NHL teams build their teams in many different ways. Some construct their clubs via free agency while others do it through trades. However, the main way teams create a roster is through the NHL Draft. Most years have maybe one or two players make the roster, but some years the general manager gets it right and gets a cornerstone or two for the franchise. The Last Word on Hockey is doing the best draft class for each team with the exception of the Seattle Kraken. Today we look at the Montreal Canadiens best draft class.
Montreal Canadiens Best Draft Class: 1971
When it comes to evaluating the best draft class of the most historic team in hockey, picking a winner for the Montreal Canadiens is tough. There were so many great years to choose from. 1984, 1987 and even more recently like the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. However, the one that stands out the most is the 1971 draft. Quality ended up trumping quantity in the end when the Canadiens had two Hall of Famers come out of the same draft in Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson. These two players were cornerstones of the Canadiens dynasty in the late ’70s and put their stamp on the team’s legacy.
Guy Lafleur, 1st, 1st Overall
Guy Lafleur is quite arguably the best player to ever don the bleu, blanc et rouge. Lafleur is the all-time leader in assists (728) and points (1,246) in Canadiens’ history. He is also second in goal scoring with 518, just behind Habs legend and the only player anyone could argue that would be better than Lafleur, Maurice Richard. Lafleur helped the Canadiens capture five Stanley Cups during the ’70s. He also won three Art Ross Trophies, three Lester B. Pearson Trophies, two Hart Trophies, and a Conn Smythe Trophy during his time with the Canadiens.
Lafleur would not play for three straight seasons before making a return to the NHL to play a season with the New York Rangers, and two more with the Quebec Nordiques. Lafleur would finish his career with 560 goals and 793 assists for 1,353 points in 1,126 games.
‘The Flower’ was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.
Chuck Arnason, 1st Round, 7th Overall
Chuck Arnason never got much of a shot with the Canadiens, however, he appeared in 401 career games with eight different teams. Arnason only played in 36 games for the Canadiens, registering four goals and one assist before being dealt to the then Atlanta Flames, in exchange for a first-round pick. The Canadiens used that pick to draft defenceman Rick Chartraw, who played with the Canadiens for seven seasons and won four Stanley Cups with the club.
Arnason, however, bounced around the league. He managed to score 109 goals and 199 points during his career before retiring from the game in 1980.
Murray Wilson, 1st Round, 11th Overall
Murray Wilson had a short career but spent most of it with the Canadiens’ organization. He appeared in 328 games with the club, scoring 83 goals and 80 assists for 163 points during that time. Wilson played a role in helping the Canadiens win two of their Stanley Cup from 1975-1977. He finished his career with the Los Angeles Kings in 1978-79 where he registered 11 goals and 26 points in 58 games.
Larry Robinson, 2nd Round, 20th Overall
The other Hall-of-Famer for the 1971 draft, Larry Robinson is the most prolific defenceman to ever play for the Canadiens. He is the team leader amongst defencemen in games played (1,202), goals (197), assists (686) and points (883). He is also the league leader in plus/minus over his career with a +722. The next closest is Bobby Orr who was a +582.
While we don’t take much stake in plus/minus, when you have the best in the history of the NHL, we figure it’s worth mentioning. ‘Big Bird’ Robinson helped contribute to six of the Canadiens’ Stanley Cups during the ’70s and ’80s. As well as winning two James Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe Trophy during his career. He finished his career with the Los Angeles Kings, playing in three seasons with the club before retiring in 1992.
Robinson ended up becoming a coach after his playing career, spending time with the New Jersey Devils, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. He won a Stanley Cup as head coach with the New Jersey Devils during the 1999-2000 season.
Robinson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995.
1984 Draft Class
As stated earlier, the 1984 draft class could have been chosen as the Montreal Canadiens best draft class ever. The Canadiens first four selections of the 1984 draft all appeared in over 1,000 games during their NHL careers. Most notably Patrick Roy, who cemented himself as one of the best goaltenders in the history of the league.
During his time with the Canadiens, Roy helped the Canadiens capture two Stanley Cups while winning four William M. Jennings Trophies, three Vezina Trophies, and two Conn Smythe’s, including one during his rookie season. Roy went on to win two more Stanley Cups with the Colorado Avalanche. He sits second in league history for wins with 551.
1987 Draft Class
The 1987 draft class is another class that surely needs to be mentioned amongst the Montreal Canadiens best of all time. Much like 1984, the first four picks by the Canadiens went on to have lengthy careers, all but one playing in over 1,000 games. John LeClair is the only name of those four who didn’t play in 1,000 career games, however, he did manage to 967 before retiring in 2007.
Andrew Cassels, who was the Canadiens first pick in the draft, didn’t spend much time with the Canadiens’ organization. However, he appeared in 1,015 games split between six different teams, scoring 204 goals and 732 points. The other notable names from the draft, LeClair, Eric Desjardins, and Mathieu Schneider, three players who contributed to the Canadiens last Stanley Cup win during the 1992-93 season.