To commemorate the 50th NHL Draft, TSN.ca Web Producer Shane McNeil looks back at the best first and second picks ever taken in one draft year – Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne in 1971.
Originally published on TSN.ca – June, 2012.
To date, the 1971 NHL draft has the distinction of being the only class to produce Hall of Famers with the first and second overal picks.
And with the draft in only its eighth year of existence, few could have seen that sort of potential ahead of time.
But few people are Sam Pollock.
The Montreal Canadiens general manager cemented his legendary status through draft day dealings, but none would loom larger nor prove shrewder than what transpired in the lead-up to that fateful June day.
Sensing a bumper crop of talent coming down the pipe, Pollock picked the pocket of the California Golden Seals a year in advance – sending winger Ernie Hicke and the Canadiens’ 1970 first-round pick for the Seals’ 1971 first-rounder and defenceman Ernie Lacombe.
The Seals spent most of the season mired at the bottom of the standings, but Pollock was able to plant some insurance. As Los Angeles was playing even poorer than Oakland, he traded veteran forward Ralph Backstrom to the Kings. Backstrom helped lift the Kings out of the basement and gave the Canadiens the No. 1 pick (though Pollock later claimed the Backstrom wanted out and was looking to go to a West Coast team).
There was no doubt who Pollock wanted at the 1971 draft. With the immortal Jean Beliveau retiring just a day earlier, the Canadiens used that coveted pick to select Guy Lafleur of the Quebec Remparts.
Now if Pollock had been left with the second-overall pick, it could be argued that the payoff might have been similar. That selection belonged to the Detroit Red Wings, who took Marcel Dionne of the OHA’s St. Catharine’s Black Hawks.
When Lafleur and Dionne went head-to-head in the Eastern Canadian Junior A hockey final just a month earlier, few realized the direction their pro careers would take together. Le Demon Blond was the NHL’s premier player in the mid-to-late 1970’s with six straight 50-plus goal and 100-plus point seasons. Dionne made his mark with the Kings, becoming the fifth-highest career point scorer in NHL history.
They were – and still are – the most impressive one-two combination through 50 years of the draft.
While Lafleur and Dionne represent the gold standard for one-two punches at the podium, there have still been a handful of other drafts led by potent duos.
The New York Islanders and Atlanta Flames would pair up Hall-of-Fame blueliner Denis Potvin and three-time All-Star Tom Lysiak in 1973. The New Jersey Devils fell short in the Mario Lemieux sweepstakes in 1984, but would still net Kirk Muller with the No. 2 pick.
The 1987 draft marked the only other time that a one-two combination yielded two players to reach the 1,000-point plateau, with Buffalo taking Pierre Turgeon ahead of New Jersey’s Brendan Shanahan. One year later, the Minnesota North Stars and Vancouver Canucks scored future franchise scoring leaders in Mike Modano and Trevor Linden. The 1997 draft brought out two future All-Stars and Olympic gold medallists when Joe Thornton (selected by Boston) and Patrick Marleau (San Jose) topped the list.
But the high water mark for recent drafts may have come in 2004. The Washington Capitals netted the top prize in Alexander Ovechkin and the Penguins followed suit with fellow countryman Evgeni Malkin.
Ovechkin has already earned two Hart Trophies in his seven-year NHL career and should Malkin successfully capture this season’s Hart (nominated alongside Steven Stamkos and Henrik Lundqvist) the pair would become the first draft-toppers to both capture MVP honours.
Other elite duos to top recent drafts include: Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza in 2001, Marc-Andre Fleury and Eric Staal in 2003, Sidney Crosby and Bobby Ryan in 2005 and Stamkos and Drew Doughty in 2008.
Will the same happen with the 2012 draft?