New York Rangers: Remembering the career of Brian Leetch

NHL, Brian Leetch (Mandatory Credit: Kent Smith /Allsport)
NHL, Brian Leetch (Mandatory Credit: Kent Smith /Allsport) /

Brian Leetch is arguably the greatest New York Rangers defenseman of all-time. Let’s look back at his historic career.

Drafted ninth overall out of Boston College in the 1986 NHL Draft, defenseman Brian Leetch quickly made a name for himself in the Big Apple playing for the New York Rangers. In a draft that included players like Vincent Damphousse and Craig Janney, he recorded more assists than any other player taken throughout the course of his illustrious career.

Born in 1968 in Corpus Christi, Texas, Leetch became just the second player ever to play in the NHL born in the Lone Star State. Since Leetch, there have been eight more players born in Texas to crack the pros, some for a cup of coffee and others like Tyler Myers, Seth Jones, Blake Coleman, and Stefan Noesen have carved out solid NHL careers.

Brian’s career started in 1987-88 when he was just 19 years old, playing in 17 games for the Rangers while racking up 14 points. His career took off the very next season as he went on to become the franchise’s eighth Calder Trophy winner and first since Stevie Vickers in 1972-73, with season totals of 23 goals and 71 points in just 68 games.

More from Puck Prose

A season after winning the Calder, Leetch experienced a dip in goal production and finished the season with just 11 goals and 56 points. Leetch’s “sophomore slump” would turn out to be just that as he went on to record 398 assists and 509 points while playing in just 489 games, scoring 20+ goals three times in that span of seven seasons.

During the course of his first ten seasons in the NHL Leetch made the All-Star team eight times, including his rookie season, and was a consistent contender for the Norris Trophy year in and year out. Leetch would go on to win the award twice in that time, once in 1991-92 at just 23 years of age and again in 96-97 at 28 years old.

In in bizarre accident, Leetch broke his ankle in 1993 and only played in 36 games, still managing to record 36 points that season.

The very next year he went on to have one of his best season’s as a pro, helping to lead the New York Rangers win their first Stanley Cup since 1940 as they defeated a formidable opponent in the Vancouver Canucks in seven games.

On a team with the likes of Mark Messier, Mike Gartner, 50+ goal scorer Adam Graves, Alex Kovalev, and Steve Larmer, Leetch went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy having lead the Rangers in assists (23) and points (34) while finishing second in goals with 11 in just 23 playoff games. It was that same playoff year that Leetch became the first American born player to win the award for playoff MVP.

Brian Leetch was a thirteen time All-Star and arguably the best player to ever play in the NHL from Boston College. During the course of his 18 year NHL career Leetch recorded totals of 1205 games played and scoring 247 goals and 781 assists for a total of 1028 points which are all second all-time among American NHL defenseman to only Phil Housley. However Leetch does have the edge in points-per-games played with a .853 average.

Leetch also currently leads all American defenseman in power play goals with 129 as well as game winning goals with 38 and is third all-time among American’s with eight short handed goals, behind only Mark Howe who scored an incredible 38 shorthanded goals and Chris Chelios with 13. It’s worth noting that during Leetch’s outstanding career he managed to score one hat-trick and made sure he made it count as it came during a 4-3 win against division rival, Philadelphia Flyers.

After having his rights traded to the Edmonton Oilers, Leetch was re-signed by the Rangers and went on to play in just 57 games for the club before eventually being moved for good at the deadline that upcoming season.

On March 3, 2004, Leetch was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs, joining forces with Leafs legend, Mats Sundin in Toronto’s quest for their first Stanley Cup since 1964. Toronto was knocked out in the second round that season in a hard fought series with the Philadelphia Flyers as Jeremy Roenick scored one of the most memorable goals in recent Flyers history, sending the Leafs home and essentially cutting the Brian Leetch error in Toronto short.

After the 2004-05 lockout season Leetch would go on to sign one more NHL contract worth $4,000,000 with the Boston Bruins to play for one final season. During his final year Leetch still went on to record 23+ minutes of total ice time while registering 32 points in 61 games played.

It’s worth noting that as one of the greatest American born NHLers of all time, Leetch captained the 1996 United States olympic team to a gold medal and is third all-time in assists among American born players to only Phil Housley and Mike Modano. Patrick Kane is the closest active American born player who can currently surpass Leetch, being in 10th place with 633 assists.

Next. Top 10 Rangers Of All-Time. dark

On February 24, 2008, Brian’s iconic number 2 jersey retired by the New York Rangers and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2017 he was named to the list of 100 Greatest NHL Players and remains the last NHL defenseman to score 100 points in a season to this day.