[DROP]t was the 1984 NHL entry draft, back in the days when it was always held in Montreal, always started first thing in the morning and always featured a lunch break after the fifth round.
That year, the Calgary Flames' co-ordinator of scouting - a jovial, bulky man named Ian McKenzie - was wading through the tables in the eating area, when he fell into a chat with a familiar scribbler.
"I can't believe no one's taken Brett Hull yet," began McKenzie, who went onto to praise Hull's upside, most of which centred on one skill: the ability to score. This was an era when the Edmonton Oilers were revolutionizing the NHL by scoring 400-plus goals a season and a precocious talent named Wayne Gretzky was setting records that would never be challenged.
That year, playing on a more modest stage (the Penticton Knights of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League), Hull had scored a mere 105 goals as a 19-year-old.
The 1984 draft was one of the most anticipated in history, with Mario Lemieux available at the top, a potential franchise player heading more or less against his wishes to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flames had already had a good day, choosing Gary Roberts and Paul Ranheim in Rounds 1 and 2 and both would go on to play more than 1,000 NHL games.
But McKenzie wanted more - and soon after the break, got it. With their sixth-round pick, 117th overall, the Flames selected Hull, son of the legendary Golden Jet, one of the most dynamic players ever. The rest as they say is history - mostly St. Louis Blues history. In Hull's second pro season, after he'd scored 50 goals in the minors and showed signs of developing into a deadly NHL sniper, the Flames traded him to the Blues for Rob Ramage and Rick Wamsley.
In the end, Hull scored 527 of his 741 career goals for the Blues.
Set to be inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame on Monday, the question was put to Hull: With all of Calgary's depth on the right side in those days, might things have turned out differently if he hadn't been flipped to St. Louis so early in his professional career?
"I think it's probably very possible," answered Hull. "I've said for years I could never figure out why Calgary ever drafted me. When I got there, I think they had eight or nine right wingers already, including Lanny McDonald, Joey Mullen, Hakan Loob. These guys were premiere players. It's not like they were extremely late in their careers either.
"Yeah, if (GM) Ron Caron from St. Louis hadn't called and possibly made that trade, I could have fallen through the cracks."
Hull is one of four players who will enter the Hall as the class of 2009. The others: His fellow 1984 long-shot, Luc Robitaille, the 171st player chosen that year by the Los Angeles Kings; plus two blue-chippers, Steve Yzerman (fourth overall, 1983) and Brian Leetch (ninth overall, 1986).
Hull was a clear work in progress when he was drafted by Calgary, but improved his skating dramatically in two years of playing for the University of Minnesota (Duluth), complementing his other qualities - great innate hockey sense, and a brilliant shot that he could get off almost anywhere at any time.
That quick release, along with his stealth ability to materialize at the right place at the right time, turned Hull into that rarely seen bird: the natural goal scorer. In a three-year span, from 1989 to 1991, Hull led the league in goals; his 86 goals in 78 games in 1990-91 is the highest total recorded by any player not named Gretzky in league history.
Hull is not sure, given the evolution of goaltenders and their equipment, if anyone might approach those numbers again - or even if goal scoring, as a craft, can be taught. Mostly, he believes it is intrinsic - you either have it or you don't.
"You just watch (Alex) Ovechkin, he reminds me - I don't want to say he reminds me of me - but he goes to all the places that I used to go," said Hull. "It's so fun to watch him."
McKenzie, who also found Theo Fleury for the Flames in the depths of the entry draft, remembers Hull's draft day not just because it turned out to be the best in Calgary history. It was also the only time in his scouting career he was ever quoted in Sports Illustrated.
"They called and asked me, 'Did you draft Brett Hull because of his famous name, because he was Bobby Hull's son?" recalled McKenzie. "I said, 'no, we drafted him because he scored 105 goals in one year."
Sometimes, scouting really is as basic as that.
AROUND THE RINKS
In the midst of what is becoming an NHL injury epidemic, one ray of light: New Jersey Devils' star Patrick Elias is poised to return to the line-up, after missing the first month recovering from an arthroscopic procedure in mid-September to treat a groin problem Elias was the Devils' second-leading scorer last season, with 78 points in 77 games … Guelph, Ont.-born and un-drafted as a teenager, Rich Peverley spent four years at St. Lawrence University and parts of his first two pro years in the low minors (ECHL) before signing with the Nashville Predators, who lost him to the Atlanta Thrashers on waivers last January. Talk about making the most of an opportunity. Peverley scored 35 points in 39 games for the Thrashers last year and added 16 in his first 11 games this season to lead the team in scoring. Peverley is keeping the team competitive during Ilya Kovalchuk's extended injury absence … Also blooming nicely, if late: The New York Islanders' Matt Moulson, from North York, Ont. an 11th-round choice of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who was never signed with them after four years at Cornell. Moulson played most of three seasons in the Los Angeles Kings' farm system, before signing on with the New York Islanders last summer and getting a chance to play on the top line with rookie sensation John Tavares. The connection: Tavares and Moulson's younger brother Chris played lacrosse and hockey together; the parents of both families were friends, and even though there are seven years between them, the two linemastes regularly trained together in the off-season. Of Moulson's breakthrough, Islanders coach Scott Gordon suggested they were hopeful, but not necessarily giddy with optimism that Moulson could carry his AHL scoring touch into the NHL. "That last exhibition, I told him, 'you've made our team, but every day's your last day here," Gordon said to New York Newsday … Add the Columbus Blue Jackets' Kristian Huselius to the league's growing injury list. Huselius was injured in practice Tuesday and will miss at least a week … The early-season leader in what may be a crowded Calder Trophy class may be the Philadelphia Flyers' James vanRiemsdyk, the second player chosen in the Patrick Kane (2007) draft. VanRiemsdyk spent two years at the University of New Hampshire and had a brief seven-game taste of pro last spring with the Flyers' AHL affiliate. After Mike Knuble left as free agent and Joffrey Lupul went west in Chris Pronger deal, van Riemsdyk received a chance to play in a scoring role and is making the most of his 13 or so minutes of ice time per night, scoring 13 points in his first 10 games) …. An injury to Evgeni Malkin and Max Talbot's ongoing absence from the Penguins' line-up paved the way for Ray Bourque's son Chris to get into some games for Pittsburgh this season. Originally drafted by Washington, Bourque was added by the Penguins as a depth player on waivers at start of the year … With the New York Rangers on a rare but highly anticipated swing through Western Canada, ex-Montreal Canadiens' forward Chris Higgins finally ended his early-season goal-scoring drought, getting his first in 15 games against the Vancouver Canucks last Tuesday. Coach John Tortorella continues to search for a third forward to complement Marian Gaborik and Vinny Prospal; Higgins received his audition in the Vancouver game … Road warriors? After a light early-season schedule that saw the Calgary Flames play eight of their first 12 at home, they now face a daunting 13 of their next 17 away from the Pengrowth Saddledome. The good news: Goaltender Curtis McElhinney, who they are counting on to spell Miikka Kiprusoff this year, won for just the second time in his NHL career, with a spectacular 38-save performance. McElhinney's only other NHL win came in garbage time last year - Game 82 against Edmonton after the Flames had already nailed down a playoff spot and the sixth seed. Ideally, coach Brent Sutter wants 15 or more starts out of McElhinney, to keep Kiprusoff fresher for playoffs, but he can only do it if his young goaltender can post some Ws. The Dallas game was a good start.