As part of the NHL Centennial Celebration, renowned Canadian artist Tony Harris will paint original portraits of each of the 100 Greatest NHL Players presented by Molson Canadian as chosen by a Blue Ribbon panel. NHL.com will reveal two portraits each Monday in 2017.
This week, the portraits of defenseman Brian Leetch and forward Brendan Shanahan are unveiled in the 21st installment.
Brian Leetch was taken by the New York Rangers with the No. 9 pick in the 1986 NHL Draft. At 19, he was the most skilled player on the United States team at the 1988 Calgary Olympics and stepped into a regular role with the Rangers as soon as the tournament was over. Leetch won the Calder Trophy in 1988-89, was a two-time winner of the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, is one of five NHL defensemen to score 100 or more points in a season and was the first U.S.-born player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That took place in 1994, when Leetch led all scorers in the playoffs with 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) and was one of the cornerstones of the Rangers' first Stanley Cup-winning team since 1940. Though he didn't have the speed of Paul Coffey or Bobby Orr, Leetch's swivel-hipped, shake-and-bake moves often left opposing checkers in his wake.
As author Kevin Allen writes in his NHL100 profile of Leetch, the Hockey Hall of Fame member never modeled himself after anyone else:
Video: Brian Leetch first American to win Conn Smythe
"[General manager Neil] Smith said that early in Leetch's career he asked the defenseman who his favorite player was growing up," Allen wrote. "He was stunned by his response.
"He said: 'I really didn't have one,'" Smith said with a laugh. "I found that amazing.
"Then it dawned on Smith that Leetch's uniqueness resulted from the fact that he never patterned himself after any NHL player. He played the way that made him comfortable. It was if Leetch had created a work of art from a blank canvas.
"He became a tremendous player just on his own," Smith said. "He decided how he was going to play hockey. He didn't copy someone like other players did. He didn't try to fit in. He was his own man."
Leetch played all but 76 of his 1,205 NHL games with the Rangers. He finished his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins, but always looked out of place in any uniform but Rangers blue.
"My resource picture for Brian Leetch's painting had him in the white home uniform," artist Tony Harris said. "I love the white but I felt that the away uniform would have more impact. After all, they are the Blueshirts."
Unlike Leetch, Brendan Shanahan made a number of stops along the way to the Hockey Hall of Fame, the first when the New Jersey Devils took him No. 2 in the 1987 NHL Draft. The big forward (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) played with the Devils, St. Louis Blues, Hartford Whalers and the Rangers, but it was with the Detroit Red Wings from 1996-2006 when Shanahan had his greatest success. He was one of the keys to Detroit's championship teams in 1997, 1998 and 2002.
In his NHL100 profile of Shanahan, author Bob Duff describes the three-time Stanley Cup winner and 656-goal scorer as a "player with a unique style of play.
Video: Brendan Shanahan won Cup three times with Detroit
"With a quick-release wrist shot and the ability to muscle his way into open space, Shanahan was selected by the Devils with the No. 2 pick in the 1987 NHL Draft," Duff wrote. "He was twice selected to the First All-Star Team and once to the Second All-Star Team. Shanahan was chosen to play in seven NHL All-Star Games and, in 2002, scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal for the Red Wings against the Carolina Hurricanes.
"If you needed a big goal, he could deliver that, either through skill or the strength that allowed him to battle in the dirty areas around the net. If someone was taking liberties with his teammates and required straightening out, Shanahan could handle that as well.
"Shanahan was acquired by the Red Wings early in the 1996-97 season, when they would end a 42-year Stanley Cup drought. His coach at the time, Scotty Bowman, said later, 'I don't know that there was another player like him in the League. He was a winger, a power winger who could score.'
"'He was the type of player we didn't have,' [general manager Ken] Holland said.
"A leader on the ice and in the dressing room, Shanahan had the presence of Eric Lindros, the shot of Brett Hull and the toughness of Bob Probert."
"There are a lot of Red Wings on the NHL100 list and I can honestly say that painting the iconic 'Winged Wheel' never gets old," Harris said. "I've often thought about Shanahan as a throwback to the great power forwards and I was pleased that he chose to have his picture painted in a Detroit uniform."