Friday, June 26, 2009
Today is the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, being held in Montreal as part of the Montreal Canadiens centennial celebrations. It can be seen live on Versus in the USA and TSN in Canada starting at 7 PM Eastern time.
The NHL draft began in 1963 and was instituted by NHL President Clarence Campbell in an attempt to give all the teams a fighting chance to acquire star players by replacing the old system, where teams would scout and then "sponsor" young players, locking in those players and denying the other clubs any chance of acquiring them, such as the case with Bobby Orr who was signed by the Boston Bruins at age 14.
Under the rules of the new draft system, only players age 16 were eligible and teams were not allowed to even talk to their drafted players about turning professional until they turned 18. In 1969 the rules were changed so that any player under the age of 20 could be drafted, which resulted in more than four times the average number of players being picked than the previous six drafts.
The name of the draft was changed to the "NHL Entry Draft" in 1979 to coincide with a rule change that allowed players who had previously played professionally to be drafted, which gave teams the chance to pick players who had been part of the defunct World Hockey Association. The next season, without competition from the WHA, the rules were amended so that any player between the ages of 18 and 20 could be drafted and any non-North American player over the age of 20 was now eligible.
In 2003, the Florida Panthers attempted to circumvent the rules and draft Alexander Ovechkin, even though his birthday was two days after the cut-off date for eligibility for that year's draft. Then Panthers General Manager Rick Dudley, claiming that with the extra addition of leap days since Ovechkin was born made him eligible to be drafted.
The jersey I am featuring today is a CCM 1984-85 Pittsburgh Penguins Mario Lemieux Sunday Alternate jersey, worn by Lemieux during his rookie season after being the first overall player taken in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft.
The older Penguins jerseys have some detail changes when compared to the jerseys worn during their Stanley Cup winning seasons. First, the numbers are located up on the shoulders in the yellow area, rather than down lower on the arms in the black area where they would be relocated in 1988. The other notable differences to the early examples of this style jersey are the serif font used for the names on the back, the slightly thinner font used for the back numbers and taller font used for the numbers on the arms.
Lemieux would kick off his career in grand style, scoring a goal on his first ever shot on goal in the first shift of his first game. He would go on to win the Calder Memorial Trophy the year he wore this style yellow jersey as well as his first All-Star Game MVP award, the first ever rookie to do so.