NHL Draft first-round Winterhawks of 1978-1989

 

Every hockey team enjoys discussing their National Hockey League alumni whenever they get the chance, not to mention their fanbases love it even more. This is especially true regarding first-round NHL draft picks and star players. Why wouldn’t they? Getting a player into the NHL is one of the most significant accomplishments that any team can boast. In their history, the Portland Winterhawks have seen 139 of their players drafted into the NHL. A number of these players were taken in the first round. A look at the accomplishments of one first-round pick from each year following their time in Portland.

Larry Playfair – 1978

At 13th overall in his NHL draft, Larry Playfair was selected by the Buffalo Sabres. In the season directly following his selection, he spent part of the 78-79 season with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League before joining the Sabres that same season. He spent 12 seasons in the NHL, split between the Buffalo Sabres and the Los Angeles Kings. Playfair gained a reputation in the NHL as a powerful enforcer for his team. That may be unsurprising when you consider his 402 penalty minutes during his final season in Portland. The defenseman retired from professional hockey in 1990 due to chronic back problems and saw himself inducted into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame 12 years later.

Perry Turnbull – 1979

Perry Turnbull had his name called second overall by the St. Louis Blues in 1979. The winner of the 1978-79 Four Broncos Trophy as the WHL’s player of the year went on to an eight-year NHL career with the Blues, Montréal Canadiens, and Winnipeg Jets before heading to play overseas. He has since returned to St. Louis and has continued to be a figure for the Blues in the St. Louis community.

Dave Babych – 1980

Selected second overall out of the Portland organization in 1980 was Dave Babych. Following his time as a Winterhawk, Babych spent the next 19 seasons in the NHL playing for the Winnipeg Jets, Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, and LA Kings. Per the NHL, the first player in the league to wear number 44 finished his NHL career just five games shy of 2,000. Ten years after hanging up his skates as a player, he worked as a team consultant for the Vancouver Canucks from 2008-2014.

Jim Benning – 1981

The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted Jim Benning out of Portland in 1981, sixth overall. He spent 81-90 playing in the NHL, splitting time between the Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks organizations. He spent time from 93-98 as an amateur scout for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the Buffalo Sabres before becoming the Director of Amateur Scouting for Buffalo until he became the Director of Player Personnel for the Boston Bruins in 2006. The following year he was moved within the organization and became the Assistant General Manager, a position he held until 2014, at which time he took over as General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks where he works with former Winterhawks head coach, Travis Green. Presently, he and the Canucks are in the Western Conference playoff bubble against the reigning Stanley Cup Champion St. Louis Blues. 

Jim Playfair – 1982

Four years after hearing his brother’s name called, Jim Playfair followed suit and saw himself drafted out of the Winterhawks organization at 20th overall. Currently, he serves as an associate coach for the Edmonton Oilers. Playfair has previously coached for the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames, as well as a couple of AHL and ECHL teams along the way. During his career in the pros, he bounced around between the NHL, AHL, and IHL. Was a 1983 Memorial Cup Champion. His son, Jackson, spent time in the WHL with both the Spokane Chiefs and Tri-City Americans from 2012-2015.

Cam Neely – 1983

At ninth overall in his NHL draft year, Cam Neely had his name called by the Vancouver Canucks. His time in the NHL made him one of the most recognizable names in the hockey world. Neely won the 1983 Memorial Cup with the Winterhawks in a season that somehow saw him as only the third-highest scoring member of the team. Incredibly, Neely spent less than 100 games in the WHL and yet managed to solidify himself as an all-time great. His NHL playing career spanned from 1983-96, during which he suited up for both the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins. He became the President of the Bruins in 2010 after serving as their VP of hockey operations for three years.

1984/85

Both 1984 and 1985 did not see a Winterhawk drafted in the first round.

Dan Woodley – 1986

Going seventh overall to the Vancouver Canucks in 1986 was Dan Woodley. He went on to play five games for the Vancouver Canucks, Woodley spent the majority of his career playing in the IHL, AHL, ECHL, and CoHL. Since 2007, he has been the head coach of Regis Jesuit High School’s varsity hockey team in Aurora, Colorado.

Glen Wesley – 1987

The Boston Bruins selected Glen Wesley third overall in 1987. The following season saw him play his first game in the NHL. Spending 20 seasons playing in the NHL, Wesley went on to appear in games for the Hartford Whalers and Carolina Hurricanes, with a brief seven-game stint in Toronto before returning to Carolina to finish out the final few years of his playing career. During his second stint with the Hurricanes, Wesley became a Stanley Cup champion in 2005-06. Two years later, he retired from playing and took on the role of Director of Player Operations for the Carolina Hurricanes, a position he held until 2018. He has since become a Development Coach for the St. Louis Blues. His number (2) was retired by Carolina in 2009 and is the only player to wear the number for the organization following their move from Hartford (he did not wear it with the Whalers as it had previously been retired).

1988/89

Both 1988 and 1989 did not see a player from Portland drafted in the first round.

Much more to come

With the 2020 NHL Entry Draft set to take place in October, we may just see another Winterhawks player taken in the first round. Seth Jarvis is listed at 11th among North American skaters on NHL’s Central Scouting Final Rankings.

Also making the final list are Cross Hanas (56th), Simon Knak (81st), Jonas Brondberg (115th), and Robbie Fromm-Delorme (196th).

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