TLN’s All-Time Greatest Leafs Team: Ian Turnbull

As we embark on our annual TLN Top 20 Prospects series, it’s important to remember and recognize the special players that paved the way for tomorrow’s stars. Over the next few weeks, we will be announcing our first ever TLN All-Time Greatest Leafs Team, announcing a new player every day until we’ve filled out our 23-man roster.  

If Borje Salming was the greatest defenceman the Leafs had in the 1970s, Ian Turnbull wasn’t far behind. While his stay wasn’t overly long, his impact was felt immediately as he helped the Leafs keep up with some of the dynasty rosters of the era from an offensive standpoint.

Career Statistics

While Turnbull didn’t have a particularly long career, certainly made the games he played count. From his rookie year (1973/74) to his last full season in Toronto (1980/81), Turnbull scored the fifth-most points of any defenceman in the NHL, only trailing hall-of-famers Denis Potvin, Borje Salming, Brad Park, and Larry Robinson. This is particularly impressive when you consider Robinson and Potvin’s inclusion in two of the best teams ever assembled, and Park’s additional five years of NHL experience at this point. 

Turnbull also took the most shots of any NHL defenceman in that stretch, with 1822 over the eight years. Of all players in the top 15 in scoring, the only one to have a higher shots per game was.. Bobby Orr.

Most Memorable Moments

Turnbull is most famous for scoring the most goals in a single game by a defenceman. Amazingly, Ian had actually gone through a lengthy scoring drought during his most productive season, and in February 1977, needed something to snap the streak. Enter the Detroit Red Wings.

For Turnbull, just scoring one goal wasn’t enough. Nor was a hat trick. Turnbull put five goals in the back of Detroit’s net, including the one above on current Penguins GM Jim Rutherford. To this date, no defenceman has been able to match the total; nor has any player been able to match the fact that he scored all five goals in five shots (suck it, PDO).

Leafs Milestones

  • Second all-time, goals by a defenceman
  • Fourth all-time, points and assists by a defenceman
  • Most goals by a defenceman in a game (NHL record)
  • Last Leafs player to score five goals in a game
  • First all-time, goals and points per-game by a defenceman
  • Represented Leafs at NHL all-star game, 1977

Legacy

Turnbull isn’t remembered quite as fondly as his linemate Borje Salming, but he’s still an essential part of that generation. The Leafs haven’t frequently had elite offensive defencemen, and maybe Morgan Rielly can be this generation’s version of him, but Turnbull excited crowds and created additional threats on the top line. These early Ballard rosters weren’t able to long-term compete with the likes of the Islanders and the Canadiens of the time, but thanks to players like Turnbull, the conversation was occasionally able to become interesting.

Plus, he looked like Jim Morrison when he was younger. You can’t really top that!

  • Jeremy Ian

    Gotta love his unshaveable jaw and sideburns, too. Turnbull always looked like he’d just woken up. Loved him!

    One minor detail is that he was picked up in a trade with the Bruins involving the Leafs’ Jacques Plante after Cheevers bolted to the WHA. In return, the Bruins gave the Leafs their number 1 pick. So, the Turnbull-Salming duo became the blue line anchors for the 70s.