Quebec native Gilbert Perreault was drafted in the NHL in 1970. Prior to being drafted No. 1 by the Buffalo Sabres Perreault was undeniably the top player in the best junior league in Canada; the OHA (Ontario Hockey Association). For years there has been discussion as to who of the top french draft picks had the most remarkable of three remarkable hall of fame careers. The comparisons make for interesting analysis, but Marcel Dionne, Guy Lafleur, and Gilbert Perreault have a closer relationship than most of their staunchest fans are aware of. Many are not aware that they have played together or more precisely against each other since they were children.
When I ran into all three players during a alumni game in Florida they were relaxed and in a reflective mood and spoke about their time together as children." During tournaments we would play against Rejean Houle, Marc Tardif, Guy Lafleur, Rick Martin, Gil Perreault and many other top french canadien players. It was outstanding." said Marcel Dionne.
"It brought out the best in all of us" said Montreal Canadien Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur.
Every one of those players made it to the NHL; many as top draft choices. Dionne, Lafleur and Perreault established a competition that lasted from childhood throughout their Hall of Fame careers. All displayed tremendous skating, passing ,shooting and superior offensive skills. Each also possessed their own unique playing style.
The families of Dionne and Perreault made decisions early to play in the Ontario Hockey League while Lafleur honed his skills in the Quebec League. Dionne played for the St. Catherine Blackhawks, Lafleur for the Quebec Remparts, and Perreault for the two-time Memorial Cup champion Montreal Junior Canadiens. In the canadien hockey circles of juniors it is pretty clear why each of the bright stars chose a distinctly different path on the road to the NHL.
It was imperative that each player develop their own brand on their own teams. It had to be like that to secure their place in the NHL draft; these big fish could not play in the same pond even if they wanted to. " I always wondered what it would have been like if we did play on the same team" said Perreault.
The outcomes were as different as their styles of play: Dionne proved to be the most productive; besting Perreault by a thin margin as the top scorer in the OHL in 1970. Guy Lafleur ran away with the scoring race in the high scoring Quebec league notching over 100 goals in a single season; then a record.
In the NHL comparisons continued with Perreault winning the Calder trophy as rookie of the year. Both Dionne and Lafleur put up respectable numbers as rookies a year later.
After adapting to the NHL pace all three started to dominate NHL scoring just as they had in junior and minor hockey. Dionne scored more points, Lafleur won cups and Perreault won the hearts of hockey aficianados who stubbornly supported him as the most talented of the three. Perreault and Dionne even competed against each other in Hockey Night in Canada's Showdown in the NHL; a contest of skating shooting, and passing skills that Perreault won.
In the 1976 Canada Cup series Gil Perreault brought fans out of their seats with breathtaking rushes that displayed his uncomparable speed and talent. Dionne and Lafleur were less effective in the series. The '76 Canada Cup put more superstars together than any other similar event and Perreault was along with Orr and Potvin a star of stars.
The debate still lingers as to whom was the best of the three hall of famers; the truth is it will never be decided. Another truth is: there have not been any players like them since and probably will not be anytime in the near future.