Hard to believe it’s been thirty-years since the debut of the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL.
Despite a losing effort to the Chicago Blackhawks, the NHL got it’s first glimpse of an 18-year-old centre named Wayne Gretzky, who picked up a single assist on a first period goal by Kevin Lowe at 9:49.
Many NHL scouts felt that he was too small, too wiry, and too slow to be a force. Followers of the Oilers, however, were well aware of the young center’s talents, having seen him rack up 110 points as a rookie with the Edmonton in their last season in the WHA.
He scored his first NHL goal, on the power-play, four nights later in Edmonton’s third game of the season. Gretzky beat Vancouver Canucks goaltender Glen Hanlon at 18:51 of the third period.
He finished the 1979-80 season with 137 points (51-86-137) tying Marcel Dionne. The Kings forward’s higher goal total gave him tie breaker to claim the Art Ross Trophy over Gretzky.
Gretzky broke Mike Bossy’s record, from the previous season, becoming the youngest player to score 50 goals (19 years, two months). His prior season of WHA experience denied him the Calder as NHL Rookie of The Year. That went to the Boston Bruins Ray Bourque.
Despite being denied two major awards, he did pick up the Lady Byng Trophy (Most Sportsmanlike) and the biggest individual achievement, winning the first of eight consecutive Hart Trophies as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.
He won nine in his career as well as taking home ten Art Ross Trophies (seven consecutive 1981-87), two Conn Smythe Trophies, four Stanley Cups and numerous other NHL and International awards.
Gretzky retired in April of 1999 with 61 NHL scoring records, with two since broken and one regained (PPG), as well as numerous unofficial records not included in the NHL Guide and Record Book.
But what if?: Before he was an Oiler, Gretzky played in the WHA for the Indianapolis Racers. A team bleeding money, Racers owner Nelson Skalbania was forced to trade his young prospect.
Skalbania gave Gretzky the choice of Edmonton or the Winnipeg Jets.
Similarily, ten years later, when Peter Pocklington made “The Trade”, the then-Oilers owner too gave his star a choice, Detroit or Los Angeles.