I really enjoyed watching Doug Wickenheiser in the late 1970s when he and the Regina Pats travelled to Flin Flon, Manitoba to play the Flin Flon Bombers so I was very excited when the Montreal Canadiens chose him first overall in the 1980 NHL Amateur Draft. At 6'1 he was the big two-way centre they lacked. Their lack of a big centre and injuries really hurt them in losing to the Minnesota North Stars in 7 games in the 1980 playoffs bringing an end to their dynasty of 4 consecutive Stanley Cups. This was clearly a team in transition. Winnipeg chose David Babych Number 2 overall and Chicago chose Denis Savard of the Montreal Junior Canadiens number 3 overall in that 1980 NHL Amateur Draft. Denis Savard was a local French star player who became a superstar in Chicago and people compared Wickenheiser to Savard. In his first year Wickenheiser had 7 goals and 8 assists in 41 games and in his second year was moved to Left Wing and had 12 goals and 23 assists in 56 games. In his third year he showed promise back at centre on a line with Guy Lafleur and Ryan Walter with 25 goals and 30 assists in 78 games but during these 3 years Denis Savard had 75, 119, and 121 points with Chicago. In year 4 Wickenheiser had 5 goals and 5 assists in 27 games and was traded to St. Louis. Savard continued to be a superstar in Chicago.
When Chicago traded Savard to Montreal in 1990 he said he is not sure he would have been able to handle the presure of being a local French number 1 overall pick in 1980 and he isn't sure he would have made the team in 1980 because they were so strong back then. He thinks he may have had to play in the AHL for a few years. Montreal also expected their centres to play good two-way hockey and Savard was more of an offensive player. In his 3 years in Montreal he was no longer a superstar and had 59, 70, and 50 points and helped them win the 1993 Stanley Cup. If Savard could have handled the pressure of being a Number 1 overall pick and a local French star and if he could have been a strong two-way centre he would have been a superstar in Montreal but if not he would have struggled. Guy Carbonneau is the perfect example of this. He was drafted Number 44 overall in the 1979 NHL Amateur Draft and was returned to Junior where he led the Quebec Major Junior League in scoring in the 1979-1980 season and Denis Savard finished third in scoring in the League that year in his draft year.
Carbonneau spent a couple of seasons in the AHL and then beat out Dan Daoust for a roster spot and then struggled and didn't get much playing time until Montreal coach Jacques Lemaire one of the best two-way centres Montreal ever had promoted Guy Carbonneau to number 1 defensive centre playing with Bob Gainey on a checking line. Chris Nilan later joined the line and Carbonneau played an important role helping Montreal win Stanley Cups in 1986 and 1993 and shutting down Wayne Gretzky in the 1993 Stanley Cup when Montreal beat them in 5 games. Carbonneau was captain of that team and he was an assistant Captain helping Dallas win a Stanley Cup in 1999. With Montreal and Dallas Carbonneau had 260 goals and 403 assists for 663 points in 1,338 games and had 38 goals and 55 assists in 231 playoff games and he won the Frank Selke award 3 times as the NHL's top defensive forward and recently was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
I think Doug Wickenheiser could have become the big two-way centre Montreal needed for years to come but the fans never forgave Montreal for choosing him over their local hero Denis Savard and Savard became a superstar in Chicago because he had no pressure like he would have had in Montreal. It is worth noting that Montreal also could have drafted David Babych, Darren Veitch, Larry Murphy, and Paul Coffey with that 1980 pick. Who should they have picked first overall in 1980? I think they should have still picked Wickenheiser and traded some players to Winnipeg or Chicago to make sure they also picked Savard at number 2 or 3 overall.