Rangers Greatest Hits: Brian Leetch’s 102 point season in 1991-92

NHL: USA TODAY Sports-Archive
Lou Capozzola-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Leetch may very well be the greatest player drafted by the New York Rangers. Before 1991, only four defensemen had ever scored more than 100 points in the regular season: Bobby Orr (six times), Paul Coffey (five), Denis Potvin (once), and Al MacInnis (once). Furthermore, Orr set the record with 139 points in 1970-71, which still stands today.

Interestingly, Blueshirts didn’t even have a single player in their history collect 100 points when Orr set the mark. However, that would change within a year when Jean Ratelle (109) and Vic Hadfield (106) finally got into the century point club. 

Eventually, Mike Rogers would join the group with 103 points in 1981-82 and would remain the last entrant for another decade until 23-year-old Brian Leetch tallied 102 points in 1991-92. Before his fantastic season, the former Calder Trophy winner (1989) only had a career-best 88 points in 1990-91, leaving many Rangers fans waiting for the ninth overall pick (1986) to break out.

Editor’s Note: Mark Messier would also join the Rangers’ 100 point club scoring 107 that same season.

Brian Leetch dominates out of the gate

Leetch skated in the season opener against the Boston Bruins on Oct. 3, 1991, picking up an assist and finishing the night with a minus-two rating. In the next game against the Montreal Canadiens, he went pointless; the only time Leetch failed to get his name on the scoresheet in the opening month. After 14 games, he had four goals and 15 assists for 19 points with a minus-4 rating. Meanwhile, the Rangers opened up the year with a 9-5 record, barely outscoring opponents 50-46. 

Eventually, a 14-game point streak ended on Nov. 4, 1991, against the same team that held him pointless earlier, the Canadiens. Despite a hot start, Leetch cooled down in November with eight points in 12 games but had a plus-10 rating. Unfortunately, New York stumbled through this stretch with a 6-5-1 record, finishing the month even with 35 goals for and against. 

However, their troubles were short-lived, with Leetch erupting for 25 points in 14 games in December, collecting a point in every game. Statistically, he had his best month of the season with three goals, 22 assists, and a plus-five rating. Moreover, the Rangers dominated their opponents with a 10-4-0 record and outscored them 67-48.

Heading into the New Year, Leetch had a 1.30 points-per-game (PPG) average thanks to nine goals, 43 assists, and 52 points in 40 games. Additionally, he had 18 penalty minutes, one game-winner, and was plus-11. Meanwhile, New York was one of the top teams in the league with a 25-14-1 record and a plus-goal differential of 23, 152-129. 

Leetch cools off

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

After one of the best statistical months in team history, Leetch saw his production dip in half, with just 12 points in 12 games in January. Although he still had a PPG of 1.23, he only collected three goals and nine assists that month, finishing with a plus-six rating and no penalty minutes. Interestingly, he started the month going pointless in two games before collecting one in nine straight, ending the month with another pointless contest. 

Despite an impressive 8-3-1 record in January, the Rangers spent the beginning of the month alternating wins, finishing with a 5-0-1 stretch to stay in contention for the Patrick Division title. 

During February, Leetch played in 12 games, earning a point in eight matches, finishing the month with 13 points with four goals and nine assists. Furthermore, he was plus-eight to push his season total to plus-25 after 64 games. Additionally, Leetch had 77 points (16 goals and 61 assists) in 64 contests, good enough for a 1.20 PPG average. 

In the season’s final month, March, Leetch collected 21 points in 14 games thanks to five goals and 16 assists. He finished the month with an even plus/minus rating while collecting four penalty minutes. After 78 games, the Rangers were 49-24-5 and clinging to their spot at the top of the division with just two contests remaining. 

Meanwhile, Leetch had 98 points and stood just two points shy of becoming the first Rangers defenseman to surpass 100 points during the regular season. Ultimately, everyone had to wait to witness history because of a brief 10-day NHL Lockout, which pushed New York’s next game to April 15, 1992, against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Unfortunately, Leetch would go pointless, meaning he would need to get at least two points in the season finale against the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

During a 7-1 blowout at Madison Square Garden on April 16, 1992, Leetch scored his 22nd goal of the season and picked up three assists to finish the year with 102 points. Historically, he remained the last defenseman to reach that plateau until Erik Karlsson recently scored 101 points in 2022-23. 

As the top seed in the Eastern Conference, the Rangers lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Penguins in the second round. Statistically, Leetch added 15 points in 13 playoff games with four goals and 11 assists but was a minus-five as the Presidents Trophy winner Rangers failed to advance to the third round. 

Inside the numbers of Leetch’s historic season

During the 1991-92 season, Leetch played 93 games and had 117 points thanks to 26 goals and 91 assists. Regarding his regular season statistics, he set a team record with 80 assists, breaking the mark (65) once held by Rogers in 1981-82. Although a handful of Hall of Famers like Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr, and Sergei Zubov have given it their best shot in the last 31 years, no one has come close to breaking Leetch’s record. 

Interestingly, Leetch’s best numbers came against the Penguins (11 points) and New Jersey Devils (10 points), the only two clubs he reached double digits against. Meanwhile, he tallied at least one point against every opponent except the Maple Leafs, going pointless in two games. 

Furthermore, New York’s top defender had four games with four points, four with three points, and 19 with two points. Altogether, Leetch had one point in 63 games and finished the regular season with a 1.27 PPG average. Additionally, he came close to scoring a hat trick in two contests and lit the lamp in 20 games with assists in 56 matches.

Surprisingly, Leetch didn’t finish as the Rangers’ leading scorer, losing the race to captain Mark Messier, who had 107 points and would go on to win the Hart Memorial Trophy and the Ted Lindsay Award. Although Messier got all the headlines at the awards show, Leetch won the first of his two Norris Trophies that season, finishing third in the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy voting and ninth in the Hart Memorial Trophy voting. 

What happened to Leetch after the 1991-92 season?

Within two years of his 102-point season, Leetch would become the first American-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. As one of the heroes during an epic run to the Stanley Cup championship, Leetch would open the scoring in Game 7 of the 1994 Final before Messier netted the game-winner in the second period. At the final buzzer, the Rangers ended a 54-year title drought in a thriller.

During the 1996-97 season, Leetch would win his second and final Norris Trophy with 78 points in 82 games. Although he would receive votes for the award in the following seasons, the future Hall of Famer never won anything else before retiring in 2005-06. 

Although he would skate on Broadway for 17 years, filling in as captain occasionally, the team traded one of their most respected players to the Maple Leafs for some draft picks on Mar. 4, 2004. After a brief 15-game stint in Canada, Leetch waited out the 2004-05 NHL lockout to sign with the Bruins, where he played his final 61 games, skating for the last time on April 15, 2006, against the Atlanta Thrashers. 

Ultimately, as one of the best defensemen of his generation, with a college and international resume full of awards and achievements, Leetch would enter the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009 as a first-ballot candidate. Besides being named to the 100 Greatest NHL Players, he was the Top Ranger of All-Time in a 2009 book by Russ Cohen. Additionally, he recently earned an induction into the IIHF Hall of Fame in 2023. 

Finally, four years after his departure, the Rangers retired his jersey #2 to the rafters of Madison Square Garden in a ceremony on Jan. 24, 2008. 

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