New York Rangers best First Round draft picks of all-time

Brian Leetch
Rangers Brian Leetch gets the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP following game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals at Madison Square Garden June 14, 1994. The Rangers won the game 3-2 and the Stanley Cup. Rangers Win Stanley Cup

The New York Rangers have selected 556 players to date at the annual NHL Entry Draft, which began in 1963. Forever Blueshirts will wrap up the series with this latest entry, which concludes with a look back at the franchise’s best picks from rounds 1 through 7.

Historically, New York has drafted 60 players in the first round, with 48 appearing in an NHL game and 44 suiting up for the Blueshirts. Interestingly, the club’s first-ever draft pick was Al Osborne in the 1963 NHL Amateur Draft (4th overall), and their most recent one was Gabriel Perreault (23rd overall) in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft.

Meanwhile, New York has had the top selection in just two draft years, first in 1965 (Andre Veilleux) and then in 2020 (Alexis Lafreniere), with a total of seven picks in the top five and those players combining to play over 1,690 games in the NHL.

Note: Dates and statistics from Hockey-Reference.com and EliteProspects.com were used to compile this list.

Top New York Rangers Draft Picks From Round 1

NHL: New York Rangers at Ottawa Senators
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports Credit: Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

5. Rick Middleton– 14th Overall 1973

NHL stats: 1005 GP – 448 G – 540 A – 988 Pts

New York stats: 124 GP – 46 G – 44 A – 90 Pts

Rick Middleton was the Rangers first pick (14th overall) in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft as a prospect for the Oshawa Generals, scoring 137 points in 62 games and winning the OHL Most Outstanding Player (Red Tilson Trophy) in 1972-73. After one season in the AHL with the Providence Reds, where he was the league’s Rookie of the Year (Red Garrett Memorial Award), he debuted in New York the following season in 1974-75.

Despite a slow start to his NHL career, netting just 90 points in 124 games, the Rangers dealt him to the Boston Bruins for Ken Hodge in a May 1976 trade. Once he found his footing with his new club, “Nifty,” he would score 40 or more goals from 1980 to 1984, getting promoted to captaincy with Boston and helping the club reach the Stanley Cup Final in 1988.

As one of the most gifted scorers in their franchise history, ranking in the top ten in goals (fourth) assists (ninth), and points (sixth), the Bruins retired his jersey #16 in 2018.

4. Chris Kreider– 19th Overall 2009

NHL stats: 782GP – 288 G – 234 A – 522 Pts (as of Feb. 1, 2024)

New York stats: 782GP – 288 G – 234 A – 522 Pts (as of Feb. 1, 2024)

Chris Kreider was a standout athlete at Boston College, winning three consecutive Hockey East championships from 2010 to 2012 while being named to the All-Rookie Team and earning two medals (Gold and Bronze) at consecutive U20 WJC tournaments. Additionally, he won a NCAA National Championship with the Eagles in 2012.

The Rangers selected him 19th overall at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, and he debuted during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. Over the past 12 seasons, Kreider has emerged as one of the most popular players in team history, acting as the heartbeat of today’s club while being one of just four players to collect 50 goals in a season.

Although he’s still got half a season to go before climbing into the franchise’s top 10 games played list, he is New York’s third all-time leading scorer with 288 goals and is only chasing Jean Ratelle (336) and Rod Gilbert (406) for the top spot.

3. Brad Park – 2nd Overall 1966

NHL stats: 1,113GP – 213 G – 683 A – 893 Pts

New York stats: 465GP – 95 G – 283 A – 378 Pts

Brad Park played 17 seasons in the NHL, winning the Bill Masterton Trophy in 1984 and finishing as a top-three finalist for the Norris Trophy on nine occasions. Although he wasn’t flashy, Park was one of the best defenders of his generation, earning an induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

Initially, the Rangers drafted him with the second overall pick in the 1966 Amateur Draft while he was skating with the Toronto Malboros in the OHA-Jr. League. Eventually, Park would debut in 1968-69 and earn a promotion to the captaincy in 1974-75, serving in the role for New York before being traded to the Bruins in November 1975.

In one of the biggest blockbuster deals in NHL history, the Rangers traded Park with Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi up to Boston in exchange for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais. Besides being named to the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players in 2018, he was a nine-time All-Star and a seven-time postseason All-Star. Today, Park serves as a scout for the Rangers.

2. Alex Kovalev – 15th Overall 1991

NHL stats: 1,316 GP – 430 G – 599 A – 1,029 Pts

New York stats: 492 GP – 142 G – 188 A – 330 Pts

The Rangers drafted Alex Kovalev from the Soviet Union with the 15th overall pick in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. While playing with Dynamo Moskva in the Soviet league, he was an international superstar with two U18 EJC Silver Medals, an Olympic Gold Medal, and a U20 WJC Gold Medal before making his NHL debut in 1992-93.

During his second season in 1994, Kovalev helped New York win the Stanley Cup, collecting 56 points in the regular season and adding 21 more in the playoffs. However, after almost 500 games in a Rangers uniform, the club dealt him to the Pittsburgh Penguins (with Harry York) in exchange for Petr Nedved, Sean Pronger, and Chris Tamer.

The three-time NHL All-Star, who won the MVP award at the 2009 event, also played for the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators, and Florida Panthers before leaving the league at 39 in 2012. Although he was done playing in North America, Kovalev went to play in the Swiss League, winning an NLB championship in 2014. In 2024, he remains among only five Russian-born players to score over 1,000 points in the NHL.

1. Brian Leetch – 9th Overall 1986

NHL stats: 1,205 GP – 247 G – 781 A – 1,028 Pts

New York stats: 1,129 GP – 240 G – 741 A – 981 Pts

The Rangers have drafted 556 players in their history, and there isn’t a single player better than Hall of Famer Brian Leetch. After a successful stint in USHS-Prep school, he starred at Boston College for one season, where he won a boatload of awards, including a Hockey East Championship, before debuting on Broadway in 1987-88. He was voted the NHL’s Rookie of the Year within a year, capturing the Calder Trophy.

In 1991-92, Leetch would win the first of two Norris Trophies in his career, scoring 102 points in 80 games, remaining the last defender to achieve the feat until the 2022-23 season when Erik Karlsson reached the plateau. However, that wasn’t the most prestigious award he’d win during his career since he would become the first American-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994.

After Mark Messier left the team in 1997, Leetch became the captain of the Rangers and won another Norris Trophy in 1998. As one of America’s best players ever, he helped his country win the World Cup 1996 with his New York teammate Mike Richter. Together, the duo would win a Silver Medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Unfortunately, his tenure with the Rangers ended at the 2004 NHL Trade Deadline when he was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs. After just 15 games in Canada, Leetch signed with the Bruins, where he finished his career in 2006. Upon retiring, he entered the United States Hockey Hall of Fame (2009), the Hockey Hall of Fame (2010), and the IIHF Hall of Fame (2023). Despite being a defenseman, he ranks in the top 10 in goals (tenth), assists (first), and points (second) in Rangers history.

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