"If something in the game needed to be done you could almost feel him pick the puck up and go. You would say, 'Oh, here we go, something is going to happen.' He did really well with that. There aren't many that can do that. A lot of guys want to do that, but it's hard."
-- John Davidson on Brian Leetch
used the same adjective three times during his five-minute interview with NHL.com about Brian Leetch
"It's the right word," Davidson said.
To describe Leetch's personality maybe, but J.D. saw enough of Leetch's career to know the weight of his impact with the Rangers couldn't be measured by his subtle off-ice persona.
J.D., now president of the St. Louis Blues
, saw every one of Leetch's 1,129 games in blue as the color commentator for MSG on every Rangers' telecast for 20 years and still feels that, on the ice, No. 2 was always No. 1 for the Rangers, especially during their magical run to the Stanley Cup in 1994 when Leetch was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.
"Probably No. 1 overall would have been Mark (Messier) just because he was Mark and he knew how to steer the team, but the guy on the ice was Brian," said Davidson, who will join Leetch in the Hall of Fame as the recipient of the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award. "He's one of the few players that you'll ever find that could change a game.
"He was an understated player because of his personality; very thoughtful and if you ever sat down and talked to him about anything you'd find his intelligence level to be very high," J.D. continued. "But, his play during a game, when they needed something, he could make the difference. Both ends of the ice, too. He was as good defensively as he was offensively. From the defensive position, he could control games and play all night."
Leetch, a two-time Norris Trophy winner, is remembered most for his offense. He finished with 1,028 points in 1,205 regular season games and 97 points in 95 playoff games. He's seventh all time among defensemen in scoring.
The points, though, were a byproduct of Leetch's remarkable ability of seizing control of the game from the back end. Davidson remembers well the feel in Madison Square Garden when Leetch had the puck on his stick and a patch of ice to work with.
There was a buzz as if everyone in the building waited breathlessly for some magic.
"If something in the game needed to be done you could almost feel him pick the puck up and go," Davidson said. "You would say, 'Oh, here we go, something is going to happen.' He did really well with that. There aren't many that can do that. A lot of guys want to do that, but it's hard. This league is a great league, but he could go end to end. In a couple of games in that series against Vancouver ('94 Stanley Cup Final) he willed the team. He was exceptional and that team was pretty beat up by the end."
But on a team with giant personalities like Messier and Mark Richter, Leetch always seemed to hide in the background. Even as one of the best athletes in New York at the time, he was never a big part of the publicity craze around the Rangers.
He was, as Davidson reiterated three times, understated.
He also was great.
"Absolutely the top of the heap," Davidson said. "It doesn't matter what timeframe or era he played in, he would have been right at the top. He was just a great, great player."