Throughout the New York Rangers’ 94 years of being in the NHL, Rangers fans have seen some of the greatest talents to ever play the game.
Although I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure to have been alive since the beginning of the Rangers’ existence, I can tell you that generation after generation, New York City is a breeding ground for elite hockey players.
With so many amazing Rangers players to ever play the game, picking the top five is like an all-you-can-eat-buffet; so many great options but you don’t know what to choose. However, I can assure you that these next five Rangers made a tremendous impact as a Blueshirt.
As a fan favorite, Adam Graves brought life into the garden. A class act on and off the ice, Graves played an important role in the Rangers ’94 Stanley Cup. It started in 1991 where Graves began his soon to be a victorious career as a Ranger. After his first two seasons, it was obvious that Graves was taking to the Rangers; which reflected in his increase in points from his first year as a Ranger to his second. After putting up 59 and 65 points in his first two seasons in New York, Graves was on track for a breakout season. In the ’93-’94 season, Graves racked up 52 goals, a franchise record, and 27 assists. His dominance in play helped take the Rangers into the playoffs with momentum, and it didn’t stop there.
Graves scored 10 goals and 17 assists in the ’94 cup run including an assist on Messier’s game-winning goal which guaranteed Graves’ name to be etched in history, onto The Stanley Cup. Aside from being a big factor in the Rangers playoff success, Graves was also a role model off the ice. For two seasons in a row, he was nominated by his teammates for the Players Players award. On top of this, Graves was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy: an award given to a player who best exemplifies leadership on and off the ice and gives significant humanitarian contributions to his community. Of course, these awards barely scrape the surface of all of Grave’s charitable notions.
Not only did he win a cup, break a franchise scoring record, and win multiple class act awards, Graves also embodied the perfect vision of being a New York Rangers.
On his birth certificate, he is known as Henrik Lundqvist. In the great city of New York, he is known as KING Henrik Lundqvist. In 2000, Lundqvist was drafted 205th overall. Although draft picks in the 200’s do not typically make a name for themselves, Lundqvist was determined to be different. In 2005, Hank set off on his journey to claim his crown as the King of New York. In his 15 years as a Ranger, Hank had 11 seasons where he recorded at least 30 wins in a season. As far as awards go, in 2011, Lundqvist won the Vezina Trophy: an award given to a goalie who is adjudged to be the best at this position in the league.
On top of this, Lundqvist currently has 64 shutouts throughout his career. This stat puts him 16th in career shutouts and 1st with the most shutouts for a Swedish goaltender. Over the course of his career as a Ranger, Hank won 459 games out of 887 games played. As far as playoffs go, Lundqvist led the Rangers to 12 playoffs under his reign. Year after year, when the Rangers were in the playoffs, this was the guy that you wanted in the net. Opponents feared him, and rightfully so. Although the closest Hank got to a cup was in the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals, his leadership throughout his entire career made the Rangers as successful as they were. The fire Hank had in his eyes when he strapped on the pads for the Rangers was fierce. This guy was the absolute definition of a competitor.
Madison Square Garden Energy
Throughout his career, if you were watching the Rangers and saw #30 in between the pipes, you knew he was going to fight with everything he had to win. This is why when the “Hen-rik” chats started reigning down in the garden, everyone in New York City felt the victorious vibe of the New York Rangers.
The man who guarded the crease for the Rangers before Lundqvist was no one other than Mike Richter. When you think of a clutch goalie, you think of Richter. The three-time all-star was a goalie who could keep your team in the game until the final whistle. In 666 career appearances, he finished with a record of 301-258-73. Furthermore, Richter finished with a career goals-against average of 2.89, and a .904 save percentage. While this statistical array of numbers are fantastic, four numbers missing. Of course, these four numbers being 1994. You can’t talk Mike Richter without talking about the Stanley Cup, and for good reason. In the Rangers Stanley Cup run, Richter broke records. He established the franchise record for the most amount of playoff wins and minutes played in a single season.
Known for his clutch, acrobatic, and timely saves, Richter will go down as a Rangers legend.
Perhaps one of the greatest defensemen of all time, Brian Leetch was a superstar for the Rangers. Drafted 9th overall in 1986, Leetch was destined for greatness. In 1987, he made his debut as a Ranger in what would be a long, successful tenure as a Blueshirt. In his first two seasons as a Ranger, Leetch tallied 85 points in 85 games. You don’t have to be a mathematician to recognize that averaging a point per game in his first two seasons on Broadway is remarkable. However, for Leetch, it didn’t just stop there. Over the next 17 seasons as a Ranger, Leetch would register 981 points, 741 assists, and 240 goals in 1,129 games. With so many points, Leetch is currently ranked 8th on the list of defensemen with the most points in a career.
In addition, he also has won quite a bit of trophy and awards. It’s safe to say the two-time James Norris Trophy winner, Conn Smythe Trophy winner, Calder Memorial Trophy winner, and Lester Patrick Trophy winner must have a good looking trophy room.
Of course, as for the most prestigious trophy, I did not mention it yet; which is the Stanley Cup. When fans think of Brian Leetch they can’t help but think of the astonishing post-season he had in 1994. As a matter of fact, his post-season was so outstanding that he was the top scorer in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that season. Yes, that’s right, no defenseman nor forward outscored the unstoppable Brian Leetch. His poise, leadership, physicality, and ability shine in desperate times is why Brian Leetch will go down as one of the greatest Rangers in history.
Finally at number one is the great Mark Messier. After spending 12 seasons as an Edmonton Oiler, Messier was traded to the Rangers in 1990. The already 5 time Stanley Cup Champion with the Oilers was looking to add another ring on his finger. As he arrived in New York, excitement shot through the bustling streets of the city. Having such a successful forward in New York was not only promising to fans but the Rangers organization. Although there was a little bit of uncertainty, Messier quickly dismissed the uncertainty in his first season. In 79 games, Messier managed to put up 35 goals, 72 assists, and 107 points. He also guided the Rangers to the playoffs with the best record in the NHL. Because of this, he wound up winning the Hart Trophy at the end of the season.
However, after making the playoffs in his first season as a Ranger and then missing the playoffs for the first time in his career in 1993, Messier was determined to come back stronger.
Messier’s Game Day Promise
With a new head coach and an eager Rangers team, Messier led the charge to the cup. After making quick work of the New York Islanders in a first-round sweep, and then defeating the Washington Capitals in five games, the New Jersey Devils were next on the chopping block for Messier. Although the Rangers found themselves trailing in the series 3-2, Messier delivered a statement that brought life back into the city. His promise guaranteed that the Rangers will win in Game 6, and thus even out the series. As a man of his word, Messier delivered big time. In typical Messier fashion, he managed to score a hat-trick in the game he promised to win. Like a genie in a bottle, Rangers fan’s wishes were Messier’s command.
From there, the Rangers were picking up traction. After beating the Devils in game seven and storming into the Stanley Cup Finals with momentum, Messier found himself in yet another game seven. This time, it was against the Vancouver Canucks. Fortunately for New Yorkers, Messier was very comfortable in must-win games. As a result, Messier delivered one last time with the game-winning goal to lift the franchise 54-year curse without a cup.
Captain Messier-Leader Of The Game
With such a successful career in the NHL, Messier has played in a lot of amazing games. However, the ’94 cup run was nothing short of magical. The leadership he displayed by not just ensuring victory, but go out and execute his plans is remarkable. His determination and grit made him such an icon around the league. Although he is viewed as a legend in many eyes across the NHL, ultimately, Messier represented the people that were fans of the Rangers: hardworking, determined, and motivated people, which is exactly what New Yorkers are.