With all the hype that swallows up the NHL’s Entry Draft, it’s easy to forget the player who wasn’t quite good enough, in the scouts’ eyes at least, to be chosen first overall. This short series will be looking that the other guy; the fella who went second. We’ve already looked at Eric Staal, Tom Lysiak, Jason Spezza, Dave Babych, Trevor Linden, Kirk Muller, Brad Park, Daniel Sedin and Brian Bellows, and as there’re just 3 days to go until Christmas, here’s #3 in the 4th Line Podcast’s top 12 2nd Overall Picks.
Drafted 1971, Detroit Red Wings
Games Played 1348
The 1971 NHL Entry draft is most famous for the Montreal Canadiens screwing the California Golden Seals out of Guy Lafleur. But the player who was drafted behind Lafleur played more NHL games, scored more goals and more points. Whereas Lafleur played almost his whole career in Montreal, with one of the best Habs teams to ever take to the ice, Dionne wasn’t as fortunate.
The Detroit Red Wings hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1955, and by the early 70s were in a bad place. After 78 games the Wings had won just 22 and finished dead last in the old East Division and second last in the league ahead of the Golden Seals. By the time the draft rolled around and Detroit were on the stand, Marcel Dionne was the obvious choice.
There have been many high times in HockeyTown, however none of those were in the 70s and 80s. That wasn’t through lack of effort on Dionne’s part, the rookie scored 77 points in his first season and never looked back. In the 1974/75 season Dionne topped 100 points for the first of eight times. That 121 point season earned Dionne his first Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, it was also his last season wearing the winged wheel.
The Wings couldn’t escape the suck and Dionne wanted to experience playoff hockey. Fortunately the Los Angeles Kings came knocking and Dionne and Bart Crashley were sent west in exchange for Terry Harper, Dan Maloney, a second round draft pick and a bag of cash. After an average (by his own standards) 94 point season in LA, Dionne made the playoffs for the first time in his career.
Dionne’s stint in Los Angeles lasted just shy of 12 full seasons, during which he won another Lady Byng, two Ted Lindsay Awards and an Art Ross Trophy. The Kings however were not in a place to be considered a genuine cup contender and Dionne demanded changes be made. The Kings obliged and part way through the 1986/87 season Dionne was traded to the New York Rangers where after a couple of seasons he retired having played 1348 NHL games.
The parallel stories offered by Lafleur and Dionne demonstrate the harsh reality of the NHL Entry Draft. Both players achieved greatness and sensational numbers, but only one achieved the ultimate goal. Taking nothing away from what Lafleur did, but the twist of draft fate landed him in a team at the business end of a rebuild and Lafleur was the final missing piece of the Canadiens’ jigsaw. The hockey gods were looking the other way when Dionne was drafted.
Tomorrow? It’s only the penultimate entry on this countdown!