After a very poor 1972-’73 season, the Leafs had one thing to look forward to: they held three draft choices in the first round of the 1973 amateur (now called entry) draft.
But the real sleeper in the Leafs’ draft, and the pick I loved, was the selection of Ian Turnbull in about the 15th slot.
Turnbull had played many years with the Junior Canadiens in Montreal, and finished his junior career with the Ottawa 67’s playing with future #1 overall pick and Hall-of-Famer Denis Potvin.
When I watched them play together with the 67’s, I often felt Turnbull had as much, maybe even more talent than Potvin. He was nowhere near as dirty or tough as Potvin, but Turnbull could skate, shoot and seemed to have good vision.
I just didn’t know he would be so seemingly lazy or unmotivated.
He certainly never became the player I thought he would become when I saw him with the 67’s, while Potvin went on (admittedly with a much better team) to lead the Islanders to 4 Cups in a row by the early ‘80s. (By then, Turnbull’s career was already on the wane.)
In any event, Maloney came to the Leafs before the trade deadline in 1978 for Errol Thompson and two high draft picks, and provided toughness that they certainly needed.
That all said, despite having young Mike Palmateer in goal, Borje Salming on defense and Sittler and a few others up front, they should have been no match for the Islanders—especially when Salming went down with a serious eye injury early in the series.
It was at that precise time that, for all external appearances, Ian Turnbull decided to take hockey seriously.
For the rest of that series, Turnbull, in my view, was the best player on the ice pretty much every night. McDonald scored the overtime winner in Game 7, a wonderful moment for Leaf fans, but it was Turnbull who led the team with his play at both ends of the ice.
While the Leafs were swept by Montreal in the subsequent semi-final series Turnbull again was by far the best Leaf throughout.
Then came summer, and well, then, not much.
By the early ‘80s he was playing in LA, among those sent away in the purge of Punch Imlach. He then played briefly in Pittsburgh. He retired (or just stopped playing, I can’t remember) while Potvin was still winning Cups.
Whatever others may think about his career, Turnbull proved, over about a two-week period in the spring of 1978, how good he could have, might have, been.