Flashback to great New York Rangers debuts as Alexis Lafreniere’s is almost here

The anticipation and return of live Rangers hockey in the coming weeks has the fan base bubbling with enthusiasm. You see, not only will Ranger fans be able to indulge in the high level skills of Mika Zibanejad, Atermi Panarin and Adam Fox, the Faithful will get even more. The long awaited NHL and New York Rangers debut of the number one overall pick in the 2020 draft, Alexis Lafrenière.

Since winning phase two of the NHL Draft Lottery on August 10th, the entire New York Rangers organization has envisioned the day in which Lafrenière takes the ice donned in that beautiful red, white and blue sweater. Well my friends, baring an unforeseen act of nature, we now know that the Saint-Eustache, Canada native in his #13 jersey will debut on January 14th, 2021 against the rivals the New York Islanders.

Let’s take a look back on some of the more memorable Ranger debuts that sent the New York sports world abuzz.

Wayne Gretzky debuts October 5th, 1996

Wayne Gretzky made his New York Rangers debut against Boston to open the 1996-97 season. A day in which many thought would never come, “The Great One” rejoined many of his old Edmonton Oiler teammates to make one last run towards a championship. Unfortunately he come up a few games short, losing in the 1997 Eastern Conference Finals to Philadelphia.

new york rangers debuts
Wayne Gretzky last skate April 18th, 1999 (Getty Images)

Sure, Gretzky was closing in on the 18th hole of his brilliant, legendary NHL career by the time he took on a starring role on Broadway, but it isn’t everyday in which you could say the greatest all time player in the history of the sport wear the uniform of the team that you support.

Gretzky failed to notch a point in his debut, but scored an assist in his second game. He tallied 97 points in his first Rangers season.

Mark Messier debuts October 5th, 1991

Mark Messier made his Rangers debut in Montreal in the team’s second game of the season after a late trade from Edmonton. The legend of the “Messiah” began when he forced then Oilers general manager Glen Sather to trade his rights to the Rangers for the express purposes of defeating the 1940 monster. He helped his new squad earn a 2-1 overtime victory that night, picking up an assist on Doug Weight’s game winner.

new york rangers debuts
Mark Messier put on the Rangers sweater, the rest is history (MSG)

It was a memorable start to a season where he would capture the Hart Trophy for league MVP and his team would have the most wins and points in the entire NHL. Messier’s dagger to the black hearted 1940 dragon on June 14th, 1994 is arguably the single greatest achievement in the 90+ year history of this franchise.

Brian Leetch debuts February 29th, 1988

Brian Leetch made his Blueshirts and NHL debut against the St Louis Blues and registered his first NHL point on an assist. Throughout the 1987-88 season, whispers were abound in Rangerstown about this dynamic young defenseman playing for the United States Olympic squad that was earning Bobby Orr-like comparisons.

new york rangers debuts
Leetch wins Conn Smythe

Leetch, the 9th overall selection in the 1986 draft, was exquisitely dominant at every level he played at. Once Team USA was eliminated from the Calgary Olympics, Leetch was cleared to join the Rangers in their push to qualify for the 1988 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Rangers came up just short of their playoff run thanks to John MacLean and his New Jersey Devils that season. But Leetch would win the Calder Trophy the following season, two Norris Trophies and was the first American born player to win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP in 1994.

Artemi Panarin debuts October 3rd, 2019

One of the Rangers biggest and most successful free agent signings in memory, Artemi Panarin made his debut in last season’s home opener. The Breadman helped beat the Winnipeg Jets with a two point night (1G, 1A) in a 6-4 victory.

new york rangers debuts
Panarin scores in Rangers debut (Getty Images)

It was the start to a magical season that finished with 95 points, and a finalist for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. If not for the pandemic, Panarin would almost assuredly have eclipsed the 100 point plateau last accomplished by Jaromir Jagr in 2005-2006.

Awaiting Lafreniere

Certainly, not even the most optimistic Ranger fan is proclaiming that Lafrenière will have the Hall of Fame careers of a Gretzky or Messier. Still his debut and career in Rangers blue is as anticipated, if not more so.

On January 14th 2021, the Lafrenière era will commence and for the first time in modern franchise history, the Faithful will see the number one over all selection, a Ranger draft pick, take the ice amid the spotlight, hoopla and fan-fare usually reserved for other franchises.

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