Sept. 17 has been a very busy day in National Hockey League history. One franchise played in its first-ever game, while a future Hall of Famer made his league debut. Plus, one of the best goal scorers to ever lace up a pair of skates is celebrating another trip around the sun.
Sabres Make League Debut
The Buffalo Sabres took to the ice for the first time in franchise history, on Sept. 17, 1970, as they prepared for their inaugural season. They skated to a 4-4 tie with New York Rangers in a game played in Peterborough, Ontario. Billy Inglis scored the first goal in Sabres history, something he failed to do in 14 career regular-season games in Buffalo.
The Sabres made their official league debut with a 2-1 win at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 10, 1970. They played their first home game, at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, on Oct. 15, 1970, but the party was spoiled in a 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens. They went 24-39-15 in their first season under head coach Punch Imlach.
Lefleur’s Impressive Start
Guy Lafleur skated in his first NHL game, on Sept. 17, 1971, after being the number one overall pick of the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft. He picked up three assists in a Canadiens 7-4 preseason victory over the rival Boston Bruins.
Lafleur made an immediate impact with 29 goals and 64 points in his rookie season of 1971-72. He became a superstar when he scored 53 goals in 1974-75. This started a streak of six straight seasons of at least 50 goals, including 60 in 1977-78. Lafleur scored 518 goals and 1,246 for the Canadiens before retiring in 1985. He came out of retirement in 1988 to play three more seasons; one for the Rangers, followed by two more the Quebec Nordiques.
Odds & Ends
The Atlanta Flames signed forward Paul Henderson on Sept. 17, 1979, after he spent the previous five seasons in the World Hockey Association (WHL). Henderson, who is most remembered for his huge goal in the 1972 Summit Series, played in just 30 games for the Flames, scoring six goals and 13 points. He retired with 236 goals and 477 points in 707 career NHL games.
Forward Randy Wood signed with the New York Islanders, on Sept. 17, 1986, after a successful college career at Princeton. He went on to play in 381 games for the Islanders, scoring 94 goals and 172 points. He also spent time with Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs and Dallas Stars before retiring after 11 seasons.
On Sept. 17, 1991, the Canadiens traded center, Andrew Cassels, to the Hartford Whalers for a second-round pick in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft. They used that pick to select Valeri Bure, the younger brother of Hall of Famer Pavel Bure. He scored 46 goals and 110 points in 215 games for the Canadiens. Cassels played in 438 games for the Whalers, scoring 97 goals and 350 points, before being traded to the Calgary Flames in 1997.
The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim acquired forward Scott Young from the Colorado Avalanche, on Sept. 17, 1997, in exchange for a third-round pick in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. Young had 13 goals and 33 points in his lone season with the Ducks. He signed with the St. Louis Blues the following offseason where he had a successful run, including 40 goals during the 2000-01 season. The Avalanche traded the pick to the Florida Panthers and they drafted defenseman Lance Ward, who eventually spent two seasons in Anaheim.
The Maple Leafs acquired Michael Grabner, on Sept. 17, 2015, for what many felt was a king’s ransom, at the time. They sent Carter Verhaeghe, Christopher Gibson, Tom Nilsson, Taylor Beck and Matt Finn to the Islanders for the speedy forward. Grabner played just one season in Toronto, scoring nine goals and 18 points. So far, only Gibson and Beck have played in the NHL.
On Sept. 17, 2018, the Panthers named Aleksander Barkov their new captain. He was the 10th player in franchise history to wear the “C” on his sweater, replacing Derek MacKenzie.
Happy Birthday to You
An impressive group of 25 current and former NHL players have been born on Sept. 17. The first was Frank Ingram, who was born on this date in 1907. He played in 99 games for the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1930s, scored 24 goals and 40 points. The most recent is San Jose Sharks defenseman Mario Ferraro, who is celebrating his 22nd birthday today.
It is not a matter of if, but rather when, Alex Ovechkin will become the first Hall of Famer born on this date. The superstar was born on Sept. 17, 1985, in Moscow, Russia. He was drafted first overall by the Washington Capitals in 2004, forever changing the franchise.
He won the Calder Trophy for being the top rookie of the 2005-06 season after scoring 52 goals and 106 points. Since then he has won three Hart Trophies (league MVP), nine Rocket Richard Trophies (most goals) and one Art Ross Trophy (most points). In 2018, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy for being the playoff MVP during the Capitals run to their first-ever Stanley Cup victory.
Ovechkin is one of the most prolific goal scorers in league history. He has eight seasons of at least 50 goals and would have had a ninth if the 2019-20 season had not been shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He currently has 706 career goals and if he continues to play at a high level, he has a real chance to join Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe as the only players to score 800.
Ovechkin isn’t the only first overall pick born on this date. Auston Matthews, the first player selected in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, is turning 23 today. He made an immediate impact by scoring four goals in his NHL debut, on Oct. 12, 2016, versus the Ottawa Senators. He won the 2017 Calder for scoring 40 goals and 69 points in his rookie season. He has 158 goals and 285 points in his first four NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs. He shares a birthday with his head coach, Sheldon Keefe, who was born on Sept. 17, 1980.
Other notable players born on Sept. 17 include Gene Carr (69), Grant Mulvey (64), Scott Arniel (58), Valeri Zelepukin (52), Rob Zamuner (51), Shawn Horcoff (42), Mason Raymond (35) and Nikolai Prohorkin (27).