Don Lever is without a doubt, the most successful first round pick Vancouver made within their first three drafts. The swift-skating Lever was picked 3rd Overall by Vancouver after a year in which Vancouver finished last in the NHL’s standings, but were bumped down to 3rd in the draft due to the 1972 expansion teams. The 20-year old Lever jumped straight to the NHL in the ’72-’73 season, starting off with a 38-point season while playing in all 78 games.
Lever took the step forward to become Vancouver’s top centerman the following year with another full 78-game season and 23 goals. Lever would hit a new level in the 1974-75 season as he was a key part of the top line of Ververgaert and Boudrias that reigned in the Smythe Division. Lever scored 38 goals, tying Schmautz’s Canuck record, but setting the new record for Canuck centers. Lever even finished 6th in All-Star Team voting. Lever was not only able to score goals, but he could also play solid defense, often playing on both the power play and penalty kill. Lever’s play style changed up a bit for the 1975-76 season, as his PIM spiked from 49 to 93 and his offensive role changed from goal scorer to play-maker. His goal total dropped down to 25, but he set a new career best in assists with 40 assists on the season. His 65 points were good for second on the team.
Lever was a consistent player in more than one sense. In the 1976-77 season, not only did Lever still score a solid 27 goals, but he played another full 80-game season, extending his ironman streak to 396 games. Lever’s leadership was formally recognized prior to the 1977-78 season, as he was named team captain. Lever’s numbers began to dip in the two seasons during which he served as captain, but only slightly, and he still remained a 20+ goal scorer in the 1978-79 season. In the 1979-80, defenseman Kevin McCarthy took Lever’s place as captain and during the season, Lever was traded from Vancouver to the Atlanta Flames despite his improving play during that season. The trade saddened many fans who saw Lever as one of the most consistent and formative players of the Canucks during the 70s.
The Lever trade brought more good players to Vancouver in Ivan Boldirev and Darcy Rota, but signaled the transition to a new era of hockey in Vancouver. Lever would continue to be a solid two-way forward for several teams after Vancouver and scored the first goal in New Jersey Devils history. He would later spend many years as an AHL Head Coach and NHL assistant/associate coach.
Lever left the Canucks as their all-time leader in goals and points, while placing at 2nd in games with 593 games his 407 points were passed by both Stan Smyl and Thomas Gradin in the 1983-84 season, but his goal total of 186 took one more year for Smyl to pass. His ironman streak of 437 games would lead many teams all-time, but Vancouver has been blessed with two other star centers who have had long iron-man streaks who best him.
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