The NHL entry draft has always been a crapshoot. Picks are made based on a players potential, sometimes that potential never is realized. Just because someone is a highly touted prospect there are no guarantees of NHL success. Witness the story of Garry Monahan.
1963 marked a turning point for the National Hockey League. On June 5th of that year at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, the inaugural NHL entry draft was held.
The draft was created to put an end to the sponsorship system. The sponsorship system consisted of NHL teams sponsoring amateur teams. This system allowed NHL teams to scout pre-junior age players to a C form. Most of the players who signed C forms were young teenagers. By signing the C form that player was bound to his NHL club.
This allowed the teams with the best scouting as well as the ones who put in the most resources to scoop up the most talent. This had led to a general imbalance between the teams in the league.
No team used the sponsorship system with more success than the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens spent the most money on scouting, had the most amateur teams, and most importantly had a stranglehold on all of the best players coming from the province of Quebec.
The purpose of the draft was to give all of the other teams a shot at these players. The hope was that the draft would balance out all of the NHL teams and give the league more competitive balance.
However, this process could not be changed overnight. In each of the drafts from 1963 to 1968 there were very few quality players available. This problem developed because most of the best young players had already signed the C form. This meant that the only players eligible for the draft were players who had not signed a C form. It wasn’t until 1969 that the draft became a true amateur draft as the C form faded into history.
Holding the first pick of the very first entry draft were the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal narrowed their choice down to two players both from Ontario. After much deliberation, the very first draft pick in Montreal Canadiens history (as well as NHL history) was a 16 year old forward named Garry Monahan.
The Detroit Red Wings with the second pick chose the player the Canadiens had decided against, Peter Mahovlich.
Born on October 20th, 1946 in Barrie, Ontario, Monahan was a high scoring centre who was immediately placed with the Junior B St. Michaels Buzzers by the Habs. The next year he was moved up to Junior A to play with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey Association. At this point the Petes were a property of the Montreal Canadiens junior system.
In his third year with the Petes, Monahan’s offensive skills blossomed. Playing on a line with fellow Habs prospect Mickey Redmond, Monahan was able to score 30 goals and contribute 84 points for the Petes in just 47 games.
Monahan was ready to join the Habs for the 1967-68 season. Unfortunately, for him achieving that goal would prove to be a daunting task. Montreal’s top three centers were set in stone, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, and Ralph Backstrom. This left Monahan competing with a young French prospect for the center’s job on the Canadiens fourth line. That rookie was Jacques Lemaire.
“I found the pressure in Montreal to be incredible”, Monahan revealed later, “Given my temperament and personality, I don’t know if I was made for that.”
Monahan lasted only 14 games in Montreal before being traded to Detroit, for ironically, Peter Mahovlich.
And while Mahovlich would win four Stanley Cups with the Habs, and play a pivotal role for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series, Monahan began living the life of a hockey nomad.
After producing only 7 points in 51 games with the Red Wings, he was traded to Los Angeles where in 21 games he could only manage 3 points. A further trade to Toronto saw Monahan develop into a checking forward which served him well in his five years with the Leafs and another four with the Vancouver Canucks.
When Garry Monahan finally retired after the 1979 season, he became one of the few players to play in Japan, where he picked up his teaching certificate. And now after a successful career as a broadcaster with the Vancouver Canucks, he has settled in Vancouver as a successful realtor.
In 748 NHL games Garry Monahan scored 116 goals and added 169 assists for 285 career points. And while Garry Monahan never realized his full potential as a professional, he will always be remembered as being the first player ever selected in the NHL entry draft. Unfortunately, like many other high draft picks his career never lived up to it’s potential.