Retro Rangers: Top Four Picks of ’71

If you recall, a few weeks ago in my Steve Vickers’ article  I noted that all of the top four picks of the 1971 amateur draft — Guy Lafleur (Montreal), Marcel Dionne (Detroit), Jocelyn Guevremont (Vancouver) and Gene Carr (St. Louis) — ended up playing for the Rangers at one point of their career. I then said that it was a story for another time.

Well now is as good a time as any, so here’s the story.

The signing of Guy Lafleur was one of the most popular of the many moves that Phil Esposito made as Rangers General Manager. In the summer of 1988 Lafleur asked Espo for a tryout after being rejected by the Kings, Penguins and Red Wings. Lafleur retired in 1985 after 14 glorious seasons with Montreal and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the spring of 1988. But he never lost his passion for playing hockey and at 37 he thought he still had something to offer.

Turns out he was right. Lafleur was one of the best forwards in training camp and signed a 1-year contract, becoming only the second player besides Gordie Howe to play in the NHL after being inducted into the Hall of Fame. He scored his first Ranger goal on October 16th against the Vancouver Canucks, beating former Ranger Steve Weeks assisted by Marcel Dionne and Brian Mullen.

The highlight of Lafleur’s season was when he returned to the historic Montreal Forum on February 4th, 1989, and scored against Patrick Roy in the second period on a short wrist shot. The sold out crowd gave Guy a long standing ovation. Six minutes later Lafleur stole the puck from Petr Svoboda at the blue line and slapped a 25-footer through Roy’s pads. Once again the Forum crowd rose to salute their favorite son.

Lafleur scored 18 goals and added 27 assists in 67 games that season and won the Frank Boucher trophy from the Rangers Fan Club and the Player’s Player Award from the West Side Association of Commerce. He became an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and signed with the Quebec Nordiques.

The Kings reportedly offered Lafleur $1 million to sign with them, but as he told reporters, “It was a very pleasant year in exile in New York, but now I would like to end my career in Quebec, where it began.”

If Lafleur was Espo’s most popular acquisition, Dionne was the most maligned. It wasn’t that the fans didn’t like Marcel but it was the number and popularity of the players that were given up to get him that earned their contempt.

First Espo traded promising and popular young forwards Kelly Miller and Mike Ridley as well as Bobby Crawford to Washington for Bobby Carpenter and a second round choice in the 1989 Entry Draft on January 1, 1987. Then just two months later on March 10th, he sent Carpenter and defenseman Tom Laidlaw to the Kings for Dionne, Jeff Crossman and L.A.’s 3rd round pick in the 1989 draft. So in effect, Espo had traded Ridley, Miller, Carpenter, Laidlaw and Crawford for the 36-year-old Dionne and a minor league defenseman. But that the way it was during the Espo Era, a lot of deals but not much progress.

Dionne’s best season as a Ranger was 1987-88 when he scored 31 goals (22 on the power-play) and added 34 assists in 67 games.  The next season, however, Dionne was pushed aside by younger, quicker forwards and was finally demoted to the Rangers farm club in Denver. Dionne scored 42 goals with 56 assists in 118 games over parts of three seasons as a Ranger. He retired after the 1988-89 season.

Emile Francis acquired the speedy Carr along with veterans Jim Lorentz and Wayne Connelly from St Louis for Jack Eggers, Andre Dupont* and Mike Murphy on November 15, 1971. But Carr never made an impact with the Rangers.

For all his speed, Gene had trouble handling the puck and suffered a broken collarbone and a ruptured disk that slowed his development. Carr didn’t have much luck off the ice either; he also suffered a concussion as a result of a taxi cab accident following a game in Boston.

The highlight of Carr’s Ranger career was the way he shadowed Montreal’s Yvan Cournoyer in the 1971 playoffs, limiting “The Roadrunner” to just two goals and one assist.

But the speedy Carr is probably best remembered for a comment made about him by Ranger color analyst and former NHL Referee Bill Chadwick. After watching Carr miss yet another scoring opportunity “The Big Whistle” said to Jim Gordon his broadcasting partner, “Jim, Gene Carr couldn’t put the puck in the ocean if he was standing on the edge of the dock.”

Carr was sent to the Kings for their first-round pick in the 1977 draft (Ron Duguay) on February 14th 1974. He retired in 1979 after playing for the Kings, Penguins and Atlanta Flames.

Guevremont spent the shortest amount of time with the Rangers than any of these four top draft picks.

Fred Shero acquired him from the Buffalo Sabers for future considerations on March 12, 1979. A leg injury kept Josh on the sidelines for the rest of the 1978-79 season. The next year Shero used Guevremont as a spare defenseman until mid-season when he was sent to New Haven for conditioning. He spent the rest of the 1979-80 season in the AHL and retired at the end of the year.

In 20 games with the Rangers, Guevremont scored two goals and added five assists. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons none of the first round picks noted above had much of a long-term impact on the Rangers. But then again the Blueshirts haven’ t had a lot of luck with their own picks either.

Once again, that’s a story for another time.

*Francis always regretted including Dupont in the deal. As he told Jay Moran in his book “The Rangers, The Bruins and the End of an Era” :“I really liked Andre Dupont but couldn’t protect him, so I traded him to St Louis. But the deal was that they couldn’t trade him to anyone else before offering him back to me. But he had a bad concussion that scared me off. So they dealt him to Philadelphia and he killed us. That’s the deal that I most regret.”