They got him for free.
The official transaction was the Montreal Canadiens claiming Lambert from Port Huron (IHL) in the Reverse Draft, but it was really Detroit sleeping at the switch (as they did a lot in those days).
He was drafted 40th overall in 1970, which was a very good draft year (8 guys over 200 NHL goals) but the Red Wings sent him to the IHL (a good league but not the top minor, which was the AHL) and he did not stand out (23 goals, 41 points) until the playoffs when he scored 8 goals in 14 games.
Montreal sent him to the AHL, where he looked to be the third best LW on a very good team (Randy Rota was a speedster, Germain Gagnon was a 7 year pro who did get some NHL time) and looked like a longtime minor leaguer.
The following season he blossomed on a very famous minor league line (Tony Featherstone was the RW, Morris Stefaniw the C) that scored over 130 goals. Lambert popped 52 of them, and when he arrived at camp in the fall of 1973 he found himself in the company of possibly the finest LW prospect cluster in the game’s history. Steve Shutt was entering his second NHL season, Chuck Lefley was just establishing himself at the NHL level, Murray Wilson was being called the next Frank Mahovlich and Bob Gainey was freshly drafted.
Yvon Lambert made the team. He scored 6 goals that first year in part time play (on an energy line, I remember him best with Mario Tremblay, but that Mario didn’t come along until the following year).
Yvon Lambert lost opportunities because of his lack of footspeed (that’s putting it nicely, you could time him from end to end by sundial) and he got opportunities because he had size and good hands. His numbers at the NHL level are certainly inflated by the team he played on, but he wasn’t just along for the ride.
The Yvon Lambert family is a fairly large group of players who were drafted outside the first round, took some (but not a lot) of time to develop, and then had everything break right in terms of team need (size, skill) and outlasted many of the higher rated players ranked above them (Chuck Lefley, Murray Wilson). If we’re looking for a comp in terms of career development (not player-type, Jacques is a fast and crazy Lambert) in the Oilers system, JF Jacques is probably the guy to pick.
The men he needs to beat out for playing time (some or all of Nilsson, Stortini, Brodziak, Pouliot, Thoresen, Sanderson, Reasoner) are a mixed bag of prospects with a variety of skills and the veterans Sanderson and Reasoner (I’ve listed Reasoner because Brodziak and Pouliot are in competition at center) who are more likely to break with the team in a top 12 role.
Last fall, the Oilers cut their forwards in this order:
- September 14: Fredrik Johansson.
- September 18: Patrick Murphy, Riley Merkley, Brett Morrison.
- September 19: Mike Duco.
- September 23: JJ Hunter, Slava Trukhno, Zack Stortini, Brock Radunske, Stephane Goulet, Tim Sestito, Liam Reddox, Kyle Brodziak.
- September 25: Troy Bodie
- September 27: Jonas Almtorp, Fredrik Pettersson.
- September 30: Tyler Spurgeon, Toby Petersen, Rob Schremp
- October 3: Marc Pouliot.
Jacques didn’t see the minor leagues until November 19th, as he had played only 4 games.
A couple of years ago I did a “JFJ as an NHL player” item at HF and came up with Brad Isbister as a comp. I didn’t like it then, don’t like it now, I think he’s better than that but he sure needs to prove it.
His Desjardins’ numbers say he can score on a par with any of the Oilers AHL prospects last season:
- Robert Nilsson 82gp, 10-27-37
- Marc Pouliot 82gp, 16-20-36
- Jean Francois Jacques 82gp, 13-23-36
- Kyle Brodziak 82gp, 15-20-35
- Rob Schremp 82gp, 10-21-31
but the Oilers seem more attached to Nilsson (from what we read), Pouliot and Brodziak is a guy who gets mentioned more and more. Plus Schremp is a somewhat unique player on that list and would have to be considered a wildcard as the season wears on. I think (at this point) that those of us who like JFJ plenty as a prospect should probably begin thinking about him as trade bait.
As early as training camp.