For the National Hockey League, the 1970s were marked by dominant teams and blazing superstars, as the Montreal Canadiens and their stalwart lineup took home six Stanley Cup titles during the decade, while the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers picked up two each. But the 1970s also saw the birth of new franchises and the debuts of several players who would help to shape the future of the game and claim their space among the all-time greats.
Year by year, Topps and O-Pee-Chee scrambled to keep up with the new names, and the resulting bevy of hockey rookie cards of the 1970s matches up well with any other era.
Here are ten of the greatest rookie cards of the 1970s, listed by their date of issue.
1970-71 O-Pee-Chee Bob Clarke (#195)
Though the early 1970s were generally a dark time for Philadelphia sports teams, the Flyers kept brotherly hope alive with excellence on the ice. Led by captain Bobby Clarke, Philly won the Stanley Cup in both 1974 and 1975, and, after that second season, Clarke won the first of two Hart Memorial Trophies as the MVP of the NHL. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1987, Clarke is considered by many to be one of the greatest forwards of all time.
His 1970-71 O-Pee-Chee rookie card sells for $150 and up in near mint or better condition.
1970-71 O-Pee-Chee Gilbert Perreault (#131)
Center Gilbert Perreault played his entire 17-year career with the Buffalo Sabres, and he was the original Sabre, to boot. The talented playmaker was Buffalo’s first ever pick, in the 1970 NHL draft and helped them get all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in 1975.
Perreault’s rookie card in the 1970-71 O-Pee-Chee set is tough to find in top condition, and graded NM copies bring more than $400.
1971-72 O-Pee-Chee Ken Dryden (#45)
At 6’4″ tall, Ken Dryden was one of the tallest goalies in NHL history and also one of its best. In just seven full seasons, all with the Montreal Canadiens, the “Four-Story Goalie” was a first-team All-Star five times and also won five Vezina Trophies as the league’s top goaltender. Those seasons included his very last in 1979 as he was retiring at age 31 after helping the Canadiens to their fourth straight Stanley Cup championship.
Dryden’s 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee rookie card is a hobby classic that can fetch around $700 in slabbed NM-MT condition…and even $100 or more in EX grade.
1971-72 O-Pee-Chee Guy Lafleur (#148)
Dryden’s teammate and exact contemporary from 1971 through 1979, right winger Guy Lafleur was a prolific scorer who became the first player in NHL history with six straight seasons of 50 goals and 100 points. Like Dryden, Lafleur retired at the relatively young age of 33 in 1985 before making a three-year comeback with the Rangers and Nordiques beginning in 1988. All told, he tallied six first-team All-Star selections, two MVP awards, and five Stanley Cup championships, all with the Canadiens.
You can find Lafleur’s rookie card in the 1971-72 O-Pee-Chee set, but you’ll pay at least $150 for a decent one…$1,000 or more for a 9.
1973-74 O-Pee-Chee Larry Robinson (#237)
Yet another member of the great 1970s Montreal Canadiens teams, defenseman Larry Robinson was a six-time All-Star who also won the James Norris Memorial Trophy (best defenseman) twice. After a playing career that produced six Stanley Cup championships and a record 20 straight playoff appearances, Robinson moved into the coaching ranks. He picked up another Stanley Cup as interim coach of the New Jersey Devils in 2000 and guided them back to the finals the next year.
Today, Robinson’s 1973-74 O-Pee-Chee rookie card varies greatly in price with ungraded NM examples at around $75 and high-end graded cards well into the hundreds.
1974-75 O-Pee-Chee Denis Potvin (#195)
A star in junior hockey through the early 1970s, defenseman Denis Potvin was selected as the first overall pick by the New York Islanders in the 1973 NHL draft and never looked back. In a 15-year career, all with New York, Potvin won three Norris Trophies and played in seven All-Star games. Along the way, he helped the Islanders win four Stanley Cup championships in the early 1980s, and he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991.
Potvin’s rookie card can be found in the 1974-75 O-Pee-Chee set and is plentiful on eBay but often off-center.
1975-76 O-Pee-Chee Clark Gillies
Left winger Clark Gillies was Potvin’s teammate and one of the Islanders’ most physical performers during their four-year Stanley Cup run. In spite of his reputation for toughness and the fact that he logged nearly an average of three penalty minutes per game in the Canadian Junior leagues, Gillies never spent more 100 minutes in the penalty box during any NHL season and developed into a prolific scorer in New York. A two-time All-Star, Gillies was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2002.
His 1975-76 O-Pee-Chee rookie card is sometimes a bit hard to find online but is one you can usually land for $15-25 in ungraded form.
1976-77 O-Pee-Chee Bryan Trottier (#115)
Center Bryan Trottier was another of the young players who came up with the New York Islanders in the 1970s and built a powerhouse for the next decade. Selected in the second round of the 1974 draft, Trottier made his debut in 1975 and won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.
He didn’t let off the gas from there, scoring more than 40 goals five times and topping 100 points six times over the next eight campaigns. Trottier won an MVP award and appeared in four All-Star games in a career that spanned 18 seasons, all but the last three with New York. He still holds the NHL record with six points in a period and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1997.
Trottier’s 1976-77 O-Pee-Chee rookie card is still popular with collectors. Sometimes plagued by centering issues and corner wear, low to mid-grade examples are easy to find. You’ll pay well into the hundreds for an 8.5 or 9 type card.
Maybe more than any other player, right winger Mike Bossy was the bellweather of those great 1980s Islanders teams. At his best, Bossy was the game’s leading goal-scorer, topping the NHL in both 1978-79 and 1980-81. He scored more than 50 goals in nine of his 10 seasons in the league, topping 60 on six occasions, and he surpassed 100 points seven times. Along the way to his Hall of Fame induction in 1991, Bossy made eight All-Star appearance.
For as great as he was, though, back problems wore him down quickly and, in 1988 at the age of just 31, Bossy was forced to hang up his skates. The latter stages of his career, when he was battling injury, were marked by the Islanders decline from Stanley Cup champions to perennial afterthoughts in the playoffs.
You can find a very nice near mint example for $75-100.
1979-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky (#18)
Every successful sport has its defining superstar, the guy who lifts it into the international spotlight and makes the masses take notice. For all of the superstars that have graced the ice over the decades, no one fits the mold of Babe Ruth and Tiger Woods quite like Wayne Gretzky. From the time “The Great One” was a teenager skating with the Indianapolis Racers to his dominance with the upstart Edmonton Oilers to his later years with the Kings, Blues, and Rangers, Gretzky commanded our attention like no one else. He still holds most of hockey’s offensive records and causes a stir everywhere he goes.
Gretzky, of course, has two rookie cards: Topps and O-Pee-Chee but it’s the Canadian version that belongs on this list. A PSA ’10’ sold for a huge price in 2006. If you’re wanting one–and what self-respecting hockey fan wouldn’t?–buy the highest quality example you can afford. Check what’s available on eBay here.
Every year of the 1970s seemed to produce the next big superstar, and great hockey rookie cards abound in the sets produced before most of today’s NHL players were even born. You could make a case for other debut issues to make this list (Marcel Dionne is another great one), but it’s hard to top the arc of cardboard and careers of players spanning from Clarke to Gretzky.