Bill Torrey is a really smart guy. He made one of the truly unusual trades in the game’s history while building the New York Islanders. The 1973-74 Islanders won 19 games and lost 41 despite the presence of Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Billy Harris and a few good veterans like Eddie Westfall. At the draft that summer, NHL teams could draft one underage player (because of WHA raids) but it had to be in the first two rounds. Torrey selected Clark Gillies at No. 4 that year, and then at No. 22 (in the second round) he grabbed 18-year old Bryan Trottier. I loved those picks because they were WHL kids, and although I didn’t know they would end up being HOFers it was pretty clear the Islanders did a nice job drafting.
Torrey didn’t stop there. I’ve never quite figured out why people forget about this, but NYI made a trade in September that weakened their current blue line and improved the center position immediately. On September 10, 1974 the Islanders traded defenseman Larry Hornung (who was a successful WHA player for the Winnipeg Jets at that time) and a player to be named later to Kansas City Scouts (a new entry to the league) for recent draftee Bob Bourne. A week later, defender Bart Crashley was sent to the Scouts to complete the trade (Crashley would play half a season with the Scouts).
Torrey (and Al Arbour, the coach) kept Gillies and Bourne with the big club (they were 20) and sent young Trottier back to junior for seasoning. The club won 33 games in 1974-75, added Trottier to the band for the fall of 1975 and that group were natural-born killers for a decade. Imagine. Two centers in the same draft, and they traded two NHL calibre defensemen to get it done. Bill Torrey did a lot of things people remember, but that trade is one that doesn’t get mentioned (but should).
We’ve been focused on the NHL situation at center this summer, but it’s interesting to look at what Craig Mactavish has been able to accomplish in two summers and two drafts. Here are the centers added to the system since his arrival as GM spring 2013:
- Bogdan Yakimov No. 83 overall 2013
- Kyle Platzer No. 96 overall 2013
- Greg Chase No. 188 overall 2013
- Leon Draisaitl No. 3 overall 2014
- Tyler Vesel No. 153 overall 2014
It is of little help this fall, because these kids aren’t ready (for the most part). A year from today, Leon Draisaitl will have one year in the NHL, Bogdan Yakimov will have a year in the AHL (and maybe a cup of coffee in the show) and we’ll probably be talking about Greg Chase and the latest first-round selection. This is NOT sexy, it’s dreary and slow and after all these years feels like same old same old.
I think there’s some real steel in these moves, these kids are good bets. A year from now these centers will be pushing up from the bottom. If you’re MacTavish, are you tempted by a Brandon Sutter coming available, or more likely to go with Mark Arcobello for a season? I think Torrey would choose Arcobello over something rash. There is no use at all in trading away your future for a short term gain, not at this point in the process.