Ranking The Best New York Rangers First Round Picks
Throughout their long, unremarkable drafting history, the New York Rangers, as has been well documented by their frustrated and exasperated fan base, have whiffed on first round picks more often than Steve Balboni in the batter’s box at Yankee Stadium. If you’re a long-suffering Blueshirt enthusiast, you’re quite familiar with all of the names that make Rangerstown do one, big collective face-palm.
Hugh Jessiman. Pavel Brendl. Bobby Sanguinetti. Michael Stewart. Al Montoya. Jeff Brown. OK, I’ll stop, I’ll stop.
Instead of rehashing all of the mind numbingly horrific draft day blunders that the Rangers have become synonymous with spanning several decades and numerous regimes, let’s focus on the first round picks that actually panned out. Yes, there have been times, believe it or not, where the Ranger scouts and management got it right and we will be ranking the ten best Rangers first round draft picks.
Number 10: Steven Rice-selected 20th overall in 1989
Steven Rice played a grand total of 13 games for the Rangers (11 regular season and 2 in the playoffs). He scored three goals during his brief stint wearing the red, white and blue. Why is he on this list? Well, he was one of the players shipped to Edmonton, along with Louie DeBrusk and Bernie Nicholls in the deal that would change the fortunes of the Blueshirts forever. Yes, Rice was part of the deal that brought Mark Messier to New York in October of 1991. That’s why…
Number 9: Ron Duguay-selected 13th overall in 1977
Of no fault of his own, Ron Duguay will forever have the stigma attached to his name of being one of two Rangers to be chosen instead of and ahead of the goal scoring machine that was Mike Bossy in the 1977 NHL draft. While Duguay’s career paled in compassion to that of the Islander Hall of Famer, the fact of the matter is the flamboyant and charismatic forward carved out a nice run on Broadway notching 164 goals and 340 points in 499 games.
Number 8: Chris Kreider-selected 19th overall in 2009
The speedy, hulking Ranger forward burst on the scene fresh off the Boston College campus to help the Blueshirts playoff run in 2012. Ever since, the very likable Bostonian has been a mainstay in the top six forward group for the only NHL franchise that he’s ever known. The future remains to be seen with number 20 as he may or may not be part of the sequel to last February’s roster purge. However, his Ranger career thus far has been a successful one notching 128 goals and 257 points in 431 games
Number 7: Mark Staal-selected 12th overall in 2005
Staal is, arguably, the most polarizing member of this list. His tantalizing NHL career has many Ranger fans playing the “what could have been” game. If not for a double dose of career threatening injuries (right eye and concussion), Staal could have been a perennial All Star caliber player. Those unfortunate, fluky injuries turned a potential Norris Trophy candidate into a target for discontented Ranger fans that truly felt they had something special on their hands. Still, Staal has endured and has been a good Ranger as he is now fourth on the list of games played by Blueshirt defensemen.
Number 6: Alex Kovalev selected 15th overall in 1991
The “Soviet Wayne Gretzky” as he was billed, was the first Russian-born player to ever be selected in the first round of the NHL draft. Neil Smith pulled the trigger on the highly skilled but enigmatic forward when the previous 14 other teams declined to take the risk because his talent level was just too high to pass up. Kovalev’s early Ranger career was marred with suspensions and uninspiring play. However, number 27 raised his play significantly in the 1994 playoffs and was one of the major reasons why Mark Messier and Co. were finally able to slay the 1940 monster.
Number 5: Steve Vickers selected 10th overall in 1971
Vickers spent his entire ten year career on Broadway. The 1973 Calder Trophy winner became an instant fan-favorite notching at least 30 goals in each of his first four seasons. The Toronto native’s impressive career totals of 586 points in 698 games makes him an obvious choice to be on this list.
Number 4: Dave Maloney selected 14th overall in 1974
While many of you know Maloney as the outspoken and candid radio color voice and partner of Kenny Albert, the former Blueshirt defenseman had an outstanding playing career. All but 52 of his 657 NHL games were in a Ranger uniform. The Kitchener, Ontario native became the youngest captain in team history in 1978 at the age of 22. The older brother of one-time Ranger player and executive Don Maloney, Dave combined physicality with skill and leadership during his wonderful 11 year Ranger career.
Number 3: James Patrick-selected 9th overall in 1981
Patrick would join the Rangers from Team Canada after the completion of the 1984 Winter Olympics played in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia and would become a stalwart on the blue line for the next 11 years wearing his familiar number 3. The Winnipeg native would go on to tally an impressive 467 points in 671 games for the Rangers. Patrick’s 71 points in the team’s 1991-92 President’s Trophy winning season remains as one of the highest single season point totals for a defeseman in Ranger history.
Number 2: Brad Park-selected 2nd overall in 1966
If not for a certain Boston Bruin defenseman that wore number 4 and that revolutionized the game and changed hockey history, Brad Park would be viewed far differently in the annals of the NHL. You see, Park finished second to Bobby Orr in the Norris Trophy voting on four occasions in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974. Park was a Ranger for eight years and was widely viewed as the second best NHL defenseman during most of his 17 years. Second to Orr and then second to Denis Potvin. Brad Park was a phenomenal hockey player and a terrific Ranger. Park was thought of being the best all-around Ranger defenseman until…
Number 1: Brian Leetch selected 9th overall in 1986
Yeah, not much drama with who is the best Ranger first round pick of all time. The man known as ‘Leetchie” won everything that a player could win, including the hearts and admiration of the Garden Faithful whom he dazzled with his skill and work ethic for 17 electrifying seasons. Leetch’s impressive list of accomplishments include, the Calder Trophy, Norris Trophy (twice) Conn Smythe Trophy and of course, the Stanley Cup. Leetch was elected to the hockey Hall of Fame and is one of just five blueliners to eclipse the 100 point mark for a season in NHL history. Brian Leetch is, without question, on the proverbial Rangers “Mount Rushmore” as one of the four best players in their 90+ year history.
In the coming years, the likes of Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Vitali Kravtsov and K’Andre Miller could unseat some of the more fringe players on this list. Seeing first round picks develop and flourish into All Stars and individual award candidates will be a welcome site for a fan base that has seen way too many misses and failures, After all, the Rangers have never had an Art Ross Trophy or Rocket Richard Award winner. They haven’t had a Hart Trophy recipient since 1992 when Mark Messier was named league MVP. They haven’t had a defenseman awarded the Norris Trophy since Brian Leetch in 1997. It is long passed time for a Ranger player to lead the league in something that isn’t negative and the hope is the new crop of young talent making its way to Broadway will be the next generation of great Ranger stars