Tsujimoto: the NHL draft pick that never was

The National Hockey League draft still pales in comparison to its NFL and NBA counterparts in terms of popularity, but it gets considerably more attention than it did a generation ago.

Several thousand fans, for example, were on hand for the most recent draft, held this past Friday and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Compare that to 1974, when the NHL draft was held in secrecy, part of the league’s efforts to hold off the upstart World Hockey Association.

How secret was the 1974 draft? As it neared its conclusion, Buffalo Sabres general manager Punch Imlach had become so bored with the long process of selecting players that he decided to have some fun and sent public relations director Paul Wieland off to find a relatively common Japanese name, according to the Buffalo News.

Then, with its 11th round selection, the Sabres chose Taro Tsujimoto, a center with the Tokyo Katanas, which translated to Tokyo Sabres.

The pick was so unexpected that Imlach had to spell out Tsujimoto’s name for his fellow general managers, who met the pick with laughter and derision.

The NHL wrote the pick down as choice No. 183. The Sabres and the league put the name in media guides.

The Sabres had a locker ready for him when training camp began later that year, which was interesting because Tsujimoto didn’t exist. Imlach had made him up; the byproduct of a bored GM frustrated by the league’s covert draft.

“The league eventually decided to rule the choice as ‘an invalid claim,’” according to the News. “But Taro’s name still pops up in the Sabres media guide. Better yet, some old-school fans wear Sabre jerseys with Tsujimoto’s name on the back.”

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