Over the course of this Centennial season, I’m contributing some old-time Leaf memories over at the well-regarded MapleLeaf Hot Stove site.
An earlier piece on the Top 100 Leafs of all time brought back a lot of fond recollections for me—hopefully for a few readers as well. On this occasion, my mind has wandered back to a time when the Leafs actually had three selections in the first round of the NHL draft (It wasn’t called the “entry draft” back in the day…).
What likely triggered the idea for this article is no doubt that I’ve been thinking lately about the fact that the Leafs, at long last, have drafted and developed a number of really promising youngsters in recent times. It feels as though it’s been a while since Leaf supporters could say that.
In any event, it was an exciting time to be a Leaf fan in the early '70s, because the team that looked so promising during the 1970-’71 and 1971-‘72 seasons fell back badly in 1972-’73 (in part because of the arrival of the World Hockey Association, as I reference in the MLHS piece).
Each of the players drafted—Lanny McDonald, Bob Neely and Ian Turnbull (right)—were thought of as likely can’t miss picks—at least I remember them as such. And together, they provided an instant jolt of hope to Leaf fans everywhere.
Here a link to the MLHS article that looks back on that draft.
Each of those players had some very good moments in a Leaf uniform, but none, sadly, ended their NHL careers with the Leafs. All three for various reasons never quite had the careers here most of us fans hoped for—though McDonald no doubt would have, had he not been traded by the Punch Imlach in the prime of his career. (Imlach had returned for his second stint as GM in Toronto before the 1979-'80 season.)
I won’t go over everything I already discussed in the MLHS piece. I’ll just say that McDonald was, back in the mid ‘70s, my “favourite” Leaf after the departure of long time Leaf captain Dave Keon, who was not re-signed at the end of the 1974-’75 season. A few years later, I was shocked and disappointed when Lanny was traded by Imlach.
Leaf fans of that era will remember how good Turnbull could be at times, and how much potential (too often unrealized) that Neely had. But the Leaf squad that then General Manager Jim Gregory had built, with Red Kelly and later Roger Neilson as coach, didn’t quite have enough to upset the powerful Montreal Canadiens in the late 1970s.
Leaf fans have a lot of optimism these days because of the recent drafts that brought us Marner, Rielly, Nylander, Brown and Matthews. Maybe a few VLM readers will recall that, more than forty years ago, the draft in the spring of 1973 created a lot of hope for Leaf supporters, too.