One of the most naturally gifted forwards in NHL history, Gilbert Perreault dazzled fans and the opposition defenses with his famed end-to-end rushes. He was the first building block in place when Punch Imlach began assembling the Buffalo Sabres in 1970. Throughout his nearly 17-year career that was spent entirely with Buffalo, Perreault was consistently one of the game's most entertaining figures. His laid-back and shy personality kept him from gaining the fame of some of the other stars of his era.
Perreault was a junior phenomenon when he led the Montreal Junior Canadiens to consecutive Memorial Cup wins in 1969 and 1970. After leading the club to their repeat national championship, Perreault was named the most valuable player in the OHA.
The Buffalo Sabres acquired the first pick in the 1970 Amateur Draft when coach and general manager Imlach won a spin of the wheel over expansion cousin Vancouver. Perreault was the obvious choice, and he lived up to his advance billing by establishing rookie scoring records of 38 goals and 72 points in 1970-71. He easily outdistanced runner-up Jude Drouin of the Minnesota North Stars in the Calder Trophy voting. In his sophomore year, he scored 26 goals and 74 points while being chosen to play for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series against the USSR.
The fortunes of the Buffalo franchise were enhanced by the placement of wingers Richard Martin and Rene Robert with Perreault. The French Connection became the most exciting trio in the league and was a major reason the Sabres qualified for the playoffs in only their third year of existence. A gentleman on the ice, Perreault was the recipient of the Lady Byng Trophy in 1973.
The team didn't fare as well in 1973-74 and missed the playoffs. A major factor in their regression was a broken leg suffered by Perreault that limited him to 55 games. The French Connection and the team rebounded in dramatic fashion the next year. They recorded a franchise record of 113 points and reached the Stanley Cup finals, where they lost to defending champion Philadelphia in a competitive six-game series. Each member of Buffalo's top forward unit finished in the top 10 of the NHL scoring parade during the regular season.
The Sabres never attained the playoff success of 1975 again, but Perreault did record a personal high of 113 points in 1975-76. Later that year, he helped his country win the inaugural Canada Cup. He continued to excel through the rest of the decade and enjoyed his finest post-season in 1980 with 21 points in 14 games as Buffalo reached the Stanley Cup semifinals.
Although he was in the latter stages of his career in the 1980s, Perreault turned in four straight 30-goal seasons between 1981 and 1985. He starred as Wayne Gretzky's linemate at the 1981 Canada Cup, and he was playing some of the best hockey of his career with nine points in four games when he was forced out of the tournament with a broken ankle.
Following the trade of Danny Gare to Detroit on December 2, 1981, Perreault was named Buffalo's team captain, a position he held until his retirement in 1986-87. On April 3, 1982, he became the 16th player to register 1,000 points. Perreault scored his 500th goal against Alain Chevrier on March 9, 1986. After playing 20 games the following season, he retired with 512 goals and 1,326 points to his credit. Perreault was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.