June 13, 2007

NHL Entry Draft History: 1971

By 1971 it became common practice for weaker teams to trade draft picks in exchange for veteran players of the better teams. The idea, of course, is immediate help, but this distressed NHL president Clarence Campbell because he felt it would defeat the purpose of achieving long-term parity for the expansion teams. By 1971 the practice was becoming a bit epidemic, as 6 of the 14 first round picks were traded.

The shrewdest of all trades was Montreal trading Ralph Backstrom to Los Angeles on Jan. 26, 1971. The Canadiens had already owned California's No. 1 pick, thanks to the Ernie Hicke trade earlier, but Los Angeles was threatening to finish below California in the final standings. By helping the Kings, the Canadiens were able to keep the Golden Seals in last place and ensure the powerhouse Canadiens the first overall draft selection.

And what a draft choice it would be. Montreal did secure the 1st overall selection, and had to choose between two French-Canadian scoring superstars - Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne. Talk about the rich getting richer!

Montreal obviously took Lafleur, and though he got off to a slow start in his career, he took the torch from Bobby Orr be the league's most exciting player, and delivered 5 Stanley Cups.

Dionne was selected 2nd by Detroit, and after setting the league on fire in the Motor City, bolted for Los Angeles where he is best remembered. Though Dionne would score more goals than Lafleur (731 compared to 560) and more points (1771 compared to 1353), Dionne would play in relative obscurity and never came close to winning a championship title.

The first round thinned out rather significantly after these two superstars were selected. Rick Martin (Buffalo), Steve Vickers (NY Rangers) and Terry O'Reilly (Boston) are other notable selections.

The second round produced a couple of players who would go onto play in over 1000 games in the NHL. Buffalo found another gem in defensive forward extraordinare Craig Ramsey at #19. Montreal found yet another cornerstone piece in Larry Robinson at #20. Pittsburgh picked Rick Kehoe at #22, and he'd go onto score 371 goals in 906 NHL games.

There were very few late round pick ups. Bill Hajt was found in round three by Buffalo, and he'd play 854 games. New York Rangers found a good defensive spark plug in Jerry Butler at #55.

In total, 50 of the 117 players selected appeared in at least one NHL game. Of those 117 players 109 were from Canada, 8 from USA and 0 from Europe. There was 63 forwards, 45 defensemen and 9 goaltenders drafted.

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