Toronto Maple Leafs First Round Draft History 1971-1975
By 1971, teams in the NHL had come to see the value in draft picks as a tradable commodity. With the old farm system gone, the best young players would be acquired through the draft. Now it was up to scouts and general managers to assess a team’s needs, evaluate, and forecast which young men could develop into productive NHLers.
A few years removed from the 1967 Stanley Cup, the Toronto Maple Leafs were in full rebuild mode. Many of the players from that team had retired or moved on. Holdovers Keon, Ellis and Armstrong were joined by Ullman and Henderson (acquired by trade), and amateur draftees Rick Ley, Jim Dorey, Mike Pelyk, Brad Selwood and Darryl Sittler were moved onto the roster.
1971 – #9 Selection (Pierre Plante RW), plus Mike Walton C and Bruce Gamble G traded to PHI in return for #22 Selection (Rick Kehoe F), plus Bernie Parent G
For the first time, the Leafs traded their first pick. Walton was a player who had a lot of trouble under Punch Imlach, and never quite lived up to his potential in the NHL. Gamble was an adequate NHL goalie. With the #9 selection, Philly took Pierre Plante, who played 599 NHL games, amassing 297 points. Leafs got Bernie Parent to tandem in net with Jacques Plante. Parent went 24-25-12 with the Leafs before leaving for the WHA and his rights being traded back to PHI. With the second round pick (#22), the Leafs selected Rick Kehoe. Kehoe played 184 games for the Leafs, scoring 59 goals and 72 assists. He would eventually be traded to Pittsburgh, and ended his career with 906 games and 767 points. The Leafs next selection was #23, taking Dave Fortier, a defenseman who’d play 205 NHL games. Verdict: Complicated by trades and contract issues, this actually was a decent use of a first round pick. Though by trading their first round pick, the Leafs missed the chance to draft Terry O’Reilly, Larry Robinson or Craig Ramsay, the upgrade in net to Parent and addition of 30 goal scorer Kehoe was more valuable than what was traded. Kehoe’s trade in 1974 occurred before he reached his full potential as a scorer, but would yield Blaine Stoughton (lost to the WHA shortly after, and also did not reach full potential as a Leaf), and PIT’s 1977 first round selection. Fortier played 23 games for Toronto before being traded with Randy Osburn to PHI for Bill Flett (waived after 1 40-point season and claimed by Atlanta).
1972 – #11 George Ferguson F
From the Toronto Marlboros, the Leafs chose George Ferguson. Ferguson generally played a 3rd line centre for the Leafs, playing 359 games from 1972-78, scoring 57 with 110 assists. A good defensive forward, his offense was stifled behind Keon, Sittler and later Stan Weir. He was included in the trade that sent Randy Carlyle to the Penguins for Dave Burrows. Ferguson would immediately post 4 consecutive 20+ goal seasons with Pittsburgh. He finished his career with 797 games, 160 goals and 238 assists for 398 points. Verdict: Ferguson’s offensive role was reduced with the Leafs the longer he played for them. In Pittsburgh he showed he could contribute goal scoring, making the trade even worse for the Leafs. Carlyle would go on to win a Norris Trophy with the Penguins and both would be key contributors to Penguins offense (along with Kehoe). Burrows on the other hand played just 2 seasons with Toronto before being traded back to PIT for spare parts.
1973 – #4 Lanny McDonald RW
1973 – #10 Selection (Bob Neely D), plus Doug Favell G and Willie Brossart LW acquired from PHI in exchange for #20 Selection (Larry Goodenough D), plus Bernie Parent G
1973 – #15 Selection (Ian Turnbull D), plus Ed Johnston G acquired from BOS in exchange for #36 Selection (Doug Gibson C), plus Jacques Plante G
Making a big splash in 1973, the GM Jim Gregory was able to give the Leafs 3 selections in the top 16. In March he traded his top goalie in Plante to get Boston’s #15 pick and futures (Ed Johnston, Cup-winner with the Bruins). Bernie Parent had already left for the WHA, and wanted to return to the NHL, only not as a Leaf. At the draft Gregory sent Parent back to Philly, getting Favell and Brossart, plus Philly’s #10 pick. With these moves, plus the #4 pick, Gregory was able to turn an aging goalie and another not playing with his club, into his #1 right wing, #2 defenceman, plus replace his tandem in net and get a couple more pieces. Future Hall of Famer McDonald starred on the first line. McDonald posted 3 consecutive 40+ goal seasons, and 4 consecutive 85+ points. His famous goal in the 1978 Quarterfinals Game 7 overtime to eliminate the Islanders is among the top Leaf moments. Ian Turnbull played over 500 Leaf games, and had 2 20-goal seasons. He still holds the NHL record for scoring 5 goals as a defenceman in a single game against the Red Wings in 1978. Bob Neely played almost 300 games for the Leafs as a right wing and defenceman. As a crashing, banging big body, the Leafs tried to mold him into a tough guy role. Neely however was not suited to the assignment. He did have a 17 goal season with the Leafs. Favell spent parts of 3 seasons with the Leafs, and was 26-26-4. Ed Johnston played 1 season, posting a 12-9-4 record. Brossart played a total of 21 Leaf games Verdict: This draft added some major pieces to the Leaf team that some felt could challenge for the Cup in the late 1970s. A very deep draft, while they may have missed on players like Gainey and Middleton, the Leafs acquired enough to strengthen their team. Johnston played a single season before being sent to St Louis for Gary Sabourin. Brossart was included with Tim Ecclestone in a trade that brought Rod Seiling back to Toronto. Favell was sent to Colorado for cash in 1976. Neely was sent to Colorado for cash but returned to the Leafs for cash. He would be sent to the minors and retire in 1980. Lanny McDonald was given away in a trade that resulted as part of the feud Ballard and Imlach waged against Sittler. Along with young defenceman Joel Quenneville, McDonald was traded for Pat Hickey and Wilf Paiement. Though both performed well, neither Hickey nor Paiement could ever match what McDonald and Quenneville could have contributed, not to mention the damage done to the Leafs as a team. Turnbull was traded in 1981 to Los Angeles in return for John Gibson and Billy Harris. In the end, Hickey, Paiement, Gibson and Harris were eventually traded in various deals, with only Paiement having a 40 goal season. The only player of any real value returned from those trades was Miroslav Frycer, a terrible rate of return on the calibre of players Toronto was giving up.
1974 – #13 Jack Valiquette C
In a competition for players against the WHA, the NHL asked for the chance to draft underage players. An agreement was made, where each team could draft 1 underager. The Leafs used this opportunity to select a high scoring forward from Sault Ste. Marie, Jack Valiquette. In just 69 junior games, Valiquette proved he had a scorer’s touch putting up 135 points for the Greyhounds. Unfortunately, his skating was terrible. While he worked with various skating coaches, he simply could not skate at a pro level. He played 172 games as a Leaf, scoring only 33 goals and 99 points. Verdict: In 1978 the Leafs sent Valiquette to the Rockies for Colorado’s 2nd round choice in the 1981 draft. Under Don Cherry, Valiquette’s skating would improve somewhat, and he’d have 2 20+ goal seasons. However, he did not make the Rockies in the 1981 season, and decided to retire. With the draft pick, the Leafs selected Gary Yaremchuk, who played only 34 NHL games, all with the Leafs, before leaving as a free agent for Detroit.
1975 – #6 Don Ashby C
The hole left by the departure of Norm Ullman and Dave Keon meant the Leafs slotted rookie Don Ashby in the top centre spot. Selected ahead of Pat Price, Pierre Mondou, Bob Sauve, Tim Young, Dennis Maruk, Brian Engblom and even the Leafs’ second round selection, Doug Jarvis, Ashby was unable to stay with the Leafs consistently. His best season he scored 19 goals in 76 games. He was traded to Colorado with Trevor Johansen for Paul Gardner. Verdict: The Leafs truly ‘missed’ on Don Ashby. After leaving Toronto, he played less than 50 more NHL level games. He continued his career in the AHL, and later CHL. Sadly, Don Ashby died as a result of injuries suffered in a car accident in 1981.
In the early part of the 1970s, the Leafs actually were not a bad drafting team. Combining some trades and some shrewd selections, by the late 70s, they were a consistent playoff team. First round draft choices Sittler, McDonald and Turnbull were NHL stars, and Ferguson a legitimate NHL calibre forward. The team was filled out by a number of later round selections and veterans acquired through trade. Unfortunately, under a cantankerous owner and the rehiring of Punch Imlach as GM in the late 1970s, much of the building was reversed, and many of the assets the Leafs had acquired were shipped off for players or picks that would never amount to much of anything in the NHL.