To commemorate the 50th NHL Draft, TSN.ca Web Producer Shane McNeil looks back at Gilbert Perreault, who set the bar high as the first-ever superstar pick by an expansion team.
Originally published on TSN.ca – June, 2012.
In some ways, the NHL Draft was still in its infancy in 1970.
After seven years, it provided few teams with players that would impact their futures. The Montreal Canadiens had landed Ken Dryden (after the Bruins traded him on draft day) in 1964, the New York Rangers found Brad Park in 1966 and the Philadelphia Flyers took a future pillar in Bobby Clarke in 1969.
The talent, it appeared, was there for the taking. But the top selections had not yet yielded a true superstar.
The eighth incarnation of the draft, however, promised something different. Through the first seven drafts, three No. 1 picks would fail to play even a single game. The other four would provide NHLers, but none that would be franchise players.
The 1970 draft offered up something new – a can’t-miss prospect. And, what’s more, one of two expansion teams would have the opportunity to build their new lineup around that player. That prospect was Gilbert Perreault – a super-skilled forward playing with the Montreal Junior Canadiens.
The intrigue would only build on draft day when the spin of a customized roulette wheel would determine which of the two expansion teams – the Buffalo Sabres and the Vancouver Canucks – would luck into the opportunity to select Perreault.
The wheel was set up as followed – No. 1-10 was allotted to Vancouver while No. 11-20 belonged to the Sabres.
With a spin from NHL president Clarence Campbell, the needle appeared to land on the number one. Perreault would go to the Canucks. Until, of course, new Sabres GM Punch Imlach pointed out that the needle hid an extra number one. The No. 11 meant Perreault was going to Buffalo and the future Hall of Famer would wear that very same number throughout his NHL career.
Vancouver took Toronto Marlboros defenceman Dale Tallon with the second pick and while he mounted a solid NHL career, comparing him to Perreault was comparing apples and oranges. Perreault would mount an impressive, point-per-game career, tallying 512 goals and 1,326 points in 1,191 NHL games.
And while he would be the first player to become a ‘franchise pick,’ he wouldn’t be the last. Since then, 12 expansion teams have had a crack at trying to land a “face of the franchise” at their first draft to varying degrees of success.
While four teams have taken their first-ever picks with the top selection, none have come close to touching Perreault’s impact on the league. However, a few teams have managed to hit home runs with their first picks.
In 1992, the Ottawa Senators took a star in the making with its first pick (second overall behind their expansion brothers the Tampa Bay Lightning), drafting Alexei Yashin. While that union would eventually prove less than harmonious, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim found their face of the franchise the following year with the fourth overall selection taking future captain Paul Kariya.
The Minnesota Wild, meanwhile, would find its current all-time franchise points leader at the 2000 draft, selecting Marian Gaborik with the third overall pick.