The Starting Six Series comes to you to dive into the best player at each position all-time for every organization. The biggest and best at each position, with the most memorable moments in franchise history. Here is the New York Rangers all-time lineup.
Starting Six: New York Rangers All-Time Lineup
Being an Original Six franchise, the New York Rangers have a ton of history, and to go with that history, have had a great amount of excellent players. Some spectacular skaters have played under the lights of Broadway. Here, we will check out who is and was the best at each of the six positions in hockey for the New York Rangers franchise, a franchise that plays in the “World’s Most Famous Arena” and has four Stanley Cups to their name.
Left Wing: Bun Cook (1926-36)
Frederick “Bun” Cook is one of those Rangers players that not many fans may know about. However, Bun Cook has had a lasting legacy with the New York Rangers team. Born in 1903, this Canadian winger has talent and was recognized at an early age. In 1926, he made his National Hockey League debut for the Blueshirts, who were also making their franchise debut. Cook assisted on the first ever Rangers goal, a good start to be sure, but never looked back. In 1928, Cook played an essential role in the Rangers first ever Stanley Cup victory. Come 1930, Cook was placed on a line with his brother, Bill, and Frank Boucher. This line would go on to become one of the best lines in hockey, cementing themselves as “The Breadline”.
Cook was fast and skillful and had a vast armament of weapons to use (including one of the first slap shots) against opposing defenders and goaltenders. In 1933, “The Breadline” led the Rangers to their second Stanley Cup win. A year later, trades happened and “The Breadline” was broken up. In 1936, Cook suffered from an arthritic condition and was sold to the Boston Bruins in fear that he would not recover. Cook only spent one more year in the NHL before retiring.
In 433 games as a New York Ranger, Bun Cook scored 154 goals and added 139 assists for a grand total of 293 points. He captured two Stanley Cups as well as an All-Star appearance. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995. Cook was a pioneer Blueshirt and a pioneer of hockey who had a lasting impression on both New York and the game of hockey.
Center: Mark Messier (1991-97, 2000-04)
Known to Rangers fans as “The Messiah”, Mark Messier was just that. He became “The Captain” and helped lead the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup victory in 54 years in 1994. But before the celebration began, Messier and the Rangers had a hill to climb.
In 1991, Messier had arrived in New York from the Edmonton Oilers; his reason- to help bring Lord Stanley’s Cup to New York for the first time since 1940. Messier was no stranger to players and fans, for he was a superstar playing alongside Oilers like “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, and Paul Coffey. He was also a five time Stanley Cup champion and knew what it took to win.
In his first two seasons with New York, Messier proved why he was a winner. In 1991-92 he tallied 107 points in 79 games played, and in 1992-93 he tallied 91 in 75 games played. He was a beast on the ice and was an excellent leader, taking over the role of captain. However, in those two seasons, the Rangers fell short of the Cup.
During the 1993-94 NHL season, Messier scored 26 goals and 58 assists for a total of 84 points in 76 games played. The Rangers once again made the playoffs, downing their rival New York Islanders in a sweep, defeating the Washington Capitals in five games, and then taking on the New Jersey Devils, a team hungry to make the Finals over their “across the river” foes.
The Devils took a three-game-to-two lead over the Rangers and with the situation being “do or die” in Game Six, Mark Messier did something that was unheard of. He told reporters that the Rangers would win and would come back in the series. The Captain made a guarantee, and boy did he live up to it. In Game Six, Messier scored a hat trick and sent the Rangers to Game Seven, where Stephane Matteau sealed the deal in double overtime to send the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Rangers beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games and ended the 54-year drought, drowned the ole “1940” chants, and became the best team in hockey. Messier was a leader and he delivered when the team, and the city, needed him most.
He would spend another three seasons in Broadway before being sent to the Canucks. However, in 2001, he returned home to New York to finish out his career, and retired in 2004. In 698 games with the New York Rangers Mark Messier tallied 250 goals, 441 assists (691 points). He was an All-Star several times, was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and most importantly brought the Cup home to New York to give its fans a long awaited treat. Messier was an excellent leader and player, and he defined what it meant to be a New York Rangers.
Right Wing: Rod Gilbert (1960-78)
Rod Gilbert was and still is a Rangers icon. Spending his entire career with the Rangers, Gilbert played in 1,065 NHL games, scoring 1,021 points (406 goals, 615 assists). He was a member of the famous “GAG Line” (goal-a-game), playing alongside Vic Hadfield and Jean Ratelle. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982, won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy in 1976 (for his devotion to the game of hockey), and was a two time NHL All-Star. He holds the Rangers record for career goals (406), career points (1,021), games played as a forward (1,065), and shares the record for most assists in a single game (five assists, three times).
All of Gilbert’s greatest almost never happened though, for in 1960, he slipped on garbage thrown by a fan, temporarily paralyzing him. During surgery hemorrhaging began in his leg and doctors feared he may lose his leg. But, being the tough guy he is, Gilbert persevered and was back on the ice in no time, this time with a new team- the Rangers.
Gilbert became a favorite among the fans almost immediately. He was a skilled player who did not disappoint and racked up points. However, during the 1965-66 season, he suffered another back injury and once again his career almost ended. He lost half a season but rebounded the next year, scoring 46 points in 64 games played. In the coming years, Gilbert and the famed “GAG Line” wreaked havoc on opposing goaltenders. From 1971-76, Gilbert racked up 441 points.
In 1978, after injury and contract dispute, Gilbert just was not the same player and retired. However, he retired a legend among the Garden Faithful. His number 7 was retired by the Rangers, the first number the team ever retired. And to this day, he remains involved in the Rangers “Garden of Dreams” organization. Gilbert was a star on Broadway and helped solidify the Rangers tradition of winning, even though he never won a Stanley Cup in his time with the team. Nonetheless, he was a monster on the ice and found a way to hit the back of the net as well as assist on dozens of goals among his linemates.
Defenseman: Sergei Zubov (1992-95)
Though Sergei Zubov only played three seasons in a Rangers sweater, he was one of the most influential players on the 1993-94 team. His first season in New York was mediocre, posting only 31 points in 49 games played, but he showed promise, and it eventually paid off during his next season. In 78 games, he scored 12 goals and had 77 assists. He lead the team in scoring that year.
Playing mainly with superstar Brian Leetch, Zubov was a force to be reckoned with. He moved the puck graciously along the ice and was deadly on the powerplay. Him and Leetch were outstanding together. During the playoffs, on the Rangers route to the Cup Final and eventual Stanley Cup win, Zubov was excellent. He was an accountable defenseman who played well in all zones and had chemistry with all players on the ice. He was an essential piece to the team.
His next season he played in only 38 games, but tallied 36 points. But his time in New York was short lived, and before long he was shipped off to the Dallas Stars. In Dallas, he found his groove once again and was stellar, helping Dallas to win their first ever Stanley Cup in 1999.
Defenseman: Brian Leetch (1987-2003)
A no-brainer to add to this list is Brian Leetch, perhaps one of the most famous Rangers players of all-time and a fan favorite. In his career with the Rangers, Leetch skated in 1,129 games, scoring 240 goals and adding 741 assists for a total of 981 points. Leetch was everything you could ask for- smart, decisive, and had a scoring touch, all while being able to hold his own in the defensive end. He was a pivotal piece to the ’94 Cup team and was a cornerstone of the defense his whole career.
In his career, Leetch won two Norris Trophies as the best defenseman in hockey, one Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy for the 1994 playoffs, was a five time NHL All-Star, and is a member of the NHL Hall of Fame. To go with those impressive accolades, Leetch also had a 102-point season in 1992-93, making him one of only five defenseman in the NHL to do so. Leetch was blessed with skating, shooting, and great playmaking abilities, all of which helped make him one of the greatest Rangers defenseman of all time, if not the best. In his 17 seasons as a Blueshirt, Leetch broke the 50-point plateau 11 times. In his entire NHL career, Leetch played in 1,205 games, scored 247 goals, and assisted on 781 goals.
Goaltender: Henrik Lundqvist (2005-Present)
Another easy pick for this list, “The King” is a New York Rangers fan favorite and one of the best goalies to ever put on a Rangers sweater. He’s a two time NHL All-Star and a Vezina Trophy winner for being the best goaltender in the NHL (2011-12). Lundqvist was drafted 205th overall at the 2000 NHL Entry Draft; and boy was he a diamond in the rough. Lundqvist first suited up in 2005, and from there, never looked back, being the Rangers starting goaltender ever since.
In 742 games played Lundqvist has started in 613 of them, posting a record of 405-249-76. He has a career goals-average-against of 2.32, a career save percentage of .920 and 61 shutouts. Lundqvist has broken the 30-win in a season plateau 11 of his 12 seasons. Impressive, to say the least. Though he has yet to win a Stanley Cup, Lundqvist straps on the pads again for the 2017-18 season, and will fight for another chance at Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Lundqvist has been the backbone of the Rangers team every game he plays in, giving the team the best chance to win each and every time. Lundqvist has made some stellar saves in his career and has been one of the best Rangers players to watch. The executives, his teammates and the fans all love him.
The Rangers have been around since 1926, therefore having many great players through the years. Picking six was hard enough, but some honorable mentions include Brad Park, Wayne Gretzky, Adam Graves, Ed Giacomin, Frank Boucher, and Jean Ratelle.