In the history of the Buffalo Sabres, the team has held the first overall selection in the NHL Entry Draft just twice. The first time we’ll get to later on in this list.
The second? In 1987, the Sabres used the first pick in the draft on a 6’1” 200lb offensive dynamo from the Granby Bisons of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League named Pierre Turgeon.
Turgeon had spent the last two years dominating “the Q”; posting seasons of 114 and 154 points respectively (the latter he did in 11 fewer games).
“Oh-la-la-Pierre”, as Rick Jeanneret would be known to say following a Turgeon goal, would make the immediate jump to the NHL and the Sabres wasted little time making him the face of their franchise, eliciting comparisons to the other first overall pick – fellow Quebecois star Gilbert Perreault.
Turgeon would have a solid rookie campaign, posting 14 goals and 42 points, helping the Sabres return to the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. It would be year two, however, where Turgeon would shine. Besting his previous totals, he put up career numbers with 34 goals and 88 points.
Using his natural athleticism, strong hockey sense, and outstanding playmaking ability made him an instant star. He had great creativity and vision; always a threat to make something happen even when it seemed like nothing was available.
Then there was his ability to control the puck. Turgeon was a magician with it, possessing the ability to “stick-handle in a phone booth” as some scouts and pundits have been known to say. “Sneaky Pete” had a penchant for showing up out of nowhere to make something happen.
Even as he was coming into superstardom during his third season with the Sabres – 40 goals, 106 points (good enough for 7th in the league with names like Gretzky, Messier, Yzerman, Lemieux, and Hull) – Turgeon still had his doubters. Despite his all-world ability, he earned the nickname “the Tin Man” because some believed he lacked heart. He wasn’t physical despite his sizable frame and, even though he didn’t back off from physical players, didn’t apply himself in that area like he should have.
Despite his personal successes, the Sabres weren’t seeing playoff success, making the playoffs in each of Turgeon’s four full seasons but never making it out of the first round. Turgeon was inexplicably blamed for this despite his solid 25 points in 23 games.
Coming off a disappointing year (for him) in which he dipped to 32 goals and 79 points, the 22-year-old star had more than enough doubters and detractors. Still, it was a shock when he was traded just eight games into the 1991/92 season. On October 25, Turgeon was traded to the New York Islanders along with Benoit Hogue, Uwe Krupp, and Dave McLlwain for superstar center Pat Lafontaine, Randy Wood, Randy Hillier, and future considerations.
The trade was a blockbuster to say the least. Lafontaine would be as advertised for the Sabres (you’ll see him later on), while Turgeon would go on to brief superstardom with the Islanders before bouncing around with the Canadiens, Blues, Stars, and Avalanche over the next decade plus.
Always considered a “pretty good” player, though not always the superstar everyone envisioned, Turgeon finished his career with 1,327 points in 1,294 games; more than pretty good for a career.
For his brief stint in Buffalo, his flirtation with superstar status, and the “what if” potential, Pierre Turgeon is one of the greatest Buffalo Sabres of all-time.
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