The NHL draft is just under a week away. With any draft, talent can be found all throughout. With that in mind, let’s look back at past decades to see the best pick per round to create the absolute best draft class of the decade. This series will look at the drafts from the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and 00s. In this edition, we start with the 1970s.
NHL Draft Best Picks of the 1970s
Because the NHL draft in the 70s could technically go on forever, teams could pick as long as they wanted a prospect, this series will limit the rounds to eight.
Round 1 – Ray Bourque (1979)
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Ray Bourque edges out Mike Bossy (1977), Denis Potvin (1973) and Guy Lafleur (1971) as the best first-round pick of the 1970s. As you would expect, the first round featured several worthy players so it came down to nitpicking. While it was narrowed down to a top-four to scrutinize, there was 17 Hall of Fame players to consider. However, these four were the best of the best.
There was a lot to consider among the players. Denis Potvin retired as the all-time leader among defensemen in goals, assists, and points. He also is a four-time Stanley Cup winner and three-time Norris Trophy winner. Guy Lafleur is a five-time Cup champion, a three-time Art Ross winner, two time Hart Trophy winner and a Conn Smythe winner. When he retired he was the fastest player to reach 1000 points. Mike Bossy won four Cups, a Conn Smythe, three Lady Bings and the Calder. He holds the record (tied) for most consecutive 50-goal seasons and most 60-goal seasons.
Even with these amazing players, Bourque won out based on his amazing 23-year career. He only has one Cup but has five Norris Trophies, the Calder Trophy, and a King Clancy. He is the career leader among defensemen in goals, assists and points. Bourque ranks 11th all-time in career points and is fourth all-time in assists. A model of consistency, only one time in his career (not counting the 1994-95 lockout-shortened season) did Bourque score less than 50 points.
Other Notable First Round Picks
As mentioned, there 17 Hall of Fame players picked in the first round during the 1970s. Here are the other names that were considered but just didn’t quite measure up.
- Gilbert Perreault – 1970
- Darryl Sittler – 1970
- Marcel Dionne – 1971
- Steve Shutt – 1972
- Bill Barber – 1972
- Lanny McDonald – 1973
- Bob Gainey – 1973
- Clark Gillies – 1974
- Bernie Federko – 1976
- Doug Wilson – 1977
- Mike Gartner – 1979
- Michel Goulet – 1979
- Kevin Lowe – 1979
Round 2 – Larry Robinson (1971)
Again, as you would expect things get a little easier once moving past the first round. Still, there was four Hall of Fame players to debate but it basically came down to two players. While Mark Howe (1974) and Rod Langway (1977) both had excellent Hall of Fame careers they didn’t make the cut for the top two. Langway won back-to-back Norris Trophies in 1983 and 84 and was considered the saviour of the Washington Capitals. Howe had an amazing career that started as a winger before transitioning to defence where he also excelled. The real debate came down to Bryan Trottier (1974) and Robinson. Two pillars of two of the greatest dynasties in NHL history.
Trottier is a six-time (as a player) Stanley Cup winner. He won the Calder Trophy, the Art Ross, Hart, and a Conn Smythe. He ranks 11th all-time with 1,425 points. Trottier was the definition of a 200-foot player. He could clearly produce points, but he was also great defensively and could also play a physical game. While Trottier would have been a worthy selection, he ultimately falls just short of Robinson.
Robinson was a unicorn in his day. Standing 6’4″ and 224 lbs, Robinson could skate by or around you as much as he would crunch you into the boards. He excelled in all three zones, producing 958 points, good for ninth all-time among defencemen. While not always the best or most telling stat, his career +/- is an NHL record +730 which is very impressive any way to slice it. He is a two-time Norris Trophy winner, a six-time Stanley Cup winner and a Conn Smythe winner. His combination of size and agility made him one of the most dominant players of his era.
May 19, 1989: Larry Robinson becomes the 1st NHL player to appear in 200 Stanley Cup Playoff games, in a Game 3 OT win vs. CGY in the Final. pic.twitter.com/QE06F8UfEw
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) May 19, 2017
Round 3 – Mark Messier (1979)
Things begin to get much simpler in the third round. There is not really any debate. While Guy Carbonneau (1979) excelled as a defensive forward in the mould of Bob Gainey, he could not stack up to the career of Mark Messier.
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Messier is a six-time Stanley Cup champion, a Conn Smythe winner and a two-time Hart Trophy winner. His 1,887 career points is third all-time. He sits third in assists (1,193) and ninth in goals (694). It would have been hard for anyone to knock Messier out of being the best third-round pick of the decade.
Round 4 – Glenn Anderson (1979)
There was no real debates for the best fourth-round pick. Hall of Famer Glenn Anderson fills the best fourth-round pick of the decade easily. He is known as one of the most clutch playoff performers in NHL history. His five playoff overtime goals is third in NHL history, while his 17 playoff game-winning goals is fifth all-time. Anderson ranks fourth all-time in playoff goals (93), ninth in assists (121) and fourth in playoff points (214). All his playoff success help him win six Stanley Cups during his career. Beyond his playoff performances, Anderson scored 498 career NHL goals and 1,099 points.
Round 5 – Billy Smith (1970)
Billy Smith is in a league of his own in the fifth round. As the only Hall of Fame player drafted in the fifth round, it was kind of easy to make this pick. Originally drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, Smith was an original member of the Islanders when he was picked during the expansion draft. Smith then backstopped the Islanders dynasty of the early 80s to four consecutive Stanley Cups. The feisty Smith also added a Vezina Trophy and a Conn Smythe Trophy to his Cups.
Round 6 – Keith Acton (1978)
There was some debate about the best sixth-round pick but it’s not really an exciting one. Then again, it’s the sixth round so we shouldn’t be too picky. The best two options in the sixth round were Keith Acton and Mike Krushelnyski (1979). Neither really had a stand-out career, but Acton gets the nod for playing in more games and scoring more goals and points. Krushelnyski did win three Stanley Cups to Acton’s one (as teammates in Edmonton in 1988 no less) but it wasn’t enough to be the best sixth-round pick of the 1970s. While Acton was never an elite point producer, he made himself useful in all zones and became a good faceoff man. While neither player is anything to write home about, someone had to be picked and Acton’s longevity and overall game make him the selection.
Round 7 – Paul MacLean (1978)
Round seven was a three-horse race. Reggie Lemelin (1974) and Dave Langevin (1974) join Paul MacLean as the players that were under consideration. Lemelin was a platoon goalie for the majority of his career. First, he shared the net with the Atlanta/Calgary Flames with Mike Vernon. He eventually joined the Boston Bruins where he was paired with Andy Moog in the Bruins net. Langevin was a traditional stay-at-home defenseman with the New York Islanders. He won four consecutive Stanley Cups with the Islanders between 1980-83.
MacLean was an interesting player. He was a good goal scorer, netting at least 30 goals in all but two of his 10 seasons. His career was unfortunately cut short by a rib injury but he was still able to score 324 goals and 673 points in 719 games. It’s a bit of a ‘what could have been’ situation with MacLean because he did not seem to be slowing down prior to his injury.
Round 8 – Pete Peeters (1977)
Pete Peeters was the only real choice in the eight-round. While not a Hall of Fame player, Peeters had a pretty decent career. He was never able to win a Cup, but he did win a Vezina Trophy. He is the only goalie to have two 25+ unbeaten streaks in NHL history. He is also the only one to have a 25+ unbeaten streak with two different teams.