The 1972-73 New York Islanders were one of the worst teams in the history of the National Hockey League. That all changed when they drafted the greatest player in franchise history at the end of that season.
Denis Charles Potvin was born in Vanier, Ontario—a suburb of Ottawa in the southwest corner of the Province—on this date in 1953 as the youngest of three boys in a hockey-minded family. His father Armand’s dreams of playing in the NHL were dashed when he broke his back during training camp with the Detroit Red Wings and his brother Jean played in the NHL for 11 seasons. Armand built a makeshift ice rink in the backyard and Denis learned to skate at age three using hand-me-down skates. By age 10, he was an accomplished player and dreamed of one day playing for the Montreal Canadiens. At age 13, Potvin was the class of his midget league, often dominating players who were several years older and, in 1968, joined the Ottawa 67s in the Ontario Hockey League’s Junior A division. Potvin played defenseman for the 67s for five seasons and was drawing comparisons to Bobby Orr [Daily Dose, August 26] for his superb puck handling, shooting and passing skills. In 1972-73, he scored 35 goals and assisted on 88 for 123 points in route to being named the OHL’s top defenseman for the second year in a row. Like Orr, Potvin was one of the most highly regarded prospects ever to come out of junior hockey.
The New York Islanders were an expansion team in 1972-73 and compiled a season record of 12-60-6. They scored 170 goals, gave up 347 and finished in last place. The Islanders selected Denis Potvin with the first pick of the 1973 NHL Entry Draft and he was immediately regarded as the savior of the fledgling franchise. Mr. Potvin had lived in his parents’ home in Ottawa during his five years with the 67s and the 19 year old was anxious about moving to Long Island and living on his own for the first time. The Isles had obtained Jean Potvin in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers in March of 1973 and having his older brother around certainly helped ease the transition. The brash defender showed up to his first press conference smoking a meerschaum pipe and did not endear himself to the New York media, but did make an immediate impact on the ice, scoring his first NHL goal on October 27, 1973 in the franchise’s first-ever win over the New York Rangers. Potvin went on to record 17 goals with 37 assists while earning the Calder Trophy [Rookie of the Year]for 1973-74. The Islanders again finished in last place but improved upon the prior year, reducing their goals-against from 347 to 247 and nearly doubling their season points total from 30 to 56. Potvin’s arrival, combined with the hiring of legendary coach Al Arbour and a series of wise roster moves, began to change the fortunes of hockey’s worst franchise. The Isles earned their first trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs in 1975 before losing in the Conference Semifinals. The following year, Potvin was awarded the first of three Norris Trophies [as NHLs top defenseman] he would earn in his career but New York again lost in the Conference Semifinals. In 1979, Potvin became the second defenseman in history [Orr is the other] to score 30 goals and 100 points in a single season and earned his third Norris Trophy. The Islanders finished the season with the best record in hockey but were again eliminated in the semis. Potvin was named captain prior to the 1979-80 season and led New York to their first Stanley Cup championship. It was the beginning of one of hockey’s greatest modern-day dynasties, as the once-woeful New York Islanders played in five straight Stanley Cup Finals, winning four of them in a row from 1980-83.
Denis Potvin played in nine NHL All-Star Games and scored 20 or more goals in nine of his 15 seasons. He captained the New York Islanders to 19 consecutive Stanley Cup playoff series victories and the team made the playoffs in the eight seasons that he wore a “C” on his sweater. Potvin is the first defenseman in league history to collect 1,000 career points and he finished his career in 1988 as the NHL’s all-time leader in goals , assists  and points [1,052] for a defenseman. He and Brian Trottier are the two players to play 1,000 games in an Islanders uniform. The Ottawa 67s retired his No. 7 sweater and the Islanders retired his No. 5 on February 1, 1992. He is a member of the Ottawa Sports, Nassau County Sports and Hockey Halls of Fame.