three different IHL teams. After a four-year absence, he would return to hockey with the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, recording 23 points in 31 games in what would turn out to be his final pro season.

#16 – RW JOHN SULLIVAN (11th Round, 185th Overall, Pick acquired from the Bruins for cash) – Sullivan had finished up his first year with Providence College when he was drafted, putting up 26 points in 32 games in his rookie year. He would play three more years there, but never went pro.

#17 – RW SERGE MENARD (12th Round, 188th Overall, Natural Pick) – Menard found himself playing all over the QMJHL in his four years there, spending his first couple of years in Sorel before playing in Laval, Shawinigan, and Montreal over the rest of that period. He would go on to play three years in the IHL with Port Huron, never advancing past that level despite recording 251 points in 230 pro games.

#18 – D/C DON BOYD (12th Round, 191st Overall, Pick acquired from the Penguins for cash) – Though he played his college career as a defenseman, Boyd would be moved to centre when he turned pro in 1979-80. He would not have the same results as a forward that he did with R.P.I., playing only two years in the IHL with Port Huron before dropping to a lower league in 81-82. The year after that, he would play with Altrincham in the British Hockey League, scoring 42 goals and 69 points in only 22 games.

#19 – LW PAUL STASIUK (12th Round, 197th Overall, Pick acquired from the Maple Leafs for cash) – The Willowdale-born Stasiuk was a teammate of John Sullivan’s at Providence, and actually finished with the fewest penalty minutes of any regular player that year (six). He would play only one pro year, suiting up for the ACHL’s Salem Raiders in 1981-82.

The next player taken was Anton Stastny, one of the famed brothers from Czechoslovakia. Though he was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers, he would only play with the Quebec Nordiques in the NHL.

#20 – F GERD TRUNTSCHKA (12th Round, 200th Overall, Pick acquired from the Bruins for cash) – The Blues missed out on history by four picks, as the Atlanta Flames had taken goalie Bernhard Engelbrecht at #196, making him the first West German player ever drafted. Though Gerd would explode the next year for 106 points in 49 games with Landshut, that level of production wasn’t enough to earn a contract in North America. He would stay in his home country for his entire career, amassing 1201 points in 707 games.

Taken after Truntschka was Soviet defender Viacheslav Fetisov; though selected by the Montreal Canadiens, he would not sign with them, instead re-entering the draft five years later, and getting selected by the New Jersey Devils. He would join the Devils in 1989, then play nine seasons in the NHL. He is the only player from this draft to reach the Hockey Hall of Fame.

#21 – RW VIKTOR SHKRUDYUK (13th Round, 203rd Overall, Natural Pick) – At this point, the Blues were reaching as far into Europe as they could go, taking Leningrad winger Shkrudyuk in his first year of eligibility. Shkrudyk would never make the move to North America, instead playing most of his later career with Dynamo Moscow.

#22 – G CARL BLOOMBERG (13th Round, 205th Overall, Pick acquired from the Penguins for cash) – Having gone across the world for their last selection, St. Louis went a little closer to home this time around. Bloomberg was finishing up his second year at St. Louis University at the time of his drafting, and had been with the U.S. World Junior team for both of the past two seasons.

Bloomberg would play one more year with St. Louis University, but never made the jump to professional hockey.

#23 – LW TERRY KITCHING (13th Round, 207th Overall, Pick acquired from the Kings for cash) – One St. Louis University student clearly wasn’t enough for the Blues, as they took Bloomberg’s teammate Terry Kitching with their next pick. The Winnipeg-born Kitching was also in his second year with the school, and would also play only one more year with them, never turning pro.

#24 – D BRIAN O’CONNOR (13th Round, 209th Overall, Pick acquired from the Flames for cash) – The New Haven, Connecticut native was playing for Boston University at the time of his selection. That is the full extent of the info available on him.

#25 – D BRIAN CROMBEEN (13th Round, 210th Overall, Pick acquired from the Maple Leafs for cash) – There were some family considerations in this pick, as the Blues had just taken Brian’s brother Mike in the Cleveland Barons dispersal draft. Brian, who had just finished his third year with the Kingston Canadians, would play at Wilfrid Laurier University for a year, then play two years for the Petrolia Squires in the OHA Senior A Hockey League.

Brian’s nephew (and Mike’s son) B.J. would eventually become a St. Louis Blue himself, playing parts of four season with the team from 2008-2012.

#26 – C MIKE PIDGEON (13th Round, 211th Overall, Pick acquired from the Bruins for cash) – After playing for a year with Boston University, Pidgeon returned to Ontario junior hockey, putting up a respectable 87 points in 66 games with the Oshawa Generals. He would move to the University of Guelph the next year, before playing 2 games with the Eastern Hockey League’s Syracuse Hornets in 1980. He would be with the Hornets when they folded on November 13th of that year.

#27 – RW JOHN COCHRANE (14th Round, 214th Overall, Natural Pick) – Cochrane had finished up his second year at Harvard at the time of his selection. Though he would put up a point per game the next year with the Crimson, he would not make the jump to pro hockey.

#28 – D JOE CASEY (14th Round, 216th Overall, Pick acquired from the Penguins for cash) – Casey had played his first year at Boston College, managing only 6 points in 33 games. He would play one more year there, the last of his career.

Of note, Casey is the son of Bob Casey, once the long-time P.A. announcer for the Minnesota Twins.

#29 – C JIM FARRELL (14th Round, 218th Overall, Pick acquired from the Kings for cash) – Having already taken players from Harvard and Boston College this round, the Blues would take Princeton freshman Farrell with their third pick of the round. He would go on to have two poor years with the Tigers, but rebounded in 1980-81 with 23 points in 25 games.

Jim’s life off the rink would turn out to be far more interesting, as he would go on to a career in law following his departure from hockey. He would eventually head up a department in the Massachusetts state attorney general’s office before his death in 2004. In addition to his success in the legal and political world, Jim had a TV character named in his honour; the recurring character Errol “the Eel” Farrell from L.A. Law was named after him by show writer David E. Kelley, who was a teammate of Jim’s at Princeton.

#30 – D FRANK JOHNSON (14th Round, 220th Overall, Pick acquired from the Flames for cash) – Four picks in the round, four players taken from the ECAC. Johnson had played two years for Providence College, and would go on to play two more years there, never turning pro.

#31 – D BLAIR WHEELER (14th Round, 221st Overall, Pick acquired from the Maple Leafs for cash) – The Blues made it a sweep of ECAC picks with the Yale-based Wheeler, who had finished up his freshman year with the Bulldogs; prior to that, Wheeler had played two years with the SJHL’s Moose Jaw Canucks. Blair would go on to play three more years at Yale, but would never go professional.

After 14 rounds and 31 picks, the Blues would finally call it a day. Their haul of players would stand as a new record, one that has not been broken to this day – nor is it likely to be tested, considering the draft only goes seven rounds now. So, with all of those players picked, how exactly did they do?


THE RESULTS

Obviously, the Blues set a record with their 31 picks, but only 5 would make it to the National Hockey League. This totals up to 16.13% of picks making the big league, which is by far the worst total among all 17 teams that took part in the Draft that year, and well behind the league average of just over 40%. If the Blues had just stopped picking past the 11th Round, they would only have gone 5/16 in their pick efficiency; still below average, but at least closer to some semblance of respectability. The team that did the best with more than 5 picks were the New York Rangers, who made 16 picks, 10 of whom made the NHL – good for 62.5% of their picks. (I’m using the 5-pick threshold to exclude Pittsburgh, who embraced a “Draft, Schmaft” strategy and made only three picks, with two of them making it to the NHL for a total of five games put together.)

While the Blues struggled in pick efficiency thanks to their strategy of gobbling up late-round selections and hoping they could find a diamond in the rough, the talent they DID find proved to be quite good. Of the five players the Blues drafted that made it to the National Hockey League, Bob Froese would play the least amount of games, 242; this total actually beats all of Los Angeles and Pittsburgh’s picks combined. The other four that made it all played over 500 games in the NHL, with Paul MacLean topping out at 719 appearances. The Blues’ total of 2566 games played is good for fifth in the league that year, well over the league average of 1864. Leading the way was Montreal, who got a total of 3350 games from their 24 picks that year, including late-round finds like Louis Sleigher and Chris Nilan.

In terms of games/pick, St. Louis is obviously hobbled thanks to their plethora of late-round misses. They would average 82.8 games/pick, which puts them fifth-last in the NHL. (Minnesota’s 283.5 g/p was top of the league, while Pittsburgh brought up the rear with a pathetic 1.67 g/p.) Of course, thanks to those who actually DID make the league, the Blues’ total significantly increases; when taking into account only players who played in the NHL, the Blues rise to third in the league with an average of 513.2 games/pick, behind only Minnesota and Boston. Once again, the North Stars were on top of the league (567 g/p), and the Penguins were at the bottom (2.5 g/p).

With so many misses, it skews St. Louis’ results, but there is another factor to consider. Of the five players that made it to the National Hockey League, only one of them, Wayne Babych, would have a lengthy career with the Blues; Jim Nill and Paul MacLean would play very little in St. Louis, while Bob Froese and Risto Siltanen would never suit up for the Blues at all. Siltanen is excusable, as he had already committed to the WHA’s Edmonton Oilers by that point, but Froese wouldn’t be offered a contract due to St. Louis lacking the funds to sign him. Both of those players would become very useful for other teams, with Froese even getting an All-Star Team selection in 85-86.

And of the two they didn’t hold on to for very long, not only would both of them get plenty of playing time in other places, but the assets St. Louis acquired for them were nowhere near worth it. In 1981, Paul MacLean, Bryan Maxwell, and Ed Staniowski were dealt to Winnipeg for Scott Campbell and John Markell; the two players the Blues acquired would play five games combined for them, while all of the three players they dealt away would see significant playing time with the Jets. Jim Nill, meanwhile, was traded to the Vancouver Canucks along with Tony Currie, Rick Heinz, and a 4th Round Pick in the 1982 Draft for Glen Hanlon. Hanlon would play parts of two seasons with the Blues, amassing only 16 games, before being dealt to the Rangers and immediately becoming their starting netminder.


IN CONCLUSION

The St. Louis Blues took a huge gamble in 1978, one which led to a record haul of 31 picks – three more than the Montreal Canadiens made the previous year. It was literally a gamble, too; St. Louis paid out cash to several teams to amass all those picks, with so many of those selections bought in rounds where a team was very unlikely to find an NHL player. As seems to usually be the case, this gamble didn’t pay off, as the Blues only found five NHL players, one of whom was their own 3rd Overall Pick, Wayne Babych. The other four didn’t play much with the team, anyway, either due to previous commitments (Siltanen), a lack of money (Froese), or just terrible asset management (Nill and MacLean).

Whether it was a planned rule change, or whether it was a reaction to St. Louis’ tactics (or those of Montreal a year earlier), the NHL would alter the rules so that no team could buy picks with cash going forward. If the former is true, then the Blues’ strategy is somewhat understandable, but if the latter is true, then St. Louis may have made a miscalculation. If they were fully committed to that strategy, they could have waited a year for other rules to change, specifically, the age of draft eligibility; with 18-year-olds being available for selection the next year, the talent pool would have been greatly increased, thus leading to a windfall for any team that amassed picks that year. In any case, the Blues still did poorly with what they had in 1978, and couldn’t hold on to most of the players that would go on to make an impact in the league.

But hey, at least they got an L.A. Law character out of it.


Sources for career stats and player info: HockeyDB, Hockey Reference, Hockey Draft Central, and Elite Prospects.

Next month, I’ll be sticking with the draft, but going back to “What If”: What if the Ottawa Senators took Chris Pronger instead of Alexandre Daigle?

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