NHL teams build their teams in many different ways. Some construct their clubs via free agency while others do it through trades. However, the main way teams create a roster is through the NHL Draft. Most years have maybe one or two players make the roster, but some years the general manager gets it right and gets a cornerstone or two for the franchise. The Last Word on Hockey is doing the best draft class for each team with the exception of the Seattle Kraken. Today we look at the New York Rangers best draft class
New York Rangers Best Draft Class
The New York Rangers organization throughout the years has not had the best reputation for consistently strong draft picks. There have been many discussions regarding what draft year to select for our series. Many draft years have an abundance of mediocre players that achieved some success, others hold one star that will forever be immortalized as a Blueshirt. However, the 1990 Draft is considered the New York Rangers best draft class in history. In this class, they produced multiple legends such as Doug Weight, Sergei Zubov, and Sergei Nemchinov. Although two out of the three had career-bests outside of New York, their selection to the Rangers will forever have an impact on hockey.
Doug Weight (2nd round, 34th overall)
The Michigan native played 42 games in the 1990-91 season with the Lake Superior State University before his NHL debut game in the Stanley Cup playoffs in April 1991 against the Washington Capitals. The Rangers were knocked out of these playoffs by the Capitals but Weight would play two seasons as a Blueshirt scoring 23 goals, 47 assists for 70 points in 118 games. However, the two-way forward was traded by the Rangers in 1993 to the Edmonton Oilers for another future star Esa Tikkanen. In turn, Weight gave nine years and had his career-best offensively there in Edmonton. In his extensive 19 years within the NHL, the elite playmaker had an impressive career, achieving 278 goals, 755 assists for 1033 points in 1238 NHL Games.
The four-time All-Star helped the USA win their inaugural gold medal in the World Cup in 1996, with seven points in 7 games. Weight also won the coveted prize of the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and was awarded the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2010. Weight was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
Sergei Zubov (5th round, 85th overall)
Zubov was obtained by the Rangers as compensation when Guy Lafleur signed with the Quebec Nordiques in 1989. The Rangers selected the Russian native after the second season with CSKA Moscow. Although playing in the AHL with Binghamton first before entering the NHL. The defenceman played his debut game in 1992 and continued with New York for three seasons. During the 1993-94 season, Zubov delivered a career-high with 12 goals, 77 assists equaling 89 points. As well as this breakout season Zubov played 22 games and tallied five goals, 14 assists in the 1994 Stanley Cup playoffs that assisted the Rangers to win their first Stanley Cup since 1940.
In 1995 Zubov was part of a four-player trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers desired increased physical presence on defence and increased scoring depth. This brought future Hall of Famer Luc Robitaille to New York. However, Zubov played a further 12 years with Dallas Stars after Pittsburgh. But injuries caught up with the NHL All-Star. Zubov missed nearly half of the 2007-08 season with a groin injury. While only playing 10 games in the 2008-2009 season with a hip injury that concluded his career. Overall Zubov ended his career with 152 goals, 619 assists equalling 771 points. He is second to Sergei Gonchar in points and first in assists among Russian-born defencemen in NHL history. Zubov was inducted into the 2019 NHL Hall of Fame.
Sergei Nemchinov (12th round, 244th overall).
Like Zubov, another Russian native who made the 1990 Draft the best draft class in Rangers history is Sergei Nemchinov. Though, unlike his teammate, Nemchinov had already established a 10- year career with Krylia Sovetov Moskva and HC CSKA Moscow in the Soviet Championship League within Russia. At 28 years old Nemchinov made his debut in the 1991-92 season playing 73 games. Nemchinov’s rookie season coincided with an offensive career-high with 30 goals, 28 assists for 58 points. During the two-way forwards six-year tour with the Rangers, Nemchinov played as part of the 1994 Stanley Cup-winning team. Nemchinov, Zubov, Alexander Karpovtsev, and Alexei Kovalev became the first Russian-born players to be engraved onto the Stanley Cup.
In 1997 the Rangers traded Nemchinov and Brain Noonan to the Vancouver Canucks for Rus Courtnall and Esa Tikkanen. The power forward played the rest of his career with the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils. Winning another Stanley Cup with the Devils in 200o before heading back to Russia to coach. Although Nemchinov did not achieve the Hall of Fame honour. He came very close.
Other Draft Classes
1985 NHL Draft
Another significant draft class to mention here. Mike Richter became the most influential goalie pre-Henrik Lundqvist and part of the history-making 1994 Stanley Cup-winning team. Drafted in the 2nd round (28th overall) played 14-years solely as a Ranger. The three-time NHL All-Star had 24 shutouts in his career and achieved a career of 2.89 goals against average and a .904 save percentage. Richter was another member of the 1994 Stanley Cup-winning team and became the third number retired by the Rangers. The American Goaltender was inaugurated into the Hall of Fame in 2008.
1986 NHL Draft
Lastly, we mention another Hall of Famer Brian Leetch. Picked in the 1st round, 9th overall of the 1986 NHL Draft. The Rangers Captain played 17 years with the Rangers accumulating 1129 NHL games including 240 goals, 741 assists for 981 points within that time. Like all those on this list, Leetch was an instrumental part of the 1994 Stanley Cup-winning team. Receiving the Conn Smythe Trophy for his efforts. The two-time Norris Trophy winner was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs just prior to the trade deadline for prospects Maxim Kondratiev, Jarkko Immonen, a first-round pick in the 2004 draft. In 2007, Leetch officially announced his retirement, and the following year the Rangers retired his jersey number teammates, Mark Messier and Mike Richter. Leetch is be known as the greatest Ranger of all time.
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