The Flyers had traded their No.1 in this draft a year earlier to Hartford for Mark Howe. Bob McCammon, who had coached the Flyers that season, was promoted to GM, too, just 10 days before the draft. He promptly fired eastern scout Eric Coville and ignored the computer rankings the Flyers had compiled. But with the help of Sault Ste. Marie coach Terry Crisp, the former Flyer center and assistant; and Sault GM Sam McMaster, head scout Jerry Melnyk put together a masterpiece.
“The mass confusion draft,” as called by McCammon, brought Peter Zezel at No. 41, Derrick Smith at 44, Tocchet at 125 and Pelle Eklund at 161. Just one year later, Zezel, Smith and Tocchet all were rookie regulars when the youngest team in the NHL, going cold turkey that season without Clarke, Barber and Darryl Sittler, won the Presidents Trophy and went to the Final. And Eklund joined up a year later to key the 1987 finalists.
Eklund was a tout of Ted Sator, a coach in Sweden who had assisted McCammon as a skating instructor and would become a full time assistant that year. McCammon, who now lives in Vancouver, didn’t recall the details when reached recently by phone, but when all these draftees were making an impact through the mid-eighties, he credited McMaster for the Eastern “book” on the first three picks, as Melnyk was based in Edmonton.
“Jerry wasn’t a shouter or a fist-pounder,” recalls Jay Snider, then a second year Flyer president. “I don’t remember specifically the dynamics at the table that day, but I believe he would have thought it wise to be guided by people who saw these prospects more than he did.
“I didn’t push any of those guys,” said McMaster, later the Kings’ GM and now a scout for the Blue Jackets, “I just agreed with Jerry that they would be good players.
“Tocchet had been eligible the year before and not been taken in 12 rounds. He wasn’t a great skater but I knew his heart and that he would score. Zezel was a strong, stocky guy who could shoot and make plays. Smith had size and could skate and knew how to play.”