To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first NHL Draft, NHL.com assembled a 13-member panel to select the best first-round picks of all time, based on selection number. NHL.com will feature one of the top first-round picks each day, beginning with the best No. 30 pick on June 1 and culminating with the all-time No. 1 pick on June 30, the day of the 2013 NHL Draft.
Prior to arriving in the NHL, one of the more interesting things about the New York Rangers' first-round pick in 1986 was that he was born in Texas.
But after 17 seasons in New York -- and 18 in the NHL -- people found much more to talk about when it came to defenseman Brian Leetch, the best No. 9 first-round pick in NHL.com's Dream Draft.
The Rangers selected Leetch after a season that saw him dominate his level of competition, with 40 goals and 84 points in 28 games with Avon (Conn.) Old Farms. He had five points in seven games for the United States at the 1986 IIHF World Junior Championship.
After being drafted he spent one season at Boston College, earning Hockey East player of the year honors after totaling 47 points in 37 games. He spent the 1987-88 season playing for the United States National Team, culminating with six points in six games at the 1988 Winter Olympics.
He signed with the Rangers and made his debut after the Olympics, earning an assist in his first game, Feb. 29, 1988, at Madison Square Garden against the St. Louis Blues. He had 14 points in 17 games that season; in 1988-89, he set a League rookie record for defensemen with 23 goals. He finished fifth among NHL blueliners with 71 points and won the 1989 Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie.
Leetch continued to excel, and in 1991-92 became the fifth (and to date, last) defensemen to score 100 points, with a career-best 102. His 80 assists were third in the League, he won his first Norris Trophy, and the Rangers finished with a League-best 105 points.
The 1993-94 season proved to be historic for Leetch and the Rangers. He matched his career-best with 23 goals to help the Rangers again win the Presidents' Trophy, then in the postseason scored at a near-record pace. He led all players in assists (23), points (34), plus/minus (plus-19) and game-winning goals (four), and became the first American to win the Conn Smythe Trophy after helping the Rangers snap a 54-year Stanley Cup drought with a seven-game win against the Vancouver Canucks in the Final. His 11 goals and 34 points remain the second-most by a defensemen in a single Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Leetch began the 1996-97 season as captain of the U.S. team in the World Cup of Hockey, and had seven assists in seven games to lead the United States to the title. That strong play carried into the NHL season; Leetch hit the 20-goal mark for the fourth time, led all defensemen with 78 points, and was awarded the Norris Trophy for the second time. He added 10 points in 15 games as the Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final.
That would be the last playoff success for Leetch; the Rangers never returned to the postseason in his time in New York. However, Leetch did have personal successes. He was named captain in 1997 following the departure of Mark Messier and scored at least 10 goals in six of the next seven seasons, including 21 in 2000-01.
Late in the 2003-04 season he was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs; he had 15 points in 15 regular-season games and eight assists in 13 playoff games to help the Maple Leafs reach the conference semifinals.
After sitting out during the 2004-05 lockout, he signed with the Boston Bruins in August 2005, and on Oct. 16, 2005, he became the seventh defenseman to score 1,000 points.
Leetch retired in May 2007 with 1,028 points in 1,205 games. He's eighth among NHL defensemen in points, and his 247 goals are 10th.
He was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy in 2007, had his No. 2 retired by the Rangers in January 2008, was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008, and into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
"Brian Leetch is the greatest player in the history of the New York Rangers and on the short list for the best U.S.-born players of all time," NHL.com columnist John Kreiser said. "Few players in history were better than Leetch at making the transition from defense to offense, and he was the engine that drove the Rangers to their historic victory in the 1994 Stanley Cup Final."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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