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For many, the era of the Original Six represents the golden age of professional hockey. By the 1940s, modern rules had taken shape and the National Hockey League had emerged as the dominant force within the game. Through radio broadcasts and a budding television medium, fans were able to connect with the game like never before.
Nowhere was this growth better represented than in New York City. Under the bright lights of Broadway, a hockey game could blossom into a grand spectacle. And it was the New York Rangers who took center stage.
For many players, the lure of playing in the world’s most exciting city was simply too tempting to resist. The Rangers were able to attract top-notch talent as players flocked to the energy and excitement that was mid-century New York. The result is an alumni base that reads like a "Who’s Who" of Hockey Hall of Fame inductees.
Sifting through the seemingly infinite annals of Rangers history, I have emerged with what I believe to be the single greatest line-up the franchise has to offer. In this, the second installment of the Original Six All-Time Roster series, I present the New York Rangers:
LW, Adam Graves- (1991-01) A true fan favorite for his hard-nosed style of play and offensive flair, Graves was a critical component of the 1994 Stanley Cup team that ended New York’s 50 year championship drought. In what may have been the single greatest individual season in Rangers history, Graves put up a team record 52 regular season goals and an additional 10 in the playoffs en route to winning the Cup. That year, he was also presented with the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in recognition of his outstanding community involvement.
C, Mark Messier- (1991-97) There is only one justifiable reason to have Jean Ratelle sitting on any bench, and that reason is Mark Messier. Quite simply the greatest leader in the history of the game, Messier captured his second Hart Trophy as league MVP in his first season as a Blueshirt in 1991-92. Two years later, facing elimination at the hands of the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals, he guaranteed a Game 6 victory. With the entire Rangers team on his back, Messier proceeded to record a natural hat trick en route to ousting the Devils and eventually winning the Cup. The display of raw emotion as Messier ecstatically clings to the Cup at center ice remains an iconic image in the hearts of not only Rangers faithfuls, but of hockey fans the world over.
RW, Andy Bathgate- (1954-64) Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated Rangers of all time, Andy Bathgate was a legitimate superstar overshadowed by mediocre team performances. Bathgate took home the Hart Trophy in 1959 and was a perennial all-star for more than a decade, leading the Rangers in scoring for eight consecutive seasons. One of the very first players to harness the power of the slap shot, he may be best remembered for inflicting the facial laceration that led directly to Jacques Plante’s development of the goaltender mask. Known for his fiery temper as much as his scoring, he was later quoted as saying, "I was skating past and old Jacques, he stuck me with the goalie stick. You can’t hit him, so how do you get back at a goalie? Boom..."
D, Brad Park- (1969-76) Brad Park could well be the second best defenseman to have ever laced up a pair of skates. It was his only misfortune that throughout the course of his career he was rarely, if ever, the best defenseman to be playing in the NHL on any given night. Playing his entire career in the shadow of Bobby Orr, Park was a six-time runner-up for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman and a first team all-star on seven occasions. Although his defensive skills were impeccable, it was his smooth skating and ability to contribute offensively that helped him to redefine the defense position.
D, Brian Leetch- (1987-04) Mark Messier called him "the greatest Ranger of all-time." He won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 1989 and the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman in 1992 and 1997. He is one of only five defensemen to ever record 100 points in a season and in 1994, he led the entire playoffs in scoring en route to winning the Stanley Cup and taking home the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP... not bad for a kid from Corpus Christi, Texas. Brian Leetch was simply the epitome of a New York Ranger and his 17 seasons in blue and red still resonate with fans and experts alike, as evidenced by his first-ballot Hall of Fame induction in 2008.
G, Mike Richter- (1989-03) Mike Richter didn’t exactly take the NHL by storm early in his career, bouncing around the minor leagues for parts of three seasons before settling into split responsibilities in the Rangers goal in 1990. When the Rangers traded goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck following the 1993 season, however, Richter quickly blossomed into an elite-level NHL goaltender. The following season, he appeared in the All-Star game before his hometown crowd at Madison Square Garden, becoming the first goaltender to take home MVP honors in almost a decade. It wasn’t until the playoffs, however, that Rangers fans saw Richter’s true capacity as he backstopped all 16 victories en route to the Rangers’ first championship in more than 50 years. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame alongside teammate Brian Leetch in 2008.
Coach, Lester Patrick- (1926-1939) The first coach in franchise history, Lester Patrick is also the only coach to win multiple Stanley Cups behind the Rangers’ bench, taking home the hardware in 1928 and 1933. He also guided New York to a third championship as general manager in 1940. Although famous for implementing the offensive red line, Patrick is perhaps best remembered for the 1928 Stanley Cup Finals match-up versus the Montreal Maroons. Following an eye injury to goalie Lorne Chabot and hampered by a depleted roster, Patrick did the unthinkable and simply suited up to tend the goal himself. Not only was he adequate between the pipes, he was stellar, allowing just a single goal in a 2-1 overtime victory. Today, the Lester Patrick Trophy is awarded annually to honor outstanding contributions to hockey in the United States.
Honorable Mentions- Vic Hadfield, Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert, Ron Greschner, Jaromir Jagr, Harry Howell, Eddie Giacomin, Henrik Lundqvist, Coach Mike Keenan