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[News Archives] Brian Leetch, the 'next great' U.S. player, eyes Calgary

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07-16-2013, 06:50 AM
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Crease
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[News Archives] Brian Leetch, the 'next great' U.S. player, eyes Calgary

A Sports Illustrated article titled Big D for the USA, dated January 27, 1988, spotlights Boston College phenom Brian Leetch as Team USA prepares for the Calgary games.


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Leetch is a product of the Bobby Orr generation, an offensive-no, make that attacking—defenseman whose rushes, world-class transition play and quarterbacking of the power play will strongly determine whether this U.S. team becomes a heavy-medal group or merely plays backup to the Soviets. Czechs, Swedes, Finns and Canadians.
Quote:
Unlike his dad—but because of his dad—Brian has always been a defenseman. While a BC forward in 1960-61, his sophomore year. Jack Leetch was asked to switch to defense his junior year. "I had trouble making the transition." he says. Thus, when young Brian wanted to play forward, his dad "told me to start with defense. Learn the harder position first, then move up if I wanted to." Of course, he didn't want to. He was playing offense anyway.
Quote:
"He'll give you a spin-o-rama, he'll look you off the puck, he's got great one-on-one moves." says Team Canada coach Dave King. "Makes you wonder why [North America] can't produce more such creative players."
Quote:
"He's going to be our next great American player, one of those rare decade players," says U.S. general manager Art Berglund, One of those what? A decade player, says Berglund, is a guy "who projects to play about 10 years in the NHL."

For Leetch that decade should begin in March, when he is expected to join the New York Rangers. They drafted him in the first round in 1986. The Rangers tried to sign Leetch to a pro contract for the current NHL season, but playing on the Olympic team was a lifetime dream. "The best moment for me was when they read off my name for this team." says Leetch.

Team USA ended up having a disappointing showing and the Rangers quickly signed Leetch to a professional contract. He scored 14 points in 17 games for the Rangers in an abbreviated campaign, then beat out Team USA and Rangers teammate Tony Granato the following year for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie. I have Leetch as the 3rd best American-born American-trained players of all-time, behind Chris Chelios and Frank Brimsek. Top 20-30 defensemen ever to lace them up. Just a special special player.

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07-16-2013, 07:15 AM
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He was pretty average that Olympiad. Corey Millen and Craig Janney did the best, but they were overmatched against the adults from other countries.

IIRC they opened up against Austri and schwacked them.

That team was full of Rangers -- Millen, Miller, Granato, Leetch, Richter, Laviolette

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07-16-2013, 07:18 AM
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Leetch's first goal was a friggin laser over Grant Fuhr's glove side -- my first time I saw him live. They crushed the Gretzky Oilers 6-0 that night.

There isn't a single hockey fan who didn't see how special he was from the second he hit the ice. As bad as he was in 1990, he still showed flashes that he was the closest thing to the next Bobby Orr, minus the snarl.

IMO, his frosh season at BC made him a household name. The Olympics were kinda meh.

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07-16-2013, 07:37 AM
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Leetch was burdened with Coffey and Orr comparisons since Avon. He also hated public speaking until he was named captain of Team USA in 1987. Since then, he got used to the lights and microphone. He was the ideal Alternate Captain.

By the way, the Rangers drafted a ton of quality NCAAers in the mid-to-late 80s. Granato (1982), Richter (1985), Leetch (1986), Amonte (1988), and Weight (1990). Granato and Amonte were late round picks, but everyone else was a 1st or 2nd rounders. Did the Rangers have a philosophical change or was every NHL team heavily scouting the NCAA during that time?

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07-16-2013, 08:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crease View Post
Leetch was burdened with Coffey and Orr comparisons since Avon. He also hated public speaking until he was named captain of Team USA in 1987. Since then, he got used to the lights and microphone. He was the ideal Alternate Captain.

By the way, the Rangers drafted a ton of quality NCAAers in the mid-to-late 80s. Granato (1982), Richter (1985), Leetch (1986), Amonte (1988), and Weight (1990). Granato and Amonte were late round picks, but everyone else was a 1st or 2nd rounders. Did the Rangers have a philosophical change or was every NHL team heavily scouting the NCAA during that time?
With Craig Patrick joining the Rangers after the Miracle On Ice and Herb Brooks soon after, it's no surprise the Rangers were drafting a lot of collegians. I expected the Rangers to change focus after Patrick and Brooks were gone and Espo came on board -and although they might have to a certain degree - they still drafted at least two US collegians in 5 of the next six drafts. I think after that, drafting players from Europe opened up and you see a drop off on the drafting of US collegians.


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07-16-2013, 08:37 AM
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Quote:
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With Craig Patrick joining the Rangers after the Miracle On Ice and Herb Brooks soon after, it's no surprise the Rangers were drafting a lot of collegians.
Ah, there's the link. Thank you Chief!

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07-16-2013, 08:46 AM
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Speaking of Espo, Jack Leetch called him a "businessman" and was "sure he'd trade Brian or Tony (Granato) tomorrow if he thought it would get the Rangers closer to the Stanley Cup." Less than a year later, he packaged Granato for Bernie Nicholls. Pretty good prediction. Although with Esposito behind the wheel it was more likely you were going to get traded than not.

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07-16-2013, 09:16 AM
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On the money, Chief.

In my opinion, Patrick and Sjoberg were just as much the architects of the 1990s rangers as Smith was. Ray Clearwater was nothing special as a scout, but man he hit a game-winning grand slam with Leetch in 1986.


To Esposito's credit, he did one thing right -- he hired Bergeron at the cost of a draft pick that could have been Roenick or Selanne. Thats a trade off I would make 100 times out of 100, becuase Bergeron was the perfect coach for an unbridled thoroughbread like Leetch.

You would think that Leetch was such a special talent, he would star for any coach, but those early years are so critical and Bergeron made sure he didn't ruin Leetch.

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07-16-2013, 09:40 AM
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We've taken a lot of NCAA players in recent years. I wonder whose influence that is.

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07-16-2013, 09:44 AM
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Just to clear a few things up;

It was Neil Smith who traded Sandstrom and Granato for Nicholls, not Espo.

The trade of a draft pick for Bergeron was awful. So many good players for a coach that lasted less than two seasons.

Patrick didn't even want Leetch. He wanted George Pelawa who passed away soon after the draft, was trying to trade up for Jimmy Carson, or take Scott Young. Anders Hedberg convinced Patrick to take Leetch after having watched him in prep school in Connecicut.

Also, the only collegiate player Espo drafted was Amonte. Weight was Smith (1990). Espo didn't know a thing about drafting talent.

Smith did a very good job but he also got very lucky with a lot of Patrick's NCAA picks that were 4-5 year projects, and letting Lafleur go to Quebec and getting that 5th round compenstation pick that became Zubov....under the radar in Rangers history.

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07-16-2013, 09:47 AM
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Ah, good stuff WPB. Thanks. The Granato trade must have been one of the first moves Smith made.

With regards to the Rangers recent penchant for NCAA prospects, could that coincide with Gordie Clark's promotion to director of player personnel in 2007? Gordie played three years of NCAA at UNH.

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07-16-2013, 10:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by White Plains Batman View Post
Just to clear a few things up;

It was Neil Smith who traded Sandstrom and Granato for Nicholls, not Espo.

The trade of a draft pick for Bergeron was awful. So many good players for a coach that lasted less than two seasons.

Patrick didn't even want Leetch. He wanted George Pelawa who passed away soon after the draft, was trying to trade up for Jimmy Carson, or take Scott Young. Anders Hedberg convinced Patrick to take Leetch after having watched him in prep school in Connecicut.

Also, the only collegiate player Espo drafted was Amonte. Weight was Smith (1990). Espo didn't know a thing about drafting talent.

Smith did a very good job but he also got very lucky with a lot of Patrick's NCAA picks that were 4-5 year projects, and letting Lafleur go to Quebec and getting that 5th round compenstation pick that became Zubov....under the radar in Rangers history.
Ray Clearwater scouted Leetch. He was their chief scout in new England because he used to play for New haven, so he got to see Leetch at Avon since his freshman year. Hedberg had more of a hand in Dahlen than Leetch. Hedberg was the chief Euro scout in 1986. He barely watched Leetch play.

Patrick wanted to trade up on draft day and Clearwater told him only if he was scared Leetch would be off the board. Patrick was 100% behind the Leetch pick the day of the draft.

And Bergeron was an immense proponent in Leetch's development. It's no surprise his sophomore year under Neilson was such a fiasco in so many ways.

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07-16-2013, 11:16 AM
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Kodak Moment

Right after the Calgary Olympics, I met Brian in the Denver Airport. He was changing planes enroute to New York. At the time, I was very proud to recognize him and he seemed to be both surprised that a fan would recognize him and also a little shy. I congratulated him on the Olympics, and told him I was a life long Ranger fan and hoped that some day he would win the Stanley Cup. Little did I know...

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07-17-2013, 08:02 AM
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One more thing about Bergeron:

The Rangers in 1987-88 (Bergeron's first year) had their highest point total in four seasons, and set an NHL record for PP goals in a season.

In 1989, they were in 1st place in the Patrick for about 3/4 of the season then fell apart with 15 games left. Beezer literally melted down and completely forgot how to stop the puck, and it ended up coasting Bergeron his job.

Bergeron was a very good coach. The players loved playing for him. He just didn't preach defense as a priority, and it's part of the reason why Neilson was brought in.

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07-17-2013, 11:38 AM
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This is a really interesting thread to read through but the title is misleading...I thought Leetch was eyeing a job coaching with the Flames or something.

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07-18-2013, 03:03 PM
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That '88 Olympics was what made 8 year-old me a hockey fan -- specifically watching Finland and Jarmo Myllys beat Canada and the US team get gut-wrenchingly close to a comeback against the USSR (I think the score ended up being 7-5).

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07-18-2013, 07:51 PM
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I was only a couple of years old when this happened, but I can only speak in terms of what I saw.

I saw one of the top-5 greatest skaters and one of the smartest players I've ever seen in my life. His on ice vision for a defenseman was unparalleled and I'd take him over Chelios and Lidstrom. He won 2 Norris Trophies and scored 100 points in a season (something only 4 other defenseman have done, Orr, Potvin, Coffey, MacInnis) all during in my opinion, the greatest generation of all time when it comes to defensemen (the 80's into 90's transition).

You had Bourque, Chelios, Murphy, Suter, Iafrate, MacInnis, Coffey, Housley and Stevens all in their prime. While Lidstrom at his peak, only had to contend with Blake, Chara, Niedermayer and Pronger and Chara has had about a 5 or so year period in which he was great.

Sure, I might be a homer and I might be crazy for saying this, but to me, winning 2 Norris Trophies right smack dab in the middle of a generation in which you had about 10 hall of fame defenders in their prime compared to winning 6 in a period in which only 2 other defenders could possibly gain that recognition one day is a bigger accomplishment. I'm not trying to belittle anything Lidstrom did, because regardless, he's a top-10 defenseman of all time, if you ask me. I just think what Brian Leetch did considering his supporting cast was a greater accomplishment.

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