When Bill Torrey took the New York Islanders general manager's job after living in the surreal world of Charles Finley's California Golden Seals, he did so with a commitment to build through the draft and not squander the draft's bounty for short-term fixes.
(You could say he was determined to avoid "pulling a Milbury," though that term wouldn't develop until 30 years later.)
For Torrey, that process began with the NHL Draft in 1972, the Islanders' first.
They had the first overall pick and selected junior scoring star Billy Harris, who had racked up 129 points in 63 games with the Toronto Marlies at age 20 in 1971-72.
The Islanders also drafted Lorne Henning (2nd round, 17th overall) and Bobby Nystrom (3rd round) on this day. Both would be key to building the franchise and contribute to Stanley Cup championships. (It seems a little understated to say Nystrom "contributed to" Cup winners, but here we are.)
Henning played his entire career with the Isles, surviving long enough to win two Cups (and playing 21 games in the 1980 playoffs). He would then serve as assistant coach under Al Arbour and later as the Isles head coach during the lockout-shortened 1995 season. He also coached the Minnesota North Stars for two seasons from 1985-87, and served as interim coach for the Isles in 2000-01.
Nystrom? His story needs no introduction nor exposition. Suffice to say they call him "Mr. Islander."
Harris too contributed to the Isles building a winner, but not in the way he wanted nor anyone might have imagined back in 1972. Harris was famously dealt with Dave Lewis to the Los Angeles Kings in 1980 as part of the "final piece" trade that brought Butch Goring to the Islanders.
In 623 games over eight seasons with the Islanders, Harris racked up 443 points, still the 12th-highest total in franchise history. He led the team with 50 points on 28 goals in his rookie year of 1972-73.
Here he is with a playoff OT winner at the Montreal Forum in 1977:
Harris provided the team a bright young talent at a time when the roster was generally awful and stars who would succeed him weren't to arrive until later drafts. As the first pick in franchise history, in some ways he was the sacrificial lamb, like Mats Sundin or Owen Nolan in Quebec 20 years later: Giving the team excitement early on; serving as trade bait to apply the finishing touches later on.
The Rest of the Draft
Torrey may have been "The Architect," but the draft is still a series of longshots. The Isles actually made 14 selections in that draft, and beyond the three already mentioned, the only one to make significant contributions was Garry Howatt, who was drafted in the 10th round at 144th overall.
The Isles also drafted goalie Richard Brodeur in the seventh round, but he spent the '70s playing for Quebec in the WHA. After just two games in an Isles uniform, Brodeur's NHL heroics would happen on the other side of the continent, where the Islanders defeated "King RIchard" and the Vancouver Canucks for their third Cup in 1982.