FULLTILT LEGENDS: ADAM GRAVES
Adam Graves is one of the most popular and beloved players to ever don a New York Rangers sweater. When the New York Rangers signed Graves on September 3, 1991 as a free agent, it is safe to say that while they knew what type of player they were getting, they would be hard pressed to say they knew how lasting an impact he would have. Not only on the team but on the fans and organization as a whole for years to come.
The Toronto, Ontario native was drafted 22nd overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1986 draft. He would spend several seasons in the minor leagues honing his craft with the Windsor Spitfires until he made his NHL debut in 1987-88 with Detroit when he played in 9 games. In 1988-89, he played in 56 games for Detroit, notching his first NHL goal and finishing the season with 7 goals & 5 assists for 12 points along with 60 PIM.
Early in the 1989-90 season, Graves was traded along with Petr Klima, Joe Murphy & Jeff Sharples to the Edmonton Oilers for Jimmy Carson, Kevin McClelland & Edmonton’s 5th round draft pick (1991). It was a move that would prove to be instrumental in the development of his career.
While he put up modest numbers for Edmonton that season, it was in the playoffs where Graves excelled. Teaming up with Joe Murphy & Martin Gelinas, the “Kid Line” provided a spark and youthful enthusiasm to a Mark Messier led Edmonton Oilers team that captured the Stanley Cup for a fifth time (1st without Gretzky). In 22 playoff games that season, Graves posted 11 points (5g, 6a) along with 17 PIM. The following season, Graves improved upon his point production with 25 points (7g, 18a) and 127 PIM.
It was his overall playmaking and his character that caught the eye of GM Neil Smith which prompted the Rangers pursuit of him during the summer of 1991. Smith viewed Graves as a budding power forward who could complement the style of current Rangers veterans Bernie Nichols, Mike Gartner and John Ogrodnick while building a solid young nucleus of Brian Leetch, Tony Amonte, Doug Weight and Mike Richter.
Needless to say, that was to change a few days after the season opened. The Rangers would trade Bernie Nichols to the Oilers as part of a package to obtain Mark Messier in a move that would forever change the fate of the Rangers franchise. With the arrival of Messier, Graves was elevated to the number one line. He posted – at that time – career highs in all offensive categories (80 GP, 23g, 33a 139 PIM).
He was Robin to Messier’s Batman as the Rangers took the league by storm en route to their first ever President’s Trophy. After a grueling 7 game series vs. the New Jersey Devils in the 1st round of the playoffs, the Rangers faced off against the high powered defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens were led by all-world center, Mario Lemieux and were considered equals, if not favorites in the series.
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQbDG28Ve9w”]Game Seven Highlights – [/su_youtube]
It was during that playoffs that Graves was thrust into the spotlight. While defending against Lemieux, Graves chopped at him with his stick in a move that would eventually break a bone in Lemieux’s hand. Super Mario, already known for his criticism of the clutching & grabbing that was allowed in the league at the time, complained loud & long about the play. He even went so far as to say that it was done on purpose, that there was a “bounty” or “a hit” placed on him by Rangers head coach, Roger Neilson and carried out by Graves.
While Graves was a physical player, he was also an honest one that played within the rules. Lemieux would miss 5 games due to the injury. Graves was suspended the final 3 games of the Rangers playoff season as they were eventually eliminated by the Penguins in 6 games. With his first season as a Blueshirt complete, Graves had cemented himself as one of the leaders of the Rangers.
It was the 1993-94 season though that elevated him to legendary status in the hearts and minds of Rangers fans. Graves became the poster child for what a power forward should be that season. He notched career highs in goals (52) & points (79) and was named to the All-Star Game played at MSG.
While the accolades kept piling up for him, Graves kept his self deprecating humor up about his production. It was not uncommon for him to say when asked about his goal production that the credit was his teammates or that the total amount of feet his goals had travelled was probably 2 or 3 ft. It was that type of demeanor that helped make him a fan favorite as well.
In the playoffs, Graves continued his scoring ways as he netted 10 goals and 17 points. In the midst of a 10 game scoring drought, he finally broke through in the clutch. Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final vs. the Vancouver Canucks he scored the second of 3 Rangers goals as the NY slayed the curse of 1940 for their first Cup in 54 years.
In one of the more memorable on ice scenes after their Cup win, the cameras focused on Graves. As if speaking for all the fans in the audience he yelled “1940!!! WHOA!!” It showed how in tune he was with the team’s history and the fans angst.
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1_HuzmhMzI”]Game Seven Highlights – [/su_youtube]
There was another thing that happened when the Rangers won the Cup that night. Near the end of the 1993-94 season, Rangers long time Fan Club member Ceil Seidel was found murdered in her apartment building as she prepared to leave for a game. During the midst of an interview with MSG’s Al Trautwig, Graves said that the Rangers were able to win because “Ceil Seidel had helped kick the curse out of the rafters of MSG.” To think of someone like that, in the way he did, shows a lot of what Graves is all about. Combine that with the tireless charity work that Graves continues to do so to this day, and you can see why he is so beloved.
Graves would continue with the Rangers for several more seasons ending his playing time with them in 2001. That summer, he was traded to the San Jose Sharks for Mikael Samuelsson. He would play 2 seasons in San Jose putting up modest totals of 31 and 18 points, respectively. In April of 2004 he announced his retirement.
In February 2009, Graves received one of the most prestigious honors a player can get individually as the Rangers retired his #9 jersey to the rafters of Madison Square Garden. During his great career, Graves was awarded with the King Clancy Award in 1993-94 which is given annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership qualities or has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution to his community.
Graves also won the NHL foundation award during the 1999-2000 season. This award is given annually to the player who applies core values of hockey, commitment and teamwork, to enrich the lives of people in the community. He has also won the Bill Masteron Memorial Trophy in the 2000–01 season.
The Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award which is given to the Ranger that goes above & beyond as voted upon by the fans was an almost annual Adam Graves award. Being the son of a police officer, it was an award that he truly cherished.
Adam also collected several Players Player Award as voted by the players as team MVP; the Rangers MVP as voted upon by the media; the Ranger Fan Club Ceil Seidel Memorial Award for dedication on and off the ice and in 2000 he also won the Sporting News Good Guy Award for his charitable and community service efforts.
Today, Graves serves as a Special Assistant with Player Development & Community Relations for the Rangers and is actively involved with The Garden of Dreams Foundation. While Charles Barkley famously decried in NIKE ads that he wasn’t “a role model”, Adam Graves is that and more.
The definition of the word legend, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “a famous or important person who is known for doing something extremely well”. It is a word that describes Adam Graves perfectly, both on and off the ice.
Adam Graves is still to this day, the heart of the Rangers.
[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNxzTuctN5c”]Game Seven Highlights – [/su_youtube]