(Ed. Note: Welcome to the Puck Daddy 2013 summer project, the National Hockey League of Nations. We’ve recruited 30 writers/blogs to identify the best player in their favorite team’s history for each major nationality that creates the fabric of our beloved NHL: Canada, USA, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and The Rest of The World. It’s their criteria, as long as they can justify it. Read, debate and enjoy! If you want to do so on Twitter, it's #NHLoN.)
By Jared Sexton, Rangers Unlimited
While it was hard not to pick Mark Messier here, Frank Boucher doesn’t get enough love for his work in the Rangers’ early years. Boucher was a part of the Rangers’ first three Stanley Cup wins — as a player in 1928 and 1933, and as head coach in 1940. Boucher is 15th all-time in Rangers scoring, with 152 goals and 261 assists for 413 points in 533 career games, all with the Rangers. He won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy seven seasons out of eight, from 1927-28 through 1934-35.
Boucher led the Rangers in scoring five times over his career. He was in the top 10 in league scoring seven times, topping out at second in the 1929-30 season. He was named as center of the NHL First All-Star team three straight seasons from 1932-33 to 1934-35, and could have been named more times but the All-Star teams had yet to be introduced during the first four seasons of his career.
Boucher also coached the Rangers for 11 seasons after his playing career was completed. During one particularly rough season, the 42 year old coach suited up for 15 games, notching 4 goals and 10 assists. At that time, he hadn't played for five seasons. Luckily Glen Sather didn't coach the Rangers long enough to try that.
The Rangers’ history isn’t littered with Finnish players having a great impact, but Esa Tikkanen left an impression where ever he went.
Tikkanen actually had three stints with the Rangers; though for a grand total of only 144 games. Even though he hasn’t played on the team in 14 years, he’s still been a part of two of the Rangers last three trips past the second round of the playoffs, including their 1994 Cup win. He certainly knew how to make his mark in the playoffs. He had 13 goals in 38 playoff games with the Rangers, a far greater pace than his 25 goals in 144 regular season games.
But of course the attribute what endeared Tikkanen to his team's fans is the same thing that made opposing fans irate: his ability to yap at opponents. Tikkanen revolutionized the role of pest in the NHL and paved the way for future Ranger fan-favorites Sean Avery and Matthew Barnaby.
Brian Leetch was the first non-Canadian player to win the Conn Smythe award when he registered 11 goals and 23 assists in 23 playoff games during the Rangers’ 1994 Cup run. Leetch’s 981 career points (240 goals, 741 assists) as a Ranger places him 2nd all-time, first among defensemen. On top of Leetch’s Conn Smythe Trophy, he also won the 1988-89 Calder Trophy and the Norris in 1991-92 and 1996-97.
In total, Leetch played 1129 games over 17 seasons with the Rangers. Leetch is eighth all-time among defensemen with 1,028 points. Only Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey and Al MacInnis have scored more points in a single season than his 102 points in 1991-92. Leetch also holds the NHL record for goals by a rookie defenseman with 23, in only 68 games no less. Leetch is second all time with 1,129 games played as a Ranger.
Leetch will be remembered by Ranger fans not only for his play on the ice, but for his low-key, non-assuming personality.
What can you say that hasn’t been said already about Henrik Lundqvist?
Lundqvist has played eight seasons with the Rangers. He’s 276-171-57 with a 0.926 save percentage and a 2.25 goals against average. He had 30 wins in every season up until the 48 game 2013 season. He’s been nominated for the Vezina five times, winning it once. He holds the Rangers’ single season records for save percentage, games played and shots faced.
What's more impressive is the way the Lundqvist helped improve the team's success. In the seven seasons before the Swedish star arrived on Broadway, the Rangers missed the playoffs in every one. In the eight seasons since, they've made the playoffs seven times, including an Atlantic Division title.
When the Rangers picked Alexei Kovalev 15th overall in 1991 they made him the first Russian player to be drafted in the first round. When he lifted the Stanley Cup in 1994, he became the first Russian player (along with Zubov, Karpovtsev and Nemchinov) to have his name engraved on the Cup. He was big in the 1993-94 playoffs, scoring 9 goals and 12 assists in 23 games, his 21 points behind only Leetch and Messier.
After being traded to Pittsburgh and playing five seasons there, Kovalev made a return to New York in 2003. Though his return was less than triumphant, as most things in New York were at that point in time, he did score another 55 points in 90 games in his second stint in blue.
For most Ranger fans, the image of Kovalev that lasts is not of him on the ice, but rather of him holding both the Stanley Cup and a troll exclaiming "No More 1940!".
Marian Gaborik is in a rarity in the New York Ranger world: a free agent signing that actually turned out well.
Gaborik signed a 5-year, $37.5-million contract with the Rangers in the summer of 2009, and while he only played three and a half of those seasons, he made his presence felt in his short time with the club.
In 255 games with the Rangers, Gaborik had 114 goals and 115 assists for 229 points. Granted, there were some downs mixed in with the ups, but Gaborik’s production cannot be ignored. Gaborik can still pay dividends even after his Ranger career is over, as he was traded for three players –Derick Brassard, John Moore, and Derek Dorsett–that figure to be a large part of their team going forward.
Though Jaromir Jagr’s run with the Rangers was a short one, only 277 games, his impact was significant. In his his first season with the Rangers, he broke the franchise’s single season goals and points records, in what was one of, if not the greatest single season performance in Rangers' history. Jagr was instrumental in snapping the Rangers seven season playoff drought in 2005-06.
His Ranger career lasted only two more seasons, however, as Glen Sather refused to give him a 2 year deal to stay with the club. The team has gone through quite a culture change since Jagr has left. In 2005-06 the Rangers had seven Czech players on their roster; in 2012-13, they had none.
REST OF THE WORLD CATEGORY
Walt Tkaczuk (Germany)
While maybe not as identifiable a German as Dirk Nowitzki, Tkaczuk was born in Germany and spent the first two years of his life there. He was the first German-born player to step foot on NHL ice.
Tkaczuk spent his entire career with the Rangers. In those 945 games, he notched 227 goals and 451 assists for 678 total points (good for 6th on the all-time Ranger list).
He most known, however, for defensive play and penalty killing. He centered the “Bulldog Line”, with Bill Fairbairn and Dave Balon on his wings. Tkaczuk made himself known to his opponents with his physical play as well.
Phil Esposito once remarked, “I’ve never run into anyone tougher. Ever.”