Kakko, Kravtsov, and Fox reminiscent of the 1989 Rangers “year of the rookies”
Die-hard fans of the New York Rangers, sometimes referred to as the Garden Faithful, find themselves in the rare, unusual and envious position of rooting for a team that has one of the best and highly rated prospect pools in the entire National Hockey League. Some prognosticators do, in fact, rate the Ranger farm system number one out of the 31 NHL teams.
Typically, as I discussed and entailed in my previous piece, in prior years, the Rangers alleged top prospects were obscure youngsters destined for careers as bottom-six forward and third pair defensemen. Some weren’t even able to stick on an NHL roster.
But now, with training camp just a few weeks away and with many of these heralded neophytes ready to don that beautiful blue sweater and skate on the Garden ice for the first time, Ranger fans will get their first glimpses at what hopes to be the core of the next great Blueshirt team.
Leading this talented pack are dynamic forwards Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov and the slick-skating, uber talented blue-liner Adam Fox. Assuming all three of these future stars qualify for the big club’s roster once the exhibition season comes to a close, it is not out of the realm of possibility for the Rangers to have one or two or even three Calder Trophy candidates for Rookie of the Year when the team gets announced en mass on October 3rd in front of what should be a raucous World’s Most Famous Arena crowd.
Not since Brian Leetch in 1989 has a Ranger player been named the top rookie in the sport. I am no math expert, but even I can crunch the numbers and figure out that it has been 30 years since number 2 won the first of his many individual NHL awards and became the eighth Ranger overall to capture the trophy named after the NHL’s first league President.
That season was dubbed the “year of the rookies”. Brian Leetch led a group of Rangers rookies that included Tony Granato and Darren Turcotte as well. This year is not only reminiscent but feels amped up to boot with the highly touted rookies mentioned above all vying for the Calder.
Leetch’s seven predecessors for Rookie of the Year are:
1939–40 Kilby MacDonald
1941–42 Grant Warwick
1945–46 Edgar Laprade
1948–49 Pentti Lund
1952–53 Gump Worsley
1953–54 Camille Henry
1972–73 Steve Vickers
Only the Lady Byng Trophy, which gets awarded for gentlemanly play, has seen as many Ranger recipients with eight different players also capturing that prize.
The Rangers have had just four league MVP’s, three Norris Trophy winners and only twice has a Ranger net minder been voted by the hockey writers as the best goalie in the game and worthy of receiving the Vezina Trophy. In the spirit or transparency, prior to 1982, the Vezina was not voted on but simply awarded to the goalie-or goalies-who gave up the fewest goals in the league.
In other words, and with all due respect to those hockey players who epitomize sportsmanship, New York Rangers players and bench bosses rarely get awarded and rewarded for defensive skill, coaching acumen and offensive prowess. After all, not a single Ranger player has won the league scoring title and the next time a Ranger coach wins Coach of the Year will be the first time.
A Bright Future
Very few fan bases in any sport have been put through the meat grinder like the Garden Faithful. Lack of team success and sparse individual player accomplishments, not to mention having to live through a New York Islanders dynasty and endure a New Jersey Devils mini dynasty, have left Rangerstown beat up, bruised and bloody. However, like Rocky Balboa at the end of his first fight with Apollo Creed, Ranger fans get up without giving up and continue their everlasting journey towards a championship.
With the impressive and still-growing array of skilled players with high upsides on the Ranger roster 21 years of age and under, Ranger fans are hoping their undying loyalty and unparalleled resiliency will pay off in spades by seeing the likes of Kakko, Kravtsov and Fox be the foundation of the next Stanley Cup championships and represent their hockey team at the NHL Awards spectacular over the next several years.