Ranking the 5 Greatest Rookie Seasons in New York Rangers History
The New York Rangers may not have had a plethora of top-end rookie talent during the 2013-14 season, but over the course of the franchise’s history there have been many stand-out first-year men.
To take your mind off the pain that is sure to continue all offseason from the Rangers sudden OT defeat in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, take a look at the five greatest rookies in the history of the Rangers.
Drafted 10th overall by the Rangers in the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft, Steve Vickers would go on to have not only one of the greatest rookie campaigns in franchise history but also one of the more impressive Ranger careers.
Selected as a member of the Toronto Marlboros of the OHA, Vickers registered an impressive 107 points in 62 games in his final junior season in 1970-71.
After spending his first season as a pro with the Omaha Knights of the CHL in 1971-72—a year in which the left winger would notch 59 points in 70 games—Vickers joined the Rangers ahead of the 1972-73 NHL campaign.
The Toronto native would feature in 61 games for the Rangers in his inaugural season, and 30 goals, 23 assists and 53 points later, Vickers was awarded the Calder Trophy as the league’s most outstanding rookie.
It was the first time a Ranger had won the award since Camille Henry did in 1953-54.
In total, Vickers would play ten seasons with the Rangers, recording 246 goals, 340 assists and 586 points in 698 games. His best season came in 1974-75 playing alongside Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle when he scored 41 goals and 89 points in 80 games.
A sixth-round pick of the Rangers in 1982 out of Northwood High School in Lake Placid, New York, was left winger Tony Granato. Before being selected, Granato played four seasons of collegiate hockey with the University of Wisconsin, where—in his final season—he scored and impressive 73 points in 42 games.
Granato’s bridge season in 1987-88 was spent with the Colorado Rangers of the IHL before joining New York for the 1988-89 campaign.
He and fellow teammate and rookie Brian Leetch captivated the Garden Faithful that year, providing the franchise with a sensational injection of youth and promise. Granato would finish fourth on the team with 63 points in 78 games. His 35 goals as a first-year player remain a Rangers record.
After crashing out in the first round of the playoffs, Granato received a Calder Trophy nomination. The winger probably would have won the award, too, if it wasn’t for Leetch, who showed tremendous promise and poise in his first outing as a pro.
Granato was traded midway through the 1989-90 season to Los Angeles in a deal that brought Bernie Nicholls to New York, thus ending his career in New York prematurely.
Bill Cook was the first New York Ranger, having been the team’s first ever signing ahead of the 1926-27 NHL season.
Although aged 30 at the start of the year, Cook was a rookie to the NHL—having spent the previous four seasons with various teams in Saskatoon, where his service-awarded land was located—and achieved great success.
The WHL, the league in which he played in prior to joining New York, had fallen on hard times, and Bill and his brother Bun searched for a NHL side to join. Then team manager Conn Smythe was able to procure the signatures of both Cook brothers.
Cook skated in 44 games in his and the Rangers inaugural season, and the right winger would go on to lead the league in both goals (33) and points (37). That’s right, the first Ranger scored a magnificent 33 goals in 44 games in his first season in the league. In addition, the Brantford, ON, native was the Hart Trophy runner-up.
Cook, who spent his entire career in New York and also served as team captain, would go on to score 367 points in 474 games as a Ranger from 1926 to 1937. He was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1952.
Henrik Lundqvist, the man some NHL teams passed up on seven times in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, was selected by the Rangers in the seventh round, 205th overall.
It wasn’t until 2005-06 that Lundqvist made his way across the pond from his native Sweden following the 2004-05 season, which saw many NHL players join European clubs in the wake of the NHL lockout. The Swedish Elitserien was a popular choice for Swedes and North Americans alike and as such, Lundqvist was tested by NHL caliber talent.
It turned out to be a his best year as well as a record-breaking season. He set Elitserien records in shutouts (6), goals-against average (1.05) and save percentage (.962). In addition he was elected the league’s top player and goaltender.
It was obvious he was ready for the NHL.
Lundqvist arrived at training camp ahead of 2005-06 penciled in by many as the back-up goalie, behind veteran Kevin Weekes. The Rangers had struggled to find consistency between the pipes since the retirement of Mike Richter in 2003 and hoped that in the not-so-distant future Lundqvist could become a franchise keeper.
Not-so-distant became immediate, after Lundqvist, quite handily, wrestled the starting job out of Weekes’ hands by the end of October. Hank would go on to have one of the great rookie-goalie campaigns in the league’s history.
With a 30-12-9 record, Lundqvist’s numbers were amongst league leaders in goals against (2.24 – fifth) and save percentage (.922 – fourth). Despite not being named a Calder Trophy finalist—remember, this was the season in which Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Dion Phaneuf were rookies—Lundqvist was a Vezina Trophy finalist, which is a great honor for a rookie. He was named to the NHL All-Rookie Team, though.
Lundqvist has since gone on to solidify himself as the greatest goalie in Rangers history, establishing the franchise’s highest win and shutout totals.
The Rangers first-round, ninth-overall selection in the 1986 NHL Draft was none other than first-ballot Hall of Famer Brian Leetch. The Corpus Christi, Texas, native was selected out of Avon Old Farms, an all-boys boarding school in Connecticut, where, in his final season, Leetch notched 44 goals and 84 points in 28 games.
In case you forgot, Leetch is a defenseman, and yes, those numbers are correct. If you think that’s ridiculous, Leetch scored 101 points in 28 games for Cheshire High School in Connecticut two years prior as a high school sophomore.
So, yeah, it was evident early on that Leetch was a special player.
In 1986-87, Leetch attended Boston College, where he recorded 47 points in 37 games and was named Hockey East’s Player and Rookie of the Year. Additionally, he was a national All-American.
After spending the first half of the 1987-88 season with the U.S. National Team ahead of the 1988 Olympics, Leetch joined the Rangers for 17 games. He registered 14 points, and because he appeared in so few games, he preserved his rookie status for the following season, which turned out to be a special one.
In 68 games Leetch scored 71 points while providing a sound and calming presence at the back. He turned a lot of heads and eventually won the Calder as league’s top rookie.
Leetch would play a total of 17 seasons with the Rangers, scoring 987 points in 1129 games. In 1991-92 he scored 102 points and became just the sixth defenseman in NHL history to break the 100-point barrier in a single season. That year he won the Norris Trophy as league’s top defenseman, and he would again win the award in 1997.
Elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009, Leetch is the greatest Ranger of all time, and his No. 2 jersey will forever hang from the rafters of Madison Square Garden.
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