Brad Richards: The New York Rangers Best Center Since the 90's

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 29:  Brad Richards #19 of the New York Rangers celebrates his second period goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on November 29, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Mike RappaportAnalyst IIDecember 19, 2011

After 30 games into his first season as a New York Ranger, Brad Richards has done everything the New York Rangers expected him to do when he signed as a free agent in July.

With 12 goals and 26 points, Richards is second on the Rangers in both categories. He is tied for the team lead in assists with 14.

In addition to the numbers, Richards has intangibles that enhance his presence. He has the ability to be the quarterback on the power play, he has been the team's most consistent center in the faceoff circle (despite the last two games) and has been tremendously clutch.

Richards' performance through a third of the season makes me believe that he is the best center the Rangers have had since Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky were Rangers in the late-1990s. In their Rangers' careers, Messier and Gretzky averaged a little bit above a point per game, and were unquestionably terrific leaders in the locker room.

Richards has that quality about him as well.

Prior to arriving in New York, he won a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and had experience playing for John Tortorella. These are a few of the reasons that Richards was given an "A" prior to the start of the season.

On the ice, Richards has done what other high-priced centers the Rangers have had since the late 1990s (Eric Lindros, Bobby Holik, Scott Gomez, Chris Drury) haven't been able to do.

Richards has put up goals and points, and they haven't been the fifth goal in 5-1 wins.

Out of Richards' 12 goals, four of them have been game winners—including his miracle backhander with 0.1 seconds remaining against the Coyotes on Saturday night. When the chips are down, it has been Richards who has swung the momentum of a game, given the team the lead or put the game on the ice.

And the best is yet to come. 

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