BJ MacDonald is best known as Wayne Gretzky's first right winger.
Until 1978-79 that is.
BJ spent a lot of time on the right wing with a 17 year old phenom named Wayne Gretzky. BJ posted 34 goals and 71 points but the two really clicked in the playoffs. BJ had 8 goals and 18 points in 13 games as the Oilers nearly captured the Avco Cup championship from the Winnipeg Jets.
When the Oilers merged into the NHL in 1979, they had already been assured that they could keep Gretzky, but only would be able to keep a couple of others. One was goalie Dave Dryden, while MacDonald was also protected.
NHLers liked to slam WHA stars, including MacDonald. Vancouver Canucks scout Larry Popein went on record saying "MacDonald won't be able to score in the NHL."
A NHL rookie though major league veteran, (BJ was one of the older players on the Oilers inaugural team, and was named as an alternate captain as a result), BJ proved Popein and all doubters wrong. Teamed with Gretzky and Brett Callighen on left wing, MacDonald had the season of his life - scoring 46 goals and 48 assists for 94 points, including 13 power play goals and 6 game winners, while picking up just 3 minor penalties!
However after that great season, MacDonald would run into problems with coach/general manager Glen Sather. As in most player/management disputes, BJ was after more money, looking to cash in after his fantastic season. "Slats" disagreed with MacDonald's position, and told BJ he had to produce over a longer period of time before he would offer him the kind of money he wanted.
BJ returned the following season. Obviously he was upset about not getting a new, fat contract, but he would soon be disappointed by his position on the team. A young Finnish rookie named Jari Kurri stepped in and soon was paired with Gretzky. Kurri was a better shooter and playmaker than MacDonald, and provided Gretzky's line with a much needed defensive consciousness that BJ failed to supply. BJ was demoted to a lesser line and his scoring totals went down the drain - 19 goals in 51 games.
On March 10, 1981, BJ was traded to Vancouver, the same team that scouted MacDonald and concluded he couldn't play in the NHL. The Canucks looked foolish for saying that in 1979-80, but ultimately they were right. After 88 games over 3 seasons in Vancouver, BJ accomplished little and was soon demoted to the minors. BJ quit hockey in 1983 but resurfaced in Austria a year later.
One would have to wonder how BJ would be looked upon if he had not crossed a young Glen Sather. His days became numbered for his defiance, and if he had just kept quiet for another year or two, he could have really developed into a league sharpshooter on Gretzky's wing. Ultimately BJ's days along side Wayne were numbered as Gretzky and Kurri displayed a connection few others have in NHL history.