The 1970s were a fantastic era to be a hockey collector as countless young people on both sides of the border were able to crack open packs each year and chew tons of gum. While not everyone kept their cards and may even have a few cavities to remind them of this time, those that still collect today may want to consider looking at grabbing some rookie cards from O-Pee-Chee and Topps which have been somewhat overlooked compared to those of Hall of Famers from that decade.
Granted, not every rookie card that appears in sets from either company experiences high collector demand 40 years after they were issued. The passage of time has seen modern pack busters often shrug when presented the option to grab the first issues of someone who had more than a respectable career in the NHL or WHA. The lack of Hall of Fame credentials may hurt their place in the hobby, but closer examination of what they accomplished should make at least consider taking a chance on picking up a rookie issue on any of the players listed here.
While it may be unrealistic to expect serious price jumps for any of these cards in the near future unless some of them are inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, they are certainly worth adding to your collection.
#10 (tie) Anders Hedberg/Ulf Nilsson – 1974-75 O-Pee-Chee WHA
The 70s were a wild time for the game as the NHL battled for fan loyalty with the upstart World Hockey Association, but this was also an era which saw players come over from Europe to become stars. The Winnipeg Jets were especially progressive in this regard and signed the Swedish duo of Hedberg and Nilsson in time for the 1974-75 campaign.
It was in that season where O-Pee-Chee was its first stand-alone WHA set and it included the pair due to their early success – especially playing alongside Bobby Hull. It is a set plagued by centering issues and rough edges, like many O-Pee-Chee offerings of that era and tends to get overlooked by collectors almost 45 years later.
The move to add the Swedish sensations to the roster proved to be an absolutely brilliant one for the Jets as they each racked up four straight 100-point campaigns and won a pair of AVCO Cup crowns. Hedberg was the league’s Rookie of the Year for 1974-75 and scored an incredible 70 goals two years later. Nilsson paced all players in assists twice in addition to being named postseason MVP in 1975-76.
After the 1977-78 season concluded, the pair were free agents and signed on with the New York Rangers – helping their new teammates to the Stanley Cup Final in their first year at Madison Square Garden. Injuries saw Nilsson wrap things up by the end of 1982-83, while Hedberg stuck around a bit longer and Hedberg was awarded the Masterton Trophy as he finished up his NHL career in 1984-85.
You can see cards of both on eBay here.
#9 Bruce Boudreau – 1978-79 O-Pee-Chee
The current coach of the Minnesota Wild, Boudreau was an incredible talent at the junior level and recorded 165 points with the Memorial Cup champion Toronto Marlboros in 1974-75. The next year was split between the WHA’s Minnesota Fighting Saints and the minor league Johnstown Jets. As a result, he has utilized the cult hit film Slap Shot, but was NHL-bound soon after.
The classic player who excelled at the minor league level and only got an occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, he appeared in 134 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs between 1976-77 and 1981-82. After appearing in a career-best 40 contests and earning 29 points in 1977-78. Thankfully, the folks at O-Pee-Chee took notice and got him into their 1978-79 collection and the card is still incredibly affordable considering that he has won over 500 games behind the bench and won the Jack Adams Award back in 2007-08. On top of that, savvy hockey fans will also remember that he was a dominant player in the minors with six 100-point campaigns over a 10-year span. At this point, his rookie card is a bargain – especially as he continues to rack up wins.
#8 Marc Tardif – 1970-71 O-Pee-Chee
Tardif was a promising prospect for the Montreal Canadiens in the early 70s and was the second overall pick in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft. He won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Habs, but never had more than 53 points in a season before jumping over to the WHA.
Over the course of six seasons in the rival league, he racked up more goals than any other player in league history and ranks second on the WHA’s all-time points list behind Andre Lacroix. He also won a pair of scoring titles and an AVCO Cup with the Quebec Nordiques before the two leagues merged. He still delivered decent numbers in his waning years, but does not get the credit he deserves for being a dynamic offensive talent. With the exception of his first cardboard appearance, his cards have long been relegated to the commons bin by most sellers, which is unfortunate as he was among the game’s elite for several seasons.
#7 Rick MacLeish – 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee
The first player from an expansion team to hit the 100-point mark in a season, MacLeish emerged a key contributor for the Philadelphia Flyers early in his career and was a part of consecutive Stanley Cup victories – scoring the winning goal in 1973-74. A genuine sniper with an excellent wrist shot, he participated in three NHL All-Star Games and was the first Flyers player to score 50 goals in a season (1972-73).
All told, he was one of the best among the infamous Broad Street Bullies, and his rookie card from 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee is an underrated gem in a set which is loaded up with strong first issues. While he is unlikely to ever garner Hall of Fame consideration, his on-ice legacy is still impressive and his rookie card is overlooked by most.
#6 John Davidson – 1974-75 O-Pee-Chee/Topps
In the NHL Draft’s early years, selecting a goalie in the first round was a rarity, but Davidson was taken with the fifth pick in 1973. He was able to instantly jump to the St. Louis Blues roster as a 20-year-old and finished fifth in Calder Trophy voting thanks to going 13-19-7 over 39 appearances.
Davidson made his first cardboard appearance in both the Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets in 1974-75 and that season proved to be his last with the Blues. He was moved to the New York Rangers and took over as the club’s number one goaltender relatively quickly as Hall of Famer Ed Giacomin was shipped off to Detroit. In 1978-79, he was at his best during New York’s run to the Stanley Cup Final, but injuries started to take their toll and made just 13 appearances between 1980-81 and 1982-83 before retiring.
Davidson’s biggest impact on the game came after his playing days as a longtime broadcaster and executive. He is presently President of Hockey Operations for the Columbus Blue Jackets. On top of that, he also won the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award that the Hockey Hall of Fame gives annually to an outstanding media member for their contributions. Despite his tremendous impact on the game, his rookie card still has not received the respect it deserves. The O-Pee-Chee version comes from a season where centering can often be all over the map, so be prepared to search a little bit for a copy in top condition.
#5 Dave Taylor – 1978-79 O-Pee-Chee
One of the greatest diamonds in the rough to make an impact in the NHL, Taylor was a 15th round pick (210th overall) by the Los Angeles Kings in 1975. In 1977-78, he cracked the team’s lineup and put up 91 points as a sophomore – just as his rookie card was hitting store shelves. The photo on the card itself dates from a visit to Washington during his freshman season which took place on either November 8, 1977 or January 4, 1978 (as Bob Sirois played in both of those contests).
Taylor clicked with Marcel Dionne and Charlie Simmer and they formed the Triple Crown Line which terrorized opposing goalies for years. He hit the 100-point mark twice and remained with the club into the Gretzky era. In 1990-91, he joined the 1000-point club and even chipped in to the franchise’s first run to the Stanley Cup Final two years later. His rookie issue is a must-have if you are a Kings collector and it can be tough to find centered copies.
#4 Reggie Leach – 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee
The Riverton Rifle was a potent scorer throughout much of his career, but he was a fresh-faced prospect once he made his cardboard debut in second series packs of 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee. A member of the Boston Bruins at the time, he was traded to the California Golden Seals while kids were still opening packs and chewing gum.
Leach, who had played junior hockey with Bobby Clarke for the Flin Flon Bombers, needed a little time for his offensive prowess to show itself at the NHL level. Picked
up by the Philadelphia Flyers before the 1974-75 season, he started filling the net on the way to the Stanley Cup. In 1975-76, he scored a career-high 61 goals to lead the league and added 19 more in the playoffs, but his production in subsequent years went up and down. He still hit 50 in 1979-80, but a combination of factors saw his NHL career draw to a close in 1983. All told, Leach managed to light the lamp 381 times and was one of the best goal scorers of his era.
#3 Jim Rutherford – 1972-73 O-Pee-Chee/Topps
Rutherford’s accomplishments on the ice pale in comparison to those as an executive. Multiple Stanley Cup championships (Carolina in 2005-06 and Pittsburgh in 2015-16 and 2016-17) will solidify the reputation of any general manager, but there is a also a strong case for his enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder.
What some fans may not realize is that he also had a lengthy career in net which lasted from 1970-71 to 1982-83. Granted, he tried to protect the crease for some often dismal clubs and had a record of 151-227-59 over 459 regular season games. This included three stints with the Detroit Red Wings.
While it is not the most attractive card on this list by any stretch, Rutherford’s rookie release from 1972-73 is gradually being considered a must-have. The photo itself was taken during his first stint in the Motor City and avoided the dreaded airbrush from the folks at Topps or O-Pee-Chee. It could experience some growth once he gets that call from the Hall, so snatching one up now is not a terrible idea at all.
#2 Rick Middleton – 1974-75 O-Pee-Chee
Speaking of retired players that are starting to experience a groundswell in support for Hall of Fame induction, we have a “Nifty” one in Middleton. Originally drafted by the New York Rangers, he was in the midst of a strong rookie season when his first card appeared and he was squeezed into the O-Pee-Chee set.
His time in the Big Apple did not last long, as he was shipped off to Boston for an aging Ken Hodge in arguably the worst trade ever made by the Rangers on May 26, 1976. He made some strong contributions to runs to the Stanley Cup during his first two seasons in Boston and was averaging over a point per game by the end of the decade. The 1980-81 campaign saw him hit the 100-point mark for the first time and he was also awarded the Lady Byng Trophy. All told, he finished his career with 988 points and his number was recently retired by the Bruins. His dominance during the early 1980s has certainly been recognized by fans, but only time will tell if the Hall of Fame will agree.
#1 Doug Wilson – 1978-79 O-Pee-Chee/Topps
Over 14 seasons with Chicago, Wilson was an all-star caliber defender who had a knack for putting up points. He cracked the team’s lineup months after being selected sixth overall in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft and was a sophomore when his constantly underrated rookie card was released.
By 1981-82, he had emerged as one of the best in the game and his 39-goal output resulted in a spot on the NHL’s First All-Star Team and a Norris Trophy victory. For the rest of the 80s, he was consistently ranked among hockey’s elite blueliners before moving on to lend some experience to the expansion San Jose Sharks.
With the Sharks, he only skated in two seasons before retiring. However, after the applause ended, he eventually settled in as the club’s Director of Player Personnel before becoming General Manager in 2003-04. He has remained in that position to this day and has guided the team to a great deal of regular season success in addition to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. Whether he is ultimately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a player or a builder, the honor is well-deserved.
Collectors would be wise to snatch up his rookie card when offered – especially well-centered and clean copies of the O-Pee-Chee version as that set is well-known for having issues with centering and rough edges.