Montreal Canadiens 5th Overall Pick History Part 5: Petr Svoboda

The Montreal Canadiens recieved the 5th overall pick this year, for the 8th time in their long and storied franchise. So for the summer months we are going to go over all the past 5th overall picks, from Bouchard to Reinbacher. This time we are looking at the Habs' first pick in the 1984 draft, Petr Svoboda
Montreal Canadiens v Washington Capitals
Montreal Canadiens v Washington Capitals / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages
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The European Factor

Much has been made about the Russian factor in recent years with prospects like Matvei Michkov and Ivan Demidov, but it was quite a different beast in the 1980s.

It was the wild west back then for players in Eastern Europe. Burke's Law, the book written by former Canucks General Manager Brian Burke, goes into a lot of detail about drafting Pavel Bure, including most teams not knowing how many seasons Bure had played, and most teams not knowing he was eligible and he still went in the 6th round.

1984 was just 4 years after the Stastny brothers (most notably Peter), defected to the Quebec Nordiques, and five years before Bure was drafted and the Russian Five (Fedorov, Konstantinov, Kozlov, Fetisov and Larionov) came to the Red Wings.

Petr Svoboda
Montreal Candiens v Toronto Maple Leafs / Graig Abel/GettyImages

Despite playing in Eastern Europe, Svoboda was a highly touted prospect, but wasn't seen as a high round pick, because there was a very real possibility that he wouldn't come over. It's not like now, there was a real chance that if you defected, then you might not be able to go home and see your family for a long time.

There is a story about how Svoboda defected after the last game of the U-18 Championships in 1984, which is even more impressive if you remember he had to do this at 17 years old:

"Svoboda sat in his locker, looked around the room, took a shower, got dressed and slipped out the back door of the arena. He left everything else behind. Waiting for him were the people he knew and they brought him to West Germany where his aunt (who also defected) took him in. In all the commotion, nobody on the Czechoslovakian team noticed he was gone."

Connor Lapalme, Last Word On Sports

The story goes that the Montreal Canadiens were the only team aware of this, and actually paid for his trip to Montreal, where the draft was, and where they shocked the hockey world, not only by selecting him, but by Svoboda actually making an appearance.

But it seemed as if they were afraid another team would learn of Svoboda's presence and snap him up. Maybe they were burned from the Cam Connor situation from a few years ago where the Phoenix Roadrunners got to him first. So they made a trade with the Hartford Whalers, swapping firsts, with Montreal getting another 2nd and 3rd round pick, and Hartford getting Pierre Larouche, with the first going to Hartford becoming Sylvain Cote.

Mario Lemieux
Pittsburgh Penguins / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

Or that would make sense, until you look at the date of the trade: December 21st, 1981. Almost three whole years before the draft. Why the Habs did this was because even by 1981, Mario Lemieux was making a lot of noise, and the Habs brass saw Hartford's available first round pick as the best chance to nab Lemeiux. However, Hartford finished too well, and ended with the fifth overall pick.

Although Svoboda never quite reached the heights of his pre-draft report and draft position, he did have a very good career. He played 8 years with the Canadiens before being traded to the Buffalo Sabres, and retiring after stints with the Flyers and the Lightning.

Svoboda finished with 1,028 career games played, the first Czech player to ever reach that milestone, and even had his hand in one of the greatest NHL careers of all time, being Jaromir Jagr's agent.

And that about does it for the drafting and career of Petr Svoboda, the first Czech Montreal Canadien. Next time, we will take a big jump to the next millenium, and the drafting of Carey Price.