Despite mixed success over the course of the last 20 years, the New York Rangers have employed some of the greatest hockey talents the league has ever seen.
And as much as the team has struggled to capitalize on said talent, those players put in some very exciting campaigns and gave the fans a whole lot to cheer for.
Seeing as the team is currently lacking a true playmaker in the prime of his career, what better time than now to take a look at some of the great talent of the past?
Here are the club’s top playmakers of the past 20 years.
Although not your prototypical passing playmaker, Theo Fleury was a dynamic player for the Rangers over the course of his three years with the club.
His greatest assets were his speed and tenacity, which proved nightmarish for opponents on a nightly basis. Despite injury and personal issues, Fleury was one of the Rangers’ main sources of offense for the better part of his tenure.
In his first season with the club, he notched 15 goals and 49 assists for 64 points in 80 games, which was good enough for second-best on the team.
The following season, Fleury roared out to a fantastic start, scoring 30 goals and adding 44 assists for 74 points through the season’s first 62 games. His performance vaulted him into fourth in league scoring, but his season—and that of the Rangers—screeched to a halt when Fleury entered the league’s substance abuse program midseason.
Fleury wouldn't play another game in the 2000-01 campaign and continued to struggle during the summer of 2001.
He did eventually get sober and joined the Rangers in 2001-02. He would play alongside Eric Lindros and Mike York, managing 24 goals and 39 assists for 63 points in all 82 games.
Michael Nylander played just two seasons with the Rangers (2005-06 and 2006-07), but his partnership with Jaromir Jagr helped restore the respectability of the franchise.
Nylander was as pure a playmaker as anyone. Fans will probably—and unfortunately—remember him for his reluctance to shoot the puck, opting to almost always pass instead. However, the truth is Nylander not only recorded career highs in assists and points with the Rangers, but also in goals.
The Rangers signed Nylander specifically to play with Jagr. Coming out of the 2004-05 NHL lockout, the Rangers were in need of a centerman to play with the big man, who the organization acquired in 2003-04.
Jagr and Nylander had played together in Washington from 2001-04, and as an unrestricted free agent, Nylander was a prime target for the Rangers.
The duo was an instant hit, and behind Nylander’s 23 goals, 56 assists and 79 points, Jagr and the Rangers soared to their first 100-point season since 1993-94.
Nylander was even better in 2006-07, when he had the best season of his career: 26 goals, 57 assists for 83 points. Although he finished just 23rd in the league scoring that season, his numbers would have been good enough for fifth in 2011-12, ahead of John Tavares, Henrik Sedin and Joe Thornton.
It’s painful to have Mark Messier at No. 3 on the list when you think about all he did for the franchise over the course of his 10 years in New York. But the two players in front of him are two of the most talented players to ever play the game.
Regardless, Messier was an immense talent that possessed nearly every admirable trait a hockey player possibly could.
Moose scored 250 goals, 441 assists and 691 points in 698 games as the Rangers’ captain. He won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1991-92—his first season with the Rangers—after registering 35 goals, 72 assists and 107 points. Those were the highest assist and point totals Messier would rack up on Broadway.
His highest goal total came in 1995-96 when he scored 47 goals.
Messier will always be remembered as arguably the greatest leader in hockey (and sports?) history as well as a fierce competitor and powerful skater. But passing and playmaking are two points where I feel Messier was underrated.
He never registered staggering assist numbers in the hundreds like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, but as a first-line center who led two separate franchises to Stanley Cups, Messier simply got it done.
At a time when the Rangers needed a superstar most, Jaromir Jagr turned the franchise around.
He too may not be considered a typical playmaker, but his size, strength and skill have not only made him one of the greatest Rangers playmakers of the last 20 years, but one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
In his first full season with the Rangers, Jagr set franchise highs in goals (54) and points (123) while also adding 69 assists. He finished two points behind Joe Thronton in league scoring and was also beat out by Jumbo Joe for the Hart Trophy. However, he did collect the Lester B. Pearson Award as the players’ MVP.
Without a doubt a phenomenal passer, Jagr was still the type to look toward goal before attempting to make a play. Keeping that in mind, it’s even more impressive that he was able to rack up as many assists as he did with the Blueshirts.
In his second full season with the club, Jagr notched 30 goals and 66 assists for 96 points before struggling in his last season in New York, when he registered just 25 goals and 46 assists for 71 points.
You can’t top The Great One.
The Rangers are just one of four NHL franchises to have had the privilege of employing Wayne Gretzky, and although he arrived in the twilight of his career, he was still the best playmaker the team has had over the course of the last 20 years.
In his first season with New York, Gretzky put up 25 goals and 72 assists for 97 points. The 72 assists were good for first in the league, while the 97 points placed him in a tie for fourth overall.
Gretz’s first year with the Rangers (1996-97) will also be remembered by Rangers fans because of the team’s success. It was the first time in nearly 10 years that Gretzky and Messier played on the same team and the two rekindled the magic and carried the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Final, falling at the hands of the powerhouse Philadelphia Flyers in five games.
Messier bailed for Vancouver in 1997-98 and the Rangers missed the playoffs, but Gretzky hardly missed a beat. His 23 goals and 67 assists for 90 points saw him finish first in assists again and third in points.
1998-99 was the last season of Gretzky’s career and the only term in which he didn’t score at least a point per game. With just nine goals, 53 assists and 62 points, Gretzky tied for sixth in assists but was way down the ladder in terms of points.