Brian Joseph Leetch (born March 3, 1968) is a retired American professional ice hockey defenseman who played 18 National Hockey League (NHL) seasons with the New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Boston Bruins. He is generally considered one of the top defensemen in NHL history, being particularly noted for his skating, offense, and playmaking abilities. He and fellow Rangers teammate Mike Richter were inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008. Leetch was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto the following year.
Leetch accumulated many individual honors during his 18-year career. He was a two-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman (1992, 1997) and was the first American-born winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as Playoff MVP for his brilliant play during the Rangers’ run to the 1994 Stanley Cup Championship. (He held the honor of being the only American-born Conn Smythe winner until 2011, when Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins won it.) He is one of only five NHL defensemen to score 100 points in a season with his 102-point campaign in 1991–92. He won the Calder Trophy as the NHL Rookie of the Year in 1989 and his 23 goals that season remain an NHL record for rookie defensemen. Leetch’s number 2 was retired by the Rangers on January 24, 2008. During the ceremony, longtime teammate Mark Messier referred to Leetch as the single “Greatest Ranger of All Time.”
Although he was born in Texas, his family moved from there three months after he was born, eventually settling in Cheshire, Connecticut. This is where Leetch began to hone his hockey skills at a local ice rink managed by his father. In high school he starred in baseball and hockey, first at Cheshire High School, and then at Avon Old Farms. As a sophomore, his 90-mph fastball helped theCheshire Rams baseball team to a state championship and, as a senior at Avon Old Farms, he set the school record for strikeouts in a game with 19. Hockey, however, was the sport in which he excelled. As a sophomore at Cheshire, he scored 53 goals and 50 assists, earning All-state honors. In two seasons with Avon Old Farms he scored 70 goals and 90 assists in 54 games. These numbers were especially remarkable for a defenseman. NHL scouts were starting to take notice and the New York Rangers chose Leetch as their first-round pick (9th overall) in 1986, making him the first player drafted that year who did not play major junior hockey. Following in the footsteps of his father Jack, Brian enrolled at Boston College in the fall of 1986, and, like his father, would become an All-America defenseman for the Eagles.
After one season at Boston College he played for the 1988 US Olympic team, then made his NHL debut with the New York Rangers on February 29, 1988 vs. St. Louis (wearing number 2) scoring his first NHL point in that game with an assist on Kelly Kisio’s goal. He totaled 14 points in 17 games that year, and in his first full year in 1988, he notched 71 points, including a rookie defenseman-record 23 goals, winning the Calder Trophy as well as being selected to the NHL All-Rookie Team.
As the Rangers slowly developed into a championship-caliber team, Leetch won increasing respect from fans for his quiet demeanor and entertaining, offensive-minded play. In 1992 he became the fifth defenseman in history, and the only American defenseman, to record 100 points in a season and was awarded the Norris Trophy. Leetch was the last NHL defenseman to record 100 points in a season. In 1994 he again matched his career high of 23 goals in the regular season as the Rangers won the Presidents Trophy. That year the Rangers’ 54-year championship drought ended with a 7-game Stanley Cupvictory over the Vancouver Canucks; Leetch became the first non-Canadian to be awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy, remaining the only American to win the award until theBoston Bruins‘ Tim Thomas in 2011. He is only the second player in league history, the first and only non-Canadian, to win the Calder Trophy, the Norris Trophy and the Conn Smythe in their career. The only other player to do so was Bobby Orr.
He was the Captain of the 1996 championship team representing the United States of America in the World Cup of Hockey.
Following the Rangers’ Cup win in 1994, Leetch remained a fan favorite and team leader, serving as Captain from 1997–2000 after the departure of Mark Messier to theVancouver Canucks (he would hand back the captaincy to Messier upon his return to the Rangers in 2000). In 1997 he again won the Norris Trophy and the Rangers made a surprise run to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they were defeated by the Philadelphia Flyers. The next years, however, were marked by disappointing team performances that saw the Rangers miss the playoffs every year.
After the Rangers
After the especially unsuccessful 2004 campaign, the Rangers traded most of their high-priced veterans; Leetch was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs just prior to the trade deadline for prospects Maxim Kondratiev, Jarkko Immonen, a first-round pick in the 2004 draft, which became Lauri Korpikoski, and a second-round pick in 2005, which becameMichael Sauer.
In 1998, he was ranked number 71 on The Hockey News’ list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players.
During most of the 2006–07 season Leetch received contract offers from nearly every NHL team, but accepted none, although he made no formal announcement pertaining to his status as a player. On May 24, 2007, Brian Leetch officially announced his retirement, ending an 18-year career.
On January 24, 2008, the New York Rangers retired Leetch’s number 2 jersey, joining fellow 1994 Stanley Cup Champion teammates Mark Messier and Mike Richter, as well asRod Gilbert and Eddie Giacomin in the rafters of Madison Square Garden. On that night, his friend, Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees congratulated Leetch for the honor of having his number retired with a video that ended with Jeter saying “So congratulations, from one number 2 to another.” Leetch also had the honor of announcing during his ceremony that the New York Rangers would retire his friend and former teammate Adam Graves‘ number during the 2008–09 season, joining Brian and the other greats above the Garden ice.
On October 10, 2008, both Leetch and Richter were among four were inducted into the United States Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in Denver. Both of them also played for the U.S. ice hockey team during the 2002 Winter Olympics, which won the silver medal.
On June 23, 2009, it was announced that Leetch would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was honored during the November 6–9 induction weekend alongside Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille. The induction made it the third year in a row that a member of the Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup team has been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, following Messier in 2007 and Glenn Anderson in 2008, who was also inducted along with one of the on-ice officials when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup, Ray Scapinello.
|1983–84||Cheshire High School||HS||28||52||49||101||24||—||—||—||—||—|
|1984–85||Avon Old Farms||HS||26||30||46||76||15||—||—||—||—||—|
|1985–86||Avon Old Farms||HS||28||40||44||84||18||—||—||—||—||—|
|1987–88||New York Rangers||NHL||17||2||12||14||0||—||—||—||—||—|
|1988–89||New York Rangers||NHL||68||23||48||71||50||4||3||2||5||2|
|1989–90||New York Rangers||NHL||72||11||45||56||26||—||—||—||—||—|
|1990–91||New York Rangers||NHL||80||16||72||88||42||6||1||3||4||0|
|1991–92||New York Rangers||NHL||80||22||80||102||26||13||4||11||15||4|
|1992–93||New York Rangers||NHL||36||6||30||36||26||—||—||—||—||—|
|1993–94||New York Rangers||NHL||84||23||56||79||27||23||11||23||34||6|
|1994–95||New York Rangers||NHL||48||9||32||41||18||10||6||8||14||8|
|1995–96||New York Rangers||NHL||82||15||70||85||30||11||1||6||7||4|
|1996–97||New York Rangers||NHL||82||20||58||78||40||15||2||8||10||6|
|1997–98||New York Rangers||NHL||76||17||33||50||32||—||—||—||—||—|
|1998–99||New York Rangers||NHL||82||13||42||55||42||—||—||—||—||—|
|1999–00||New York Rangers||NHL||50||7||19||26||20||—||—||—||—||—|
|2000–01||New York Rangers||NHL||82||21||58||79||34||—||—||—||—||—|
|2001–02||New York Rangers||NHL||82||10||45||55||28||—||—||—||—||—|
|2002–03||New York Rangers||NHL||51||12||18||30||20||—||—||—||—||—|
|2003–04||New York Rangers||NHL||57||13||23||36||24||—||—||—||—||—|
|2003–04||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||15||2||13||15||10||13||0||8||8||6|
|Olympic medal record|
|Men’s ice hockey|
|Silver||2002 Salt Lake City||Ice hockey|
Awards and achievements
- Olympic silver medal (2002)
- Olympic Tournament All-Star Team (2002)
- James Norris Memorial Trophy (Top NHL Defenseman) (1992, 1997)
- NHL First Team All-Star (1992, 1997)
- NHL Second Team All-Star (1991, 1994, 1996)
- Stanley Cup champion (1994)
- Conn Smythe Trophy (NHL Playoffs MVP) (1994)
- Calder Memorial Trophy (Top NHL Rookie) (1989)
- NHL All-Rookie Team (1989)
- NCAA East First All-American Team (1987)
- Hockey East Player of the Year (1987)
- Hockey East Rookie of the Year (1987)
- Hockey East Tournament MVP Award (1987)
- Hockey East First Team All-Star Team (1987)
- Hockey East All-Rookie Team (1987)
- All-Star Selection, Defense, 1987 IIHF world junior hockey championships
- Played in NHL All-Star Game (1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003)
- Won gold medal at 1996 World Cup of Hockey – Was the captain of Team USA
- While still playing, was named #71 on the 100 greatest NHL players, as compiled by The Hockey News (and the second-highest player born and trained in the United States, behind Frank Brimsek)
- Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame – 2009
- Named the Top Ranger of all time in the book 100 Ranger Greats (John Wiley & Sons, 2009)
New York Rangers awards
- MVP: 1989, 1991, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003
- Players’ Player Award: 2001, 2002, 2003
- Frank Boucher Award: 2001
- Crumb Bum Award: 1994
- Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award: 1997
- Good Guy Award: 2002
- Ceil Saidel Memorial Award: 2002, 2003
- #2 jersey retired by New York Rangers on February 24, 2008
- Most goals by a rookie defenseman (23, 1988–89 season)
- First American-born Conn Smythe Trophy award winner (1994)
New York Rangers regular season records
- Most assists, career: 741
- Most goals by a defenseman, career: 240
- Most points by a defenseman, career: 981
- Most assists, single season: 80 (1991–92)
- Most points by a defenseman, single season: 102 (1991–92)
- Most power play goals by a defenseman, single season: 23 (1993–94)
New York Rangers playoff records
- Most assists, career: 61
- Most points, career: 89
- Most assists, one year: 23, 1993–94
- Most points, one year: 34, 1993–94
- Most goals by a defenseman, career: 28
- Most goals by a defenseman, one year: 11, 1993–94