Greatest Sabres: No. 3 Gilbert Perreault
The next person on the "Greatest Sabres" list is well known in hockey circles. He's a hockey Hall of Famer and the pivot of the famed "French Connection" line that was so successful in Buffalo.
That person is Gilbert Perreault.
In 1970, Perreault became the first ever draft pick of the Sabres, who joined the NHL along with the Vancouver Canucks that season.
Sabres general manager Punch Imlach chose the No. 11 in the roulette drawing to determine who received the No. 1 pick that year. He and the Sabres eventually were awarded the pick and 11 was the number Perreault would wear throughout his career.
He was the only Sabre ever to wear it as the number was retired following the end of Perreault's career.
His impact would be felt immediately. Perreault scored a goal in the Sabres' first ever game, versus the Pittsburgh Penguins, on his way to 38 tallies and the Calder Memorial Trophy as the league's top rookie.
Perreault would develop a reputation for his superb stickhandling. Bobby Orr once said, "His head and shoulders go one way, his legs go the other way, and the puck is doing something else. When I first saw it, I couldn't believe it."
His popularity and respect would grow to surpass that of O.J. Simpson, once a great athlete and respected individual, in a poll of Buffalonians regarding the best athlete in town.
In the 1971 Draft, the Sabres selected Perreault's Junior Canadiens teammate, Rick Mart, with the fifth overall pick. The two would gel as a tandem, each scoring 74 points.
Then, late in the season, the Sabres traded Eddie Shack for Rene Robert. The three then formed one of the decade's most memorable and exciting lines—the French Connection—consisting of Robert at right wing, Martin at left wing, and Perreault centering.
The group would end the 1972-73 season holding the top three scoring totals on the team and leading the franchise to its first playoff appearance. Perreault won the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play. Unfortunately, he was limited to just 55 games the next season due to a broken leg.
In 1974-75, the team won the newly reformatted Adams Division and all three Connection members finished in the top 10 in league scoring. After defeating the Blackhawks and Canadiens, the Sabres made their first ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance versus the Philadelphia Flyers. They lost the series in six games.
Perreault would also participate as a member of Team Canada during the famous 1972 Summit Series versus the Soviet Union.
He retired at the end of the 1986 season. But after pension changes in 1987 that significantly boosted the pensions of retired players who played at least 20 games in the '87 season, he came out of retirement, played his 20, and subsequently retired again.
He would finish his career with 512 goals and 1,326 points in 1,191 games. At the time of his retirement, Gilbert was the sixth leading scorer in NHL History. In 1990, he entered the Hockey Hall of Fame and his number was retired by the Sabres.
Perreault, both as a member of the French Connection and on his own, has left a great impression on the Sabres and the city of Buffalo. He will be known as the Sabres' most dynamic scorer and a gentleman of the game.
Next up: A tribute to the man who started it all.
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