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The first draft pick: Walt McKechnie

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The first NHL draft was held in 1963, who did the Leafs pick?

With the entry draft just weeks away, I was looking through Leafs draft history and thought "Hey, I can spill some words from this look around wikipedia". So here's my first mess of letters, on the Maple Leafs first ever draft pick.

In 1963 the first NHL draft was held. There wasn't an arena full of fans, there were no prospects sitting all day, waiting, praying that their name gets called. No marathon broadcasts or terrible, terrible, draft day photos.

There were six NHL teams present that day in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal, and only a few staff members were present. The amateur draft was started to give an equal chance at drafting a high quality player to each team. Before then teams stock piled players in amateur teams owned by the clubs who were signed to contracts at young ages by roaming scouts.

Draft eligibility was limited to players who would reach 17 years of age between August 1, 1963 and July 31, 1964. They could not be signed to professional contracts until their 18th birthday, when the teams were given a 72 hour window to do so.

Six players were taken in the first round of that draft, each earning a place in that teams history. The first player taken was Garry Monahan, a centre playing for the St. Michael's Juveniles, by the Montreal Canadiens.

Being the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Toronto Maple Leafs held the final pick in the first round., and with it they selected Walt McKechnie, a centre from the London Nationals Jr B team.

McKechnie wouldn't end up playing for the Maple Leafs right away. He would end up being traded to the Phoenix Roadrunners of the WHL in 1967 for Steve Witiuk. His journey would then take him to the Minnesota North Stars (for Leo Thiffault and Bob Charlebois) in 1968. Traded to the California Golden Seals in 1971 (with Joey Johnson for Dennis Hextall), claimed by the New York Rangers in 1974, then traded to the Bruins for Derek Sanderson that same year. He then went to Detroit with Boston 3rd round pick for Hank Nowak and Earl Anderson.

Never being settled for more than a few years at most he was moved to Washington in 1977 (with Detroits '78 3rd, '79 2nd) for Ron Low and Washington's '79 3rd. A few months later he went to Cleveland for Bob Girard and Clevelands '79 2nd.

Finally, 15 years later, McKechnie would don the blue and white when he was traded to Toronto from Minnesota (following the merger of Minnesota and Cleveland) for 1980 third round pick.

McKechnie would only play one and a half seasons with the team that originally drafted him. He would score 32 goals, and add 72 assists for 104 points in 133 games as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He would add 4 goals and 3 assists for 7 points in 6 games for the Maple Leafs first round exit in the 1979 playoffs (only the second, and final, playoff series of his career).

While he would wear the Maple Leaf with pride, he would leave at the trade deadline of the 1980 season, going to Colorado for a 3rd round pick, and finally he'd change teams one more time, this time by his own choice, when he signed with Detroit in 1981.

McKechnie was the first pick the Maple Leafs made that draft, and only two other players picked by Toronto from that draft played in the NHL. Gerry Meehan was their fourth round pick and he played 25 games (2A) for the Maple Leafs before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers after spending most of his time in the minors.

Jim McKenny was the third round pick that year, and was the most successful for the Maple Leafs. McKenny would play 594 games for the Maple Leafs, scoring 81 goals, and adding 246 asssits (327 points) as a defenseman. McKenny would be traded in 1978 to Minnesota for cash and Owen Lloyd, and retire the following season.

I was surprised by the name of the Maple Leafs first pick. It was very familiar to me, as it was one I knew since I can remember.

McKechnie had a long career on the road, but he would find time in the summer to own a restaurant in Haliburton, ON, near where my grandparents had a cottage.

McKeck's has been on the main strip through the small cottage country town since 1986, it was the place we'd eat at least once every trip "up north" (I still crave the pizza rolls they used to make), and though Walt sold his share of the restaurant in 2009 it's still operating today, though from being a bar and grill to calling itself a "gastro pub" (triggering my rant about how the area has changed since I was a kid, but let's not go there).

McKechnie's was the first ever autographed hockey card I had in a collection (my mother had his card from Minnesota and got it signed one trip), and I now have it displayed next to my Jean Beliveau and Glenn Hall cards.

McKechnie wasn't a major played for the Leafs, but he was one important piece of Leafs history.