In case you somehow missed it, the New York Rangers won the NHL Draft Lottery and the right to draft Alexis Lafrenière, a franchise changing left winger from the QMJHL. After selecting Kaapo Kakko 2nd overall last year, the future of the Rangers seems brighter than ever with the 1st overall selection in their back pocket. The 2020 Draft is the first time the Rangers will draft 1st overall in 55 years, these are momentous occasions that have the opportunity to alter the course of a franchise so, with that in mind, did the the 1965 Draft change the Rangers’ fortunes? Well, to answer that question we’re gonna have to get a bit weird.
So, the first thing we need to cover is the fact that the 1965 NHL Amateur Draft was very different from the NHL Entry Draft that we all know and love. In fact, the ‘65 iteration of the NHL Draft was only the 3rd time it was held as the NHL established the 1st Amateur Draft in 1963. Now, the NHL implemented the Draft because of what was seen as an unbalance of talent spread through the league. We’re still four years away from the first expansion teams entering the league, so you have six teams; Chicago Black Hawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, and New York Rangers all vying for a rather restricted pool of talent in a league where almost every player was Canadian and only two teams called the Great White North home.
In order to acquire young players the NHL teams sponsored amateur teams and sign teenagers to those teams, and then hope they turn out for the pro roster. With the most talented players coming out of Ontario and Quebec this gave the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs an inherent legal unfair advantage that the Canadiens fully exploited to build stacked rosters. In fact, Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau was a star amateaur player for the Quebec Aces of the Quebec Senior Hockey League. Montreal wanted the smooth skating center in their lineup but Beliveau, an eventual Hockey Hall of Famer, wasn’t eager to play for them. So, with the Habs owning his rights as they sponsored the Quebec Aces, Montreal up and bought the entire Quebec Senior Hockey League, turned it pro, and basically forced Beliveau into their lineup, signing him at age 19 to a $100,000 contract.
By the 1960s. the Boston Bruins got in on the action when NHL scouts noticed a 12 year old defenseman tearing apart a bantam tournament in Gananoque, Ontario. Team were angling to try and sign the young player to their amateur teams. Then the Bruins just up and subsidized Gananoque’s minor hockey program and two years later a 14 year old Bobby Orr signs a contract with the Bruins that placed him into their amateur system to incubate and the rest is history. It’s roster building by imperial conquest.
The imbalance of talent was quickly becoming a concern as teams closer to the Canadian border were able to secure sponsorship with better teams and players than others. In order to curtail this then NHL President Clarence Campbell implemented the first NHL Amateur Draft in 1963. The idea behind the draft was a “uniform approach for each team to acquire a star player.” Not only would this help balance the spread of talent around the NHL but it would also give players a chance to play for teams that they probably wouldn’t get with the sponsorship system.
The final draft order for the inaugural Amateur Draft was Montreal, Detroit, Boston, New York, Chicago, and the Toronto Maple Leafs. For the 2nd Draft, each team moves up one spot which meant Montreal rotated down to 6th overall and Detroit moves to 1st. Now, there were some restrictions as to which players could be selected as teams still had agreements and sponsored amateur leagues so many of the top young talent weren’t available to be drafted, which is why only 5 of the 21 players selected went on to play in the NHL, the most notable was 2nd overall pick Pete Mahovlich.
The Worst Draft Ever
So, the NHL got a couple of the Amateur Drafts under their belt in 1963 and 1964. For the 1965 iteration there were a couple of tweaks made most important was that in order to be draft eligible a player had to be 18 years old, instead of 16 and the NHL made an agreement with the AHL, CHL, and WHL that allowed those three leagues to draft players at the end of each round after each NHL team made their picks. Now, we established earlier that the draft order was determined by a rotation of teams moving up one slot each year, which meant that the Bruins, who drafted 3rd overall in 1963, had the 1st overall pick in 1965. However, this is where things get weird. Let’s take a look at the final draft order:
- New York Rangers
- Chicago Black Hawks
- Detroit Red Wings
- Boston Bruins
- Montreal Canadiens
You notice anything weird? Not only are the Bruins drafting 4th overall, but there are only five out of the Original Six teams. It’s not like the Toronto Maple Leafs didn’t participate in the NHL that year, they finished 4th in the league and made the playoffs, so what happened? Well, apparently the pool of available talent was so thin due to the sponsor system that not only did the Boston Bruins defer their 1st overall pick to the next season, moving the Rangers into the top spot, but the Toronto Maple Leafs just decided to not participate. 1/6 of the league just didn’t show up for the Draft because the talent available was so bad.
There were only 11 players selected in 1965, with the Rangers drafting three of them, and only two went onto play in the NHL; Michel Parizeau, drafted 10th overall by the Rangers,played 58 games split between the expansion St. Louis Blues and Philadelphia Flyers during 1970-71 season before having an extended career in the WHA, and Pierre Bouchard, selected 6th overall by the Montreal Canadiens and he went on to play 595 NHL games most of them with the Habs and a handful with the Washington Capitals.
Now, what about the 1st overall pick? Well, the Rangers selected Andre Veilleux out of the Quebec Junior A Hockey League. Who is Andre Veilleux? A pure mystery. Here is his entire Eliteprospects page:
That’s it. That’s all I can find after digging through the internet, though Hockeydb does have one 1966-67 season for Veilleux, showing that he played 16 games for the Rosemont Bombers of the Montreal Metropolitan Junior Hockey League, where he put up one goal and one assist for two points and 79 penalty minutes.
Aside from that...that’s all that we know about the only 1st overall pick in New York Rangers history. Odds are good that we’ll probably have a lot more to say about Alexis Lafrenière.