The 2016 NHL All-Star Game was a massive success thanks to the new 3-on-3 format. The new style of overtime hockey has proven to be an exciting solution for both the high number of shootouts and the All-Star Game woes. Fans have already been treated to jaw-dropping 3-on-3 moments this season, including the Rangers’ own J.T. Miller dazzling with a winner against the Vancouver Canucks.
While the 3-on-3 overtime format has only been in place for this season, it has sparked discussions of who would be the best trios of all-time. Let’s take a look at the best 3-on-3 roster the Rangers could put together from their history.
First, some ground rules. The roster will be the same as an All-Star Game roster, meaning there must be six forwards, three defensemen, and two goalies. To narrow down the field, players must have played in 250 games or more with the Rangers. Unfortunately that eliminates two prime candidates in Wayne Gretzky (234 games with New York) and John Scott (6 games with New York).
Let’s take a look at the top roster the Rangers could put together:
Two of the top three scorers in Rangers history played for the team at the same time. Despite starting their careers in the early 1960’s, both Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle played mainly for the Rangers in the 1970’s, dominating opposing defenses on a nightly basis. Ranking first and third in points respectively gives each a spot on the 3-on-3 roster.
The fourth leading scorer in Rangers history, Andy Bathgate makes the cut, as does the fifth ranked Mark Messier. Bathgate ranks 7th in points per game in Rangers history, 2nd among players that qualify.
Messier helped lead the Rangers to a Stanley Cup victory in 1994 and ranks second all-time in points scored in the NHL. Fourth on the all-time list is former Ranger Jaromir Jagr, who is still an active player today. Jagr scored only the 33rd most points in Rangers history, but fits the criteria and has the highest points per game of any Ranger in history with the team. Bathgate, Messier and Jagr join Gilbert and Ratelle on the roster.
While there are numerous options forthe final two spots, it would be remiss to not include Walt Tkachuk. Tkachuk ranks sixth in points in Rangers history, but does not rank in the top 50 in points per game, nor did he ever score more than 80 points in a season. Tkachuk’s history lies in how long he played for New York, not how strong an offensive weapon he was.
One player known better for being an offensive weapon than a Ranger is Phil Esposito. Esposito ranks tenth in all-time scoring in the NHL, but only played in 422 games with the Rangers. Despite the short tenure in comparison to other options, Esposito deserves a spot because of his 0.96 points per game, sixth most among players that qualify. Esposito was an explosive option even in the heyday of his career with New York, earning him the final forward spot.
Putting together this defense is a no-brainer.
Brian Leetch ranks third all-time in points in Rangers history, even holding a spot in the top 15 in points per game despite being a defenseman. Leetch’s ability to join the rush and create offense would be a nuclear weapon in 3-on-3 play, one that can be matched by few others.
Luckily for the Rangers, they happen to have another option similar to Leetch. Brad Park didn’t put together quite as impressive of a career as Leetch did in New York, but still ranks 19th in points in team history, and 18th in points per game among qualifying players.
Finding the third defenseman is a more difficult task, as Reijo Ruotsalainen put together a more impressive run in a shorter stint than Ron Greschner and James Patrick. Ruotsalainen scored 316 points in 389 games to Greschner’s 610 points in 982 games and Patrick’s 467 points in 671 games.
All three of the options would be fine choices, but Patrick had the most consistent offense over his career, and in 3-on-3 it’s all about the offense. Patrick gets the nod.
This one is the most obvious of all categories.
Henrik Lundqvist and Mike Richter rank first and second in games played, wins, and save percentage among goalies with more than 100 games played. Richter’s Stanley Cup victory catapults him ahead of other candidates.
Rod Gilbert-Jean Ratelle-Brian Leetch
Andy Bathgate-Mark Messier-Brad Park
Jaromir Jagr-Phil Esposito-James Patrick
Good luck trying to beat that team in a tournament.
Statistics via QuantHockey and HockeyReference.