Don Lever wasn't a flashy player but he had excellent overall qualities. He was a leader and prided himself as consistent player with few weaknesses. He was versatile and could play all three forward positions if needed (he preferred to be a LW) and had great stamina which kept him injury free for much of his career despite his all-out approach to the game of hockey..
Don was born in South Porcupine, Ontario - the same place where NHL stars like Ted Lindsay, Dick Duff, Frank and Pete Mahovlich, Bob Nevin, Walt Tkaczuk and Paul Henderson grew up. So when Don showed great promise as a young hockey player, it didn't surprise anyone that he too would make it to the big leagues.
Don first became prominent when he joined Niagara Falls Flyers of the OHA (Ontario Hockey Association) where he would star along side future Buffalo Sabres Morris Titanic and Jim Schoenfeld. But it was Don who was the team, leading the Flyers in scoring both years he was there. In fact in his final season of junior hockey Don exploded for 126 points (61+65) in 63 games. That great 71-72 season earned him the OHA MVP award.
The scouts liked Don's fine two way skills, leadership abilities and hard work. Don was high on every teams wish list and was drafted 3rd overall in 1972 by the Sabres expansion twins - the Vancouver Canucks. Don would go on to have a more successful career than both Billy Harris and Jacques Richard who were drafted ahead of him.
Don immediately became a regular on the Canuck squad and remained one of their best players for eight seasons. His best season in Vancouver came in 1975-76 when he tied the club record for most goals in a season with 38. He also collected 68 points. Don, who often was named as the Canucks unsung hero, was named as the team's MVP that year.
Not only was Don consistent on the scoreboard (he scored 20 or more goals nine seasons), but he also was an excellent captain for the Canucks between 1977-79. Don always led by example and worked harder than anybody else. Yet, he was one of the most durable players in NHL history. He once had a consecutive games played streak of 437 games and rarely missed any time due to injury.
On February 8,1980 Don was traded to the Atlanta Flames with Brad Smith for Ivan Boldirev and Darcy Rota. At the time of his trade he was the all-time Canucks leader in points and one of the most popular players, so the trade was controversial
In Atlanta / Calgary, Don played one whole season (57 points in 62 games 1980-81) and parts of two seasons before he was traded again on November 25, 1981.
This time the man universally known as "Cleaver" was traded to the struggling Colorado Rockies together with Billy MacMillan for Lanny McDonald and a draft choice. Colorado was looking for some strong leadership and found it in Don. That 1981-82 season Don established a personal high in points when he scored a total of 69 points (30 goals and 39 points) in 82 games for both Calgary and Colorado. This gave him a trip to the 1982 NHL All-Star game in Washington - his only NHL All Star game appearance.
On June 30,1982 the Colorado franchise relocated to New Jersey and became the New Jersey Devils. Don was awarded the captaincy as Devils first ever captain, a position he held until 1984. Fittingly enough Don scored New Jersey's first ever goal.
After a couple of seasons in New Jersey Don was traded to his last team. His rights were traded to Buffalo On September 9,1985 At this point of his career Don was more of a mentor than anything. He only played 29 games for Buffalo in 1985-86 and 10 in 1986-87, his last season. He became just the 59th player to participate in 1000 NHL games while he was a member of the Sabres, but most of his time with the organization was spent in the minor leagues with Rochester of the AHL. While Don had no official title, the cagey veteran was like a playing coach on the farm team. He developed some great tools in Rochester which would further his career with the Sabres organization.
Don retired as a player after the 1986-87 season and immediately stepped behind the bench to begin coaching. From 1987 through 1990 he was an assistant with Buffalo before heading back to Rochester where he served as head coach for three years. In 1993 Don returned to Buffalo where he has been an assistant coach among other positions.
Lever played a total of 1,020 regular season NHL games and had 313 goals, 367 assists for a total of 680 points. He spent a total of 593 minutes in the penalty box.