After the World Hockey Association folded in 1979, the Edmonton Oilers and three other teams joined the NHL. Under the merger agreement the Oilers, like the other surviving WHA teams, were to be allowed to protect two goaltenders and two skaters from being reclaimed by the established NHL teams in the 1979 NHL Expansion Draft. The Oilers kept Gretzky on their roster, making him a "priority selection".
Gretzky's success in the WHA carried over into the NHL, despite some critics suggesting he would struggle in what was considered the bigger, tougher, and more talented league.
A statue, located outside Rogers Place in Edmonton, of Gretzky hoisting the Stanley Cup, which the Oilers won four times with him. Sculpted by John Weaver.
In his first NHL season, 1979–80, Gretzky was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy as the League's Most Valuable Player (the first of eight in a row) and tied for the scoring lead with Marcel Dionne with 137 points. Although Gretzky played 79 games to Dionne's 80, Dionne was awarded the Art Ross Trophy since he scored more goals (53 vs. 51). The season still stands as the highest point total by a first year player in NHL history. Gretzky became the youngest player to score 50 goals but was not eligible for the Calder Memorial Trophy, given to the top NHL rookie, because of his previous year of WHA experience. The Calder was awarded to Boston Bruins defenceman Ray Bourque.