Revisiting the Blackhawks’ 1980 Draft

We will spend some time during the dull days of August and September looking back at the recent draft history of the Chicago Blackhawks. Before we get to the years that formed the Stanley Cup era and today’s team, we will take a trip in the “way back” machine for our first installment.

The Blackhawks have drafted their fair share of Hall of Famers and All-Stars throughout their storied history. This series will focus on entire draft classes rather than individual picks. It is hard to debate that the 1980 draft class isn’t the greatest in team history. The 1980 NHL Entry Draft was one of many overseen by general manager Bob Pulford. This particular class set up the team’s success throughout the 80s and into the 90s.

1st Round (third overall), Denis Savard, Center,

The Blackhawks were on the clock after the Montreal Canadiens took forward Doug Wickenheiser first overall before defenseman Dave Babych went second to the Winnipeg Jets. This pick originally belonged to the Quebec Nordiques, but they sent it to the Blackhawks, who agreed to not reclaim Real Cloutier after the merger with the World Hockey Association (WHA).

With future Hall of Fame defensemen Larry Murphy and Paul Coffey available, Pulford decided to take Savard of the Montreal Juniors in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He was coming off a junior career that saw him score 146 goals and 455 points in 214 games.

Denis Savard Chicago Blackhawks
Savard was one of the greatest Blackhawks of all time. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Savard made his NHL debut on Oct. 9, 1980, and gave us a glimpse of the future by putting up three assists in a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. He scored 119 points during the 1981-82 season, his first of five 100-point seasons for the Blackhawks. His best effort came in 1987-88 when he scored 44 goals and a career-high 131 points.

On June 29, 1990, the Blackhawks traded Savard to the Canadiens for defenseman Chris Chelios. Even though Savard was part of the 1993 Stanley Cup championship run in Montreal, this trade definitely worked out better for Chicago. The Blackhawks re-acquired him from the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1995 for a sixth-round pick and played the final 145 games of his Hall of Fame career with the team that drafted him. He is still fifth in franchise history with 377 goals, second with 719 assists, and third with 1,096 points.

Savard had a stint as both an assistant and head coach after his playing days were over. He is still part of the organization serving as a Blackhawks Ambassador with many of the other all-time greats. His number 18 hangs in the United Center rafters.

1st Round (15th overall), Jerome Dupont, Defenseman

The Blackhawks used their own first-round pick to take Dupont, a 6-foot-3 defenseman from the Toronto Marlboros of the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA). He was coming off a draft season that saw him score seven goals and 44 points in 67 games. He did not make his NHL debut until the 1981-82 season.

After appearing in 34 games during his rookie season, Dupont bounced between the Blackhawks and the Springfield Indians in the American Hockey League (AHL). In total, he played 201 games in Chicago, scoring seven goals and 36 points while racking up 445 penalty minutes. After playing a career-high 75 games in 1985-86, the Blackhawks sent Dupont to the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with Ken Yaremchuk and a fourth-round pick in 1987, as compensation for signing free agent Gary Nylund. He played just 13 games for the Maple Leafs before retiring.

2nd Round (28th overall), Steve Ludzik, Center

Pulford had three second-round picks, with this one being acquired from the Vancouver Canucks in a trade for forward Thomas Gradin. He went right back to the OHA for his first pick by selecting Ludzik, who had 43 goals and 119 points in 67 games for the Niagara Falls Flyers. He returned to the Flyers for one final junior season, scoring 50 goals and 142 points in 58 games. That high offensive production never followed him to the NHL. He made his NHL debut during the 1981-82 season. He played 413 games for the Blackhawks and scored 46 goals and 138 points.

Before the start of the 1989-90 season, Ludzik was traded to the Sabres with a sixth-round draft pick for goaltender Jacque Cloutier and a fifth-round pick. The Blackhawks used that pick to take Todd Bojcun, who never played in the NHL. Cloutier appeared in 10 games before he was dealt to the Nordiques for forward Tom McKegney. Ludzik only played 11 games for the Sabres. After spending all of 1991-92 in the AHL, he played one final professional season in Austria, where he had 53 points in 51 games. After retiring, he moved behind the bench and was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning for 121 games between 1999 and 2001.

2nd Round (30th overall), Ken Solheim, Left Wing

This pick was acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins back in 1978 in a trade for future general manager Dale Tallon. The Blackhawks used it to draft Solheim from the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League (WHL). After scoring two goals in his first five NHL games in 1980, he was traded to the Minnesota North Stars with a second-round pick for center Glen Sharpley. The Blackhawks got 71 games out of the Sharpley over the next season and a half, and he put up 19 goals and 42 points. Solheim played 114 games in two stints for the North Stars, scoring 16 goals and 36 points. He also had brief stops with the Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers before retiring in 1986.

2nd Round (36th overall), Len Dawes, Defenseman

The Blackhawks used their own second-round pick to take Dawes of the WHL’s Victoria Cougars. He returned to juniors for the 1980-81 season and scored a career-high 14 goals and 63 points in 67 games. He finally turned pro in 1982 and played 43 games for Springfield in the AHL over the next two seasons before retiring in 1984 without ever playing in the NHL.

3rd Round (57th overall), Troy Murray, Center

The Blackhawks selected Murray with their first of back-to-back picks in the third round. He spent the next two seasons at the University of North Dakota, where he scored 55 goals and 129 points in 80 games. He made his professional debut during the 1982 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Murray was a staple in the Blackhawks lineup from 1982 until 1991. He scored a career-high 45 goals and 99 points during the 1985-86 season while winning the Frank J. Selke Trophy for being voted the league’s best defensive forward.

Murray was traded to the Jets, with Warren Rychel, in 1991, for Chris Norton and Bryan Marchment. The Jets traded him back to Chicago in February of 1993 for Steve Bancroft. Just over a year later, he was dealt again, this time to the Ottawa Senators. He spent a brief time with the Pittsburgh Penguins before signing with the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. His final season in the NHL ended with a Stanley Cup championship.

In total, Murray scored 197 goals and 488 points in 688 games for the Blackhawks. He joined the Blackhawks’ television crew as a studio analyst at the start of the 1998-99 season. He moved to the radio side, where he has been the team’s color commentator since 2003. On Aug. 9, 2021, Murray announced he has been diagnosed with cancer but plans on broadcasting games when he is able.

3rd Round (58th overall), Marcel Frere, Left Wing

With the very next pick, Pulford went back to the WHL to select Frere from the Billings Bighorns. He played two more seasons in WHL, scoring 53 goals and 118 points in 132 games. He spent the next four seasons playing professionally in the AHL and the International Hockey League (IHL) but called it a career before ever playing in the NHL.

4th Round (67th overall), Carey Wilson, Center

This pick was originally acquired back in 1977 in the trade that sent Dennis Hull to the Red Wings. Wilson played one more season at Dartmouth College after being drafted. He then decided to play in Finland for two seasons. While he was in Europe, the Blackhawks traded Wilson to the Calgary Flames for Denis Cyr, a right wing who scored 19 goals and 40 points in 87 games for Chicago.

Wilson eventually joined the Flames during the 1983-84 season. He played 552 games in NHL, scoring 169 goals and 427 points for the Flames, Harford Whalers, and New York Rangers. His best season came in 1988-89 when he scored a career-high 32 goals and 77 points between the Whalers and Rangers. A knee injury forced him into retirement in 1993. He briefly came back to play seven IHL games for the Manitoba Moose during the 1996-97 season.

4th Round (78th overall), Brian Shaw, Right Wing

Shaw caught the eye of the Blackhawks with 20 goals and 45 points during the 1979-80 WHL season with the Portland Winterhawks. He returned to Oregon for two more junior seasons, putting up 109 goals and 250 points in 141 games. He was assigned to the Indians in the AHL when he turned pro for the 1982-83 seasons. He played the next five seasons in the AHL and IHL, registering 224 points and 506 penalty minutes in 315 professional games. He was never called up to the NHL.

5th Round (99th overall), Kevin Ginnell, Center

The Blackhawks went right back to the WHL and drafted Ginnell, a teammate of Solheim’s in Medicine Hat. He played one final season in the WHL with the Calgary Wranglers. He decided to turn in his skates to start a coaching career in 1981. He bounced around various Canadian junior leagues as both an assistant and head coach. After the 1994-95 season, he stopped coaching to return to school and eventually earned a Masters in Political Science and became a beloved professor at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. Ginnel passed away at the age of 58 in 2020.

6th Round (120th overall), Steve Larmer, Right Wing

The Blackhawks hit the jackpot with Larmer, arguably the greatest late-round draft pick in team history. He spent the 1979-80 season as a teammate of Ludzik’s in Niagara Falls. He scored 45 goals and 114 points in 67 OHA games during his draft season. He scored another 55 goals and 133 points in 1980-81. He also made his NHL debut for the Blackhawks that season, playing in four NHL games. He played in three more games for the Blackhawks the following season but spent most of the time with the New Brunswick Hawks of the AHL.

Steve Larmer
Larmer was a steal in the sixth round. (THW Archives)

Larmer became a full-time NHL player in the NHL at the start of the 1982-83 season and wouldn’t miss a game for the remainder of his time in Chicago. He still holds the NHL record for the most consecutive games played by a right wing at 884. He won the 1983 Calder Memorial Trophy for being the league’s top rookie after scoring 43 goals and 90 points. This was the first of five 40-goal seasons for the Blackhawks. In all, he played 891 games with Chicago, scoring 406 goals and 923 points.

The Blackhawks traded Larmer and Marchment to the Hartford Whalers for Patrick Poulin and Eric Weinrich. The Whalers quickly flipped him to the Rangers in a five-player trade. Larmer scored nine goals and 16 points during the 1994 postseason that ended with New York’s first Stanley Cup victory since 1940. It is puzzling why Larmer is not a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame or that his No. 28 isn’t retired by the Blackhawks. Hopefully, both of those honors come sooner rather than later.

7th Round (141st overall) Sean Simpson, Center

Simpson scored 65 goals and 149 points during his draft season with the Ottawa 67’s in the OHA. He returned to Ottawa for one final junior season in 1980-81, but his production took a major dip. He turned pro late in 1981 and spent the next two full seasons playing in the AHL.

Not liking his chances to make the NHL, Simpson headed to Europe in 1986. He played professionally until 1991 with stops in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy. He began a coaching career when his playing days were over and had a fair amount of success in Switzerland, Germany, and Russia. His last job was with Alder Mannheim in Germany during the 2016-17 season.

8th Round (162nd overall), Jim Ralph, Goaltender

Pulford went right back to the 67’s roster by taking Ralph with his 13th pick of this draft. He played two more junior seasons before making his professional debut with Springfield in 1982. He played seven seasons in the AHL and IHL but was never called up to the NHL. A serious knee injury forced him to retire in 1989, and he headed straight to the broadcast booth. He has been a color commentator on the radio broadcasts of Maple Leafs’ games since 1997.

9th Round (183rd overall), Don Dietrich, Defenseman

Dietrich, the third and final defenseman of this draft class, was coming off a successful WHL season with the Brandon Wheats that saw him score 15 goals and 60 points. He topped those numbers the following season with 16 goals and 80 points from the blue line. After 188 AHL games, he finally made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks in 1984. He had five assists in 17 games during the 1983-84 season.

In June of 1984, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils, with Rich Preston and a second-round draft pick, for Bob MacMillan in a fifth-round pick. The Devils used that second-rounder to draft Wienrich, who, as mentioned earlier, was acquired in the Larmer trade with the Whalers. Dietrich appeared in just 11 games for the Devils. He played professionally through the 1990-91 season with stops in the AHL, ECHL, as well as in Switzerland and Germany.

10th round (204th overall), Dan Frawley, Right Wing

Frawley was the 15th and last player selected by Pulford at the 1980 draft. He played two more junior seasons with the Cornwall Royals before turning pro in 1982. He played 33 games for the Blackhawks between 1983 and 1985, scoring four goals and seven points. The Penguins claimed Frawley in the Waiver Draft just before the start of the 1985-86 season. He played 240 games in Pittsburgh between 1985 and 1989, where he scored 33 goals and 70 points. He toiled in the AHL and IHL until finally retiring after the 1997-98 season, playing in 1,010 professional gams.

Any draft class that produces a star player is considered a success. One that produces three stars, including a Hall of Famer, has to be considered the best in franchise history. The trio of Savard, Murray, and Larmer combined for 890 goals and 2,507 points in 2,460 games in a Blackhawks uniform. Not too shabby!

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