Kaapo Kakko

First Time First

Almost 19 hours after it happened, you’re still probably on a bit of a high as a Rangers fan, and why not, this is the first time the Rangers have ever earned the right to pick first in the NHL Entry Draft.

Okay, well technically they did pick first in 1965 when there were only six teams, and in an era where teams could own a player’s rights forever. 

In the first amateur draft in 1963, just 21 players were selected across a four round span, with five of those players going on to appear in the NHL, all of whom made 600+ appearances.  Three of those players ended up with Toronto – Center Walt McKechnie, Defenseman Jim McKenny and the first ever “Mr Irrelevant”, left wing Gerry Meehan.  There was also Pete Mahovlich for Detroit picked second overall, and the first pick Garry Monahan who went to Montreal.

None of the four Rangers picks played a single game in the NHL.  They did better, on paper at least in the second draft, when they selected right-wing Tim Ecclestone and center Syl Apps Jr.  Ecclestone would go on to play 692 NHL games, though none of them with New York, as he was traded to the St Louis Blues along with Bob Plager, Gord Kannegiesser and Gary Sabourin for Rod Seiling.  Meanwhile Apps – son of the former Toronto player of the same name – hung around for just 31 games before being traded along with Sheldon Kannegeisser for Glen Sather…you may have heard of him.

Which brings us to 1965, where the Rangers would get the first overall pick. They earned the right to pick first, not because of their record – they came second to last of the six teams the previous season, but because in 1963 the league had decided to create a draft and allow teams on a rotating basis to pick first, and it was simply the Rangers’ turn.

For the 1965 draft, there was an important change.  In the first two instances of the draft, teams were aloud to select players as young as 16, but importantly in 1965 the minimum age was changed to 18, significantly reducing the pool of viable players.  Only 11 players were selected in that year, with just two of them making it to the NHL.  Pierre Bouchard went to the Canadiens, and the Rangers did select Michel Parizeau at #10, though he was claimed by the Blues in the Intra-league draft of 1971 and ultimately ended up playing the bulk of his pro career in the WHA after relatively short stints with the Blues and Flyers.

As for the first overall pick, that would be used to select Andre Vellieux, who had been playing for what was then known as the Montreal Junior B team, or the third tier of junior hockey.  He came out of what was considered the strongest Junior B team at the time, and did play along side Andre Dupont – who had a seven game cameo with the Rangers before winning two cups with the Philadelphia Flyers.  While he did make it to A level for one season in the QAJHL, his second, and final season was with the Rosemont Bombers of the MMJHL, a third tier league out of the province of Manitoba, and reportedly ended up playing out his career for suburban teams in the Montreal region.

The following year the Rangers did pick Brad Park second overall and last year it was Kaapo Kakko who was selected second overall as well, but this year’s draft – scheduled tentatively for October 9th and 10th, will mark the first real opportunity for the Rangers to draft first without mitigating conditions.

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