Sunday, May 27, 2012

Steve Atkinson and the 1966 NHL Amateur Draft

You probably have two questions:

1) Who is Steve Atkinson?
2) Why are you bringing him up?

Steve Atkinson was a winger who played 256 of his 308 career NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres from 1970 to 1974 (the other 47 games were with the Bruins and Capitals). He was a junior star with the Niagara Falls Flyers of the OHA where he won two Memorial Cups in the late 1960s and was rookie of the year in the Central League in 1969, but even his Legends of Hockey biography describes him as "flash-in-the-pan" (

As for why I'm posting this it has to do with the 1966 NHL Amateur Draft. Steve Atkinson was taken #6 overall. Pretty much every 'encyclopedic' source of today says he was drafted by the Red Wings. The NHL's website says so (, the NHL website's profile of Atkinson says so ( and so too do (, ( and his Legends of Hockey biography. Total Hockey, probably the greatest single print source of hockey stats, also says he was drafted by Detroit as does the 1972-73 NHL Guide, which had a recap of every amateur draft choice taken from 1963 to 1972.

I'm thoroughly convinced they're all wrong.

If you look at his career stats from any of the sources mentioned above you'll notice he never played a game for the Red Wings. In fact his first pro experience came with the Oklahoma City Blazers of the CPHL, an affiliate of the Boston Bruins, and his first NHL game was with the Bruins. How did he get to be a Bruins player?

All of those other sources say something to the effect of "traded to Boston by Detroit to complete transaction that sent Leo Boivin and Dean Prentice to Detroit (February, 1966), June 6, 1966". Boivin and Prentice were traded to Detroit in February that year as part of the Red Wings' push for a Stanley Cup. Sent the other way were Gary Doak, Ron Murphy, Bill Lesuk and Steve Atkinson.

Okay, fine, but there's a curious little problem with this: every source of the time I can find says Atkinson was drafted by Boston. An article from the Toronto Star and a Canadian Press release listed the draft picks, and Atkinson was among the Bruins' choices. Explanation for this is in the CP release printed in the Regina Leader-Post on April 26, 1966: "Boston Bruins had an extra choice as Detroit Red Wings waived their first draft choice to that club by prior arrangement." That sounds a little cumbersome to the modern reader but the gist is that the Red Wings traded their first-round pick to the Bruins. When? In the deal for Prentice and Boivin in February.

From the Montreal Gazette, Feb. 18, 1966: "In addition to Murphy and Doak, Boston will receive an amateur player to be named later plus an amateur draft concession." The amateur to be named later was Bill Lesuk, and the "amateur draft concession" was Steve Atkinson. Or rather the pick used to select Steve Atkinson. Steve Atkinson wasn't drafted by Detroit, he was drafted by Boston.

I think I have an explanation for why the reporting of this was so confusing: this was the first ever NHL draft pick traded. It had never been done before! It wouldn't be done again until 1968, when the Canadiens selected Jim Pritchard using the first-round pick they acquired from the Seals in a deal for Norm Ferguson and Stan Fuller.

As for where the June 6, 1966 date for Atkinson's transfer to the Bruins came from, I don't know. Perhaps this was the date Bill Lesuk was traded to the Bruins.

Later I will post the complete results of the 1966 Draft, which not only included the 24 picks made by the NHL teams but also included another 60 players drafted by the teams of the WHL, AHL and CPHL. The courtesy of allowing the WHL, AHL and CPHL teams to draft players was enacted in 1965. That year only one team exercised that option: the AHL's Pittsburgh Hornets selected Gary Beattie (who went on to never play a pro game, even a minor pro game, as far as I know). This practice was abandoned after expansion in 1967.

"Wings Get Boivin, Prentice; Give Boston Murphy, Doak". Montreal Gazette. Associated Press. February 18, 1966. p. 25.
"Pros Spend $192,000 In Draft". Montreal Gazette. April 26, 1966. p. 26.
"Pro prospects pinpointed". Regina Leader-Post. Canadian Press. April 26, 1966. p. 22.
Andrews, Ron (ed.). 1972-73 NHL Guide. The National Hockey League. 1972. pp. 135-137.
Burnett, Red. "Bob Davidson loses even his nephew in draft". Toronto Star. April 26, 1966. p. 10.
Diamond, Dan et al (eds.). Total Hockey. New York: Total Sports, 1998. p. 286.

1 comment:

  1. Mark,

    This is a great article.

    I really enjoyed the history of "the first traded first round pick".





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