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Leetch could get a call from Hall today

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Brian Leetch has a chance to make history as the first U.S.-born defenseman to reach the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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This afternoon at at 3:30 p.m. ET, the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee will announce the members of the 2009 Hall of Fame induction class, which promises to be one of the best in history.

You don’t have to be a hockey historian or scholar to know that Steve Yzerman and Brett Hull will be chosen. And you don’t have to be a die-hard Rangers fan to fully expect that former Blueshirts star Brian Leetch, whose No. 2 was retired by the team on Jan. 24, 2008, will be right there with them.

After all, if Brian Leetch isn’t a Hall of Famer, then who is? His statistics alone are mind-boggling. He is the seventh-highest scoring defenseman in NHL history with 1,028 career points in 1,205 career games. He holds more than 40 Rangers team records, including the career assists mark, and was named to the NHL All-Star Game 11 times. The list of achievements goes on and on

The one statistic that best illustrates Leetch’s greatness on the NHL stage is this: Leetch is the only player other than Bobby Orr to win the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year, the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman (he won that one twice), and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs. To do this, you have to be great when you come into the league, great on a consistent basis throughout the regular season, and great in the postseason. Leetch was all three.

Since the selection committee can add only four players in any given year, the most interesting decision today will likely involve the potential fourth spot. Luc Robitaille, who spent two years with the Rangers in the mid-1990s but is best known for his many seasons in Los Angeles, has the best chance. He will get in at some point, and most likely this year as the fourth member of a remarkable induction class.

Although the class will be named this afternoon, this year’s actual Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place on Nov. 9 in Toronto. If Leetch reaches the Hall, it would mark the third straight year that a member of the 1994 Stanley Cup championship team is honored at the induction ceremony. Mark Messier joined the Hall in 2007, and Glenn Anderson was part of last year’s class.

With both Leetch and Robitaille in the mix, today's announcement promises to be a thrilling moment for Blueshirts fans. The selection of Leetch alone would be historic, because Leetch stands to become the first U.S.-born defenseman to reach the Hall in more than 60 years worth of induction ceremonies.

The first American defenseman to become a Hall of Famer was Rod Langway, but he was born overseas before coming back to the States with his family as a youngster.

Leetch was born in Texas but raised in Cheshire, Conn., and attended Boston College for one year. Former BC star Joey Mullen, a native New Yorker, is already in the Hall of Fame, which means Leetch would become the second former Eagles star to get there for his accomplishments as an NHL player. Both Leetch and Mullen are members of the United States Hockey Hall, which is based in Minnesota.

For the Rangers organization, and its scouting staff in particular, the potential to see Leetch to reach the Hall of Fame just three days before the 2009 NHL Entry Draft is truly inspiring. Leetch was drafted by the Rangers in 1986, and the man who discovered him, Ray Clearwater, is still scouting for the Blueshirts and will be at the draft table on June 26-27 in Montreal.

Leetch would not be the first Rangers draft pick to reach the Hall of Fame. That honor will always belong to Brad Park, who played the same position and wore the same number as Leetch. Park was selected in 1966, however, when the draft was still limited to the handful of players not already sponsored by NHL teams under a system that predated the first draft in 1963.

That old sponsorship system did not fully end until 1969, which means Leetch can become the first Rangers draft pick of the “universal” draft era to reach the Hall. It would make the Rangers the 18th of the 30 current NHL teams to have drafted a Hall of Famer in the past 40 years.

Here is a look at all Hall of Famers drafted by NHL teams.

Team No. Hall of Famers (draft year)
Montreal Canadiens 8 Guy Lafleur (1971), Larry Robinson (1971), Steve Shutt (1972), Bob Gainey (1973), Rod Langway (1977), Vyacheslav Fetisov (1978), Vladislav Tretiak (1983), Patrick Roy (1984)
N.Y. Islanders 5 Denis Potvin (1973), Bryan Trottier (1974), Clark Gillies (1974), Mike Bossy (1977), Pat LaFontaine (1983)
Edmonton Oilers 4 Mark Messier (1979), Paul Coffey (1980), Jari Kurri (1980), Grant Fuhr (1981)
Boston Bruins 2 Ken Dryden (1964), Ray Bourque (1979)
New York Rangers 2 Brad Park (1966), Brian Leetch (1986)
Philadelphia Flyers 2 Bobby Clarke (1969), Bill Barber (1972)
Toronto Maple Leafs 2 Darryl Sittler (1970), Lanny McDonald (1973)
Washington Capitals 2 Mike Gartner (1979), Scott Stevens (1982)
Vancouver Canucks 2 Cam Neely (1983), Igor Larionov (1985)
Detroit Red Wings 2 Marcel Dionne (1971), Steve Yzerman (1983)
Los Angeles Kings 2 Larry Murphy (1980), Luc Robitaille (1984)
Calgary Flames 2 Al MacInnis (1981), Brett Hull (1984)
Buffalo Sabres 1 Gilbert Perreault (1970)
St. Louis Blues 1 Bernie Federko (1976)
Colorado Avalanche 1 Michel Goulet (1979)
Chicago Blackhawks 1 Denis Savard (1980)
Phoenix Coyotes 1 Dale Hawerchuk (1981)
Carolina Hurricanes 1 Ron Francis (1981)
New Jersey Devils 1 Vyacheslav Fetisov (1983)
Pittsburgh Penguins 1 Mario Lemieux (1984)
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