The Taro Tsujimoto rookie card: Honoring an unreal player

He wasn't the first draft choice to fail to make it to the NHL, but he certainly was the first player to not exist as all.

The legend of Taro Tsujimoto began during the 1974 NHL Draft. During the 11th round, Buffalo Sabres GM Punch Imlach became bored at the Draft's drawn-out process and decided to play a prank ... by inventing a player to select with his pick.

From the Sabres:

Sending a secretary to find some common Japanese names, Imlach soon came up with the imaginary Taro Tsujimoto of the Tokyo Katanas - literally translating to the Tokyo Sabres (Katana is a type of Japanese samurai sword).

When NHL President Clarence Campbell asked Imlach for his selection, he was met with laughter from around the League. International scouting wasn't as prevalent as it is in the NHL now, and drafting a player from Japan wasn't exactly a common practice.

Imlach stayed true to the prank until training camp, when he revealed that the draft pick didn't exist. To this day, however, Tsujimoto's name can still be found in NHL history books when talking about the 1974 Draft.

To honor one of the oddest Draft stories in NHL history, Panini America decided to pay homage to Imlach's made-up pick and create a hockey card for Tsujimoto that's included in their current 2010-11 Score Rookies and Trade set.

"The creative team was looking to come up with something special, something really unique, for this program," said Al Muir, Panini's Hockey Brand Manager.

"The legend of Tsujimoto is one of those great hockey stories that has been perpetuated not just in Buffalo, but around the game. It's one that gets told to this day in dressing rooms and on bar stools, and that's what made him a natural for this project."

Each box features 99 cards and one in 20 boxes will have the elusive Tsujimoto card that will quickly become a hot commodity among collectors.

The NHL and NHLPA both approved the card, but there's a new mystery: Who is pictured on the card? Muir wasn't spilling the secret of the player in the photo.

What to Read Next