Lafleur was not eligible for the NHL draft until 1971, but Montreal wanted him badly. In May 1970 they made their first move to secure the 1st overall pick in ’71. They traded Ernie Hicke and their own 1st rounder to lowly Oakland.
As the 1970-71 season progressed, the Habs gamble was working well as the Seals toiled and threatened to finish dead last, giving Montreal the top pick. To make sure the equally terrible Los Angeles Kings did not fall beneath the Seals in the standings, the Habs basically gave away Ralph Backstrom during the season to prop up the Kings and make them good enough to finish strong.
Mission accomplished. The Seals finished last. The Habs draft first, landing Guy Lafleur essentially for the price of Hicke and an aging Backstrom.
While there was no doubting Montreal had wanted to pick “The Flower” all along, another Francophone player was the obvious #2 choice in the 1971 draft – Marcel Dionne. Dionne may be best remembered as an LA King, but it was the Detroit Red Wings that drafted him in ’71. He would play in the Motor City for four years before an unceremonious departure to California.
In hind sight, some might argue Dionne may have been the better player, and should have been chosen 1st overall by Montreal. He found near-instant success in the NHL, unlike Lafleur. He had a longer career, and he dwarfed Lafleur’s career stats. And he did it all with very little supporting cast. Mind you, he never had any luck whatsoever in the playoffs.
Oh, how I love that the Habs made a trade to improve another team, in order to get the pick they wanted in the draft.