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NHL History Lesson: The 1989 NHL Draft

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Reports are swirling around the real world (read: the part of the world that makes you work and not watch hockey) that our country's students are learning less and less history. While this depresses the former history major in me, it also makes me sad for those who don't see the value in learning their history. Without getting too preachy about it... you should learn some history. It's important.

With that, we introduce someone who is a very good friend of the blog making her introductory guest post here on Hockey Wilderness. Jennifer Conway is the coolest librarian you may never meet, and provides the hockey world with a much needed grounding in the history of hockey and specifically the NHL. She is good people, even if she does live in the arm pit of civilization. If you want to know where that is, you'll have to ask her.

Today, she gives us a look at the 1989 NHL Draft, also known as: the last time the draft was held here in Minnesota. Make the jump for some fun history. Also, throw a thank you up for Jennifer for putting this together. Good stuff. 

by Jennifer Conway

The last time Minnesota hosted the NHL draft, George H. W. Bush was president, New Kids on the Block had the number one single, and the world had just witnessed the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and the beginning of the anti-communist revolution in Central and Eastern Europe.

At the same time the hockey world was about to undergo its own revolution, thanks to the choices made June 17, 1989 at the Met Center in Bloomington, Minnesota.

The 1989 draft is considered one of the most successful ever for the Red Wings, whose picks went on to play a combined 2, 997 games for them and more than 5,721 combined NHL games, as well as a combined 9 Stanley Cups. Ironically, at the time then-G.M. Jim Devellano told scouts, "If we get two NHL players, we'll be real happy."

What made Detroit so successful at this draft? Their willingness to draft European players, despite the prevailing prejudice against them; they also chose Soviet bloc players with an understanding that it would take time and patience to get them into North America. Though they only chose three Europeans (Niklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and Vladimir Konstantinov), the success of these three helped cement a new interest in better scouting and drafting of European players across the league, as well as  setting the current blueprint for the Red Wings.

Here are a few other firsts and notable facts about the 1989 draft:

  • The first overall pick was Mats Sundin, the first European-born ever chosen first overall.

  • Olaf Kolzig, drafted 19th overall by the Capitals, was the first South African-born player ever chosen in the draft.
  • Dan Bylsma (109) was drafted four spots ahead of Pavel Bure (113).
  • Twelve future NHL All-Stars were drafted: Mats Sundin, Bill Guerin, Bobby Holik, Mike Sillinger, Olaf Kolzig, Adam Foote, Nik Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Pavel Bure, Donald Audette, Arturs Irbe, and Vladimir Konstantinov.
  • Of all the Red Wing picks that day, Mike Sillinger was their first, ahead of Federov and Lidstrom. This was due to draft rules in force at the time, limiting the availablity of 18 year old players to the first three rounds.
  • Kris Draper was the only player drafted from the Canadian National Team. The Jets would later trade his rights to the Red Wings for $1.
  • Despite being drafted 57th overall by the Boston Bruins, Wes Walz didn't become a full-fledged NHLer until he signed with the Minnesota Wild.
  • This was the first draft to be televised in the U.S. and was carried by Sportsnet America.
Editor's note: Thank you to Jennifer for contributing this post. Please be sure to follow her on Twitter at @NHLHistoryGirl for your daily dose of hockey history.