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Leafs have hit some draft home runs in recent times, but there was nothing quite like the NHL draft in the spring of ’73…

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.


  1. For a team with such a weak overall draft record over the years, I most certainly agree that 1973 was an exceptional year for the Leafs at the draft table. As a whole, the early 70s shaped quite a franchise (that was never to be thanks to Ballard and Imlach dismantling it). It is rather depressing to see the names of players the Leafs have drafted that went on to make their marks elsewhere. Just paging through the 70s I see Kehoe, Jarvis, Quenneville, and Boschman, and that isn't including the names we know that the team jettisoned right in their prime. That was followed by what seems like 30 years of Wendel Clark and a whole lot of what's-his-names. It seems that other than getting extremely lucky with a late round pick in Tomas Kaberle, they could not do a thing right at the draft table for several years. As much talk as we have all had about our blue-chip prospects in the last few seasons and how well they all appear to be panning out, wouldn't it be something five years from now to realize that beyond Matthews, the Leafs may have actually developed three or four other players into useful parts of what is hopefully a really good team? I think of more successful franchises like Boston and Chicago, and the essential pieces of Stanley Cup seasons that came about that way. It worked in the 70s and it still works today.

    1. Hi Pete- You mentioned some intriguing names...Kehoe was a good Leaf, but blossomed in Pittsburgh. Jarvis we drafted and right away traded. Could have used him all those years.
      Boschman, too, had some nice moments in Toronto but had more impact elsewhere.

      I remember others names like Al Iafrate- so talented, and ultimately traded for a very useful defensemen in Bob Rouse, I think it was. But it seemed we too often either drafted really good kids who developed elsewhere, or did not show them the way (Gary Nylund, Jim Benning, etc.) here in Toronto. All had talent, and yes, sometimes it had to do with injuries (e.g. Nylund) but we seemed to lack the ability to really develop those young players.

  2. I remember vividly the days of watching (and listening on radio)when Turnbull, McDonald and Neely were rookies. Turnbull seemed talented immediately. Lanny took time but eventually he started to drill his wrist shots past dismayed goalies on a regualar basis. Neely was more of a tease of talent but never panned out on a regular basis.

    It must be remembered the eras in which Leafs team were playing in order to evaluate the importance of their drafted players. In the 70's, Ballard was a famous cheapskate and therefore the rookies were more important to the development of the Leafs team.

    But when Pat Quinn was the coach and GM of the Leafs, the draft was not very important. (Remember Cliff Fletcher's 'draft shmaft' remark?) Spending big money was the most important quality for teams to have and it wasn't until the beginning of the 'cap era' that the Leafs had a hard time adjusting to draft and development.

    John Ferguson rushed development (much from the pressure from his boss) and Burke and Nonis felt the pressure to do a 'fast track' of building a team through the draft. I'm sure they also had pressure over their heads to build a winner quick. Leaf fans also were hard pressed to be patient for a winner.

    But Shanahan had the moxy and nerve to tell the owners of the Leafs (and fans) that in order to build and develop a team right, patience was needed. And a lot of pain.

    We still have more pain ahead of us but I can at least see potential, finally! And interestingly, it seems the financial muscle of MLG is advantageous to developing a good team.

    I had always believed that the rich franchises like MLG were at a disadvantage because they were forced to limit their spending on par with the weaker franchises.

    But Toronto is able to afford the best coaches, management, facilities, talent evaluators, and spend salaries right up to the limit (and more because of Leaf's muscle flexing with the LTIR).

    Other NHL teams are having trouble just reaching the minimum floor of salaries allowed under the NHLPA agreement with the owners. It allows us to take on salaries that other teams can't afford and we can use this leverage in exchange for other teams young talent.

    It's been about 10 years of hoping that the 'cap era' ends but recently, I'm satisfied with the present system because of how the Leafs management (and ownership) have taken advantage.

    As much as I loved Lanny McDonald and Ian Turnbull and Neely, I wouldn't trade Marner, Nylander or Mathews for them if we could do so in these former players in their rookie seasons.

    I think the present developing potential of young players by Leaf management and coaching has made me optimistic! What a nice feeling. Am I dreaming? Or has being a fan of the Leafs all these years made me crack?

  3. Always good to hear from you, drgreg. And it's always nice to hear when other longtime Leaf followers recall certain players from a particular era.

    There's no question the current crop of kids seems pretty special (though I really did like Lanny, Turnbull and Neely back in the day). But those were very different times in hockey, too.

    As to your last point/question, I can't provide a qualified diagnosis! But my sense is that you're like a lot of us who have followed the team for a long, long time, in that hope springs eternal. And hey, that's a good thing, I think.

  4. I remember a lot of those players. In the old days I would buy the Toronto Star, actually every Sunday in hockey season my ritual would be to walk over to Macs to buy the Sunday Star to read up on the Leafs because the Ottawa Citizen would not have much coverage on the Leafs. Now of course now there is no Sunday Ottawa Citizen, sorry I digress. I also would buy the Hockey News and NHL Hockey Yearbook and struggled to find out whatever I could about the Leafs picks and players in their system. Everything is a lot easier now with every stat ever known now on the internet.

    There have been some pretty lean years of drafting for the Leafs. Also some bad luck with a few of their picks being injured like Nylund or even worse luck like Cereda with the heart problems or simply terrible picks like Jeff Ware and Convery. I know they say it isn't fair to look at the drafts years later because a lot of it is all pure luck but in all seriousness the Leafs drafting bordered on pathetic compared with some teams. Then you also have all the years where they traded away 1st and 2nd round picks plus all the times they traded away picks like Rask and Steen before they had been given a chance. It really does start to get me upset thinking about how poorly they have been managed for the past fifty years.

    Finally the Leafs are on the rise and smart drafting aside from winning the lottery is big part of it. Leafs kids were flying tonight against the Canuks and could have won 10-3 with a little puck luck. Canuks looked slow and reminded me of the Leafs after Sundin left, a team that should have been rebuilding but couldn't accept how bad they really were. Leafs were lucky Hunter wanted Marner over Hanafin because Babcock apparently was pushing for Hanafin. Also lucky Nylander was there at 8th because Canuks, Isles and Canes could have had him before the Leafs. Burke set the team back a few years but at least he did get us Rielly which is starting to look like the top pick from 2012.

    Anyway things are really starting to look up, still too early to plan the parade but you never know but they could be a playoff team.

    1. You bring back more memories when you reference buying the Sunday papers to get more information, Alton. I lived in a small town across from Detroit, and while I was not a Red Wing fan, of course, I did enjoy it when we had the Detroit Free Press delivered. It felt as though you were getting caught up on what was happening in the sports world. And as I mentioned in my post, Da/I would grab the Globe sometimes, or Dad (because he was a Hab fan, and was bilingual) would drive into the city and pick up the french-language Montreal newspapers when they arrived the day after they were published. Those papers had excellent sports/hockey coverage.

      When you didn't live in a major Canadian hockey city, that's what we did in the old days to get information!

      The Leafs are on a solid course, it seems, and having some exciting young players makes watching games a lot more entertaining. Fans can dream about the future- which is a part of the fun of being a fan. In baseball, Cubs fans waited over a hundred years or whatever and they finally rebuilt completely from the ground up with great prospects- the Leaf have now done much the same thing. Leaf supporters are hoping it won't take quite that long here. Thanks Alton.