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Hartnett: Ranking The Top 10 Greatest Rangers Defensemen

Sean Hartnett
August 22, 2019 - 11:39 am
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From the early days of stay-at-home defensemen being glued to their own end, through the offensive revolution of the position and into modern day, a succession of memorable Blueshirts have initiated breakouts and protected the fort.

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While it’s difficult to whittle down 93 years of history to a list of 10 superlative blueliners, here’s my list of the 10 best defensemen in franchise history.

PREVIOUS LISTS: Top 10 Rangers goaltenders

#1 BRIAN LEETCH

If there ever was a slam dunk question – it’s this one about the Rangers’ greatest all-time defenseman. Of course, it’s Brian Leetch. It could only be Brian Leetch.

He was the total package – explosiveness, shiftiness, incredible hands, top-tier vision, a ceaseless desire to win, and he could throw a hell of a hip check.

Twice a Norris Trophy winner, Leetch became the first American to win the Conn Smythe when the Rangers ended 54 years of waiting by hoisting the 1994 Stanley Cup.

Only five defensemen in NHL history have posted 100-point seasons. Leetch accomplished the feat by recording 22 goals and 80 assists in the 1991-92 season. His 80 assists that season still stand as a single-season club record. Leetch was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.

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#2 BRAD PARK

If Bobby Orr didn’t exist, then Park would have been his generation’s best defenseman. Blessed with an ability to out-think opponents, Park was a perennial All-Star. Five times he finished in the top five of the Hart Trophy voting, and he finished runner-up in the Norris Trophy race six times.

Alongside Orr, Park redefined the position as one of speed, finesse, playmaking and scoring. At the time of his retirement, Park was the NHL’s leader in career assists at 683. Park was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

#3 HARRY HOWELL

Howell won the last Norris Trophy prior to Orr capturing the award for eight consecutive seasons. Described by writers of the time as a model of stability in the defensive end and an effective checker, Howell played 17 seasons for the Blueshirts.

No one has dressed for the Rangers more than Howell’s 1,160 games played for the organization. Howell was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.

#4 RON GRESCHNER

Greschner played all 16 seasons of his career at The Garden and held several records before Leetch donned the Rangers’ blue, red and white sweater. An offensive force, Greschner cracked the 20-goal mark in four seasons and registered 50 or more points in five seasons.

 #5 BILL GADSBY

Gadsby retired as the NHL’s all-time leading scorer with 568 points. Before the likes of Orr, Park, Leetch and Paul Coffey, Gadsby was twice a 50-point getter and a three-time Norris Trophy runner-up.

He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1970.

#6 JEFF BEUKEBOOM

A fan favorite, Beukeboom was credited as one of his era’s most physical, most aggressive and most intimidating defensemen. His stay-at-home traits meshed perfectly with Leetch’s attacking nature. When you think about Beukeboom, bone-shattering hits and throwing fists come to mind -- but he was an underrated and efficient puck mover. Without him, the 1994 Rangers wouldn’t have reached the Stanley Cup mountaintop.

#7 RYAN MCDONAGH

McDonagh was extremely dependable in all situations and was a franchise defenseman until the Rangers dealt him to Tampa Bay as part of a switch toward rebuilding. He rarely put a foot wrong from his debut until he left town. His time as a Ranger ended prematurely – but he will be remembered fondly for leading the Blueshirts to two Conference Finals, one Stanley Cup Final and a team-record 113-point season in 2014-15.

#8 SERGEI ZUBOV

An elite attacker, Zubov recorded 89 points in 1993-94 before producing 19 points in 22 playoff games to help deliver Lord Stanley to the Blueshirt faithful. He went on to become one of the league’s best up until his retirement, and he was integral to the Dallas Stars’ 1999 championship. Fans still wonder today if the Rangers would have won more Cups had Zubov remained at The Garden. He was truly the one who got away.

At the time of his retirement, Zubov led Russian defensemen in career scoring. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2019.

#9 JAMES PATRICK

Renowned for his fine two-way play, Patrick was a blue line mainstay at The Garden from the mid-’80s until he was dealt to the Hartford Whalers in the deal that brought 1994 hero Steve Larmer to Broadway. He was unfortunate to miss out on being a member of that curse-breaking group.

#10 DAVE MALONEY

Handed the captaincy at age 22, Maloney thrived off the pressure by inspiring the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup Final. A gifted playmaker who offered both mobility and physicality, Maloney served as a valuable all-situation presence.

He would have been a career Ranger if not for a trade in the final season of an 11-year career.

Check back next week for a rundown of the Rangers’ 10 all-time greatest forwards.

Follow Sean on Twitter -- @HartnettHockey