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Rangers took big leap on Feb. 29, 1988

by Staff Writer / New York Rangers
Drafted 20 years apart, defensemen Brian Leetch and Bobby Sanguinetti have countless ties and similarities.

Leetch Tribute Section
Rangers Prospects' Scoring

Leap Day, the 29th of February, has a special place in Blueshirts history, and today marks a special anniversary that relates to both the team's past and future.

Twenty years ago today, two very important events occurred. The first was defenseman Brian Leetch's NHL debut at Madison Square Garden against the St. Louis Blues, and the second was the birth of defense prospect Bobby Sanguinetti, the team's first-round choice two years ago.

No Rangers fan needs to be reminded of what it meant to add Leetch to the roster, and the recent Jan. 24 celebration to retire Leetch's No. 2 spoke volumes about this future Hall of Famer's connection to both the city of New York and Blueshirts fans.

Sanguinetti, meanwhile, is one of the brightest hopes for the Rangers future, as he is likely to follow in the footsteps of fellow first-rounder Marc Staal and have an immediate impact on the team. Like Staal before him, Sanguinetti is dominating his final season of major-junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League this year.

Despite missing numerous games due to his participation in the World Junior Championships, he leads all OHL defensemen in scoring with 25 goals and 63 points in 54 games. He is also among the front-runners for this year's Max Kaminsky trophy, given to the league's top defenseman. Staal won that award in 2006-07.

In terms of his NHL potential, Sanguinetti is sure to be one of the most explosive offensive defensemen to join the Rangers since Leetch himself. That's only fitting, since Sanguinetti grew up in New Jersey idolizing Leetch, who is just over 20 years his senior. Sanguinetti turns 20 today, but this is only the fifth time in his life that he's been able to celebrate his birthday on Leap Day.

On this day in 1988, Leetch picked up an assist in his first NHL game – a 5-2 win over the Blues. Leetch's assist came on a power play goal by Kelly Kisio. It was the first of hundreds of power-play points Leetch would score for the Rangers.

Writing his weekly column for The Hockey News, former Daily News hockey writer Barry Meisel, now President and Chief Operating Officer of the MeiGray Group, described the fans at MSG as they watched Leetch for the first time.

"They screamed madly when he first touched the Garden ice vs. St. Louis," wrote Meisel. "They shook with excitement the first time he threaded a pass through the neutral zone. And they completely lost it when he assisted on a Kelly Kisio goal, his first NHL point."

Whether or not Sanguinetti gets the same sort of reception when he makes his NHL debut remains to be seen, but the Garden Faithful were right about Leetch, and there's no doubt they'll also be fired up to see Sanguinetti follow in his footsteps.
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