Syl Apps Jr. never got much of a chance from the Rangers

Welcome to another edition of Blueshirts Briefs, a series profiling individuals who worked a short shift for the New York Rangers.

The scouting report on Syl Apps Jr. was irresistible: “Good skater, good puck handler and playmaker, just like his father.” That was all it took to convince the New York Rangers, who knew all about Syl Apps Sr., a Hall of Fame center who guided the Toronto Maple Leafs to three Stanley Cup championships during his decade-long NHL career.

The Rangers took Apps Jr. in the fourth round of the 1964 Amateur Draft, 21st overall. Apps Jr. wasn’t quite as productive as his father was for the Leafs. But then, few were. The Rangers, however, never gave him a realistic opportunity to prove himself, trading the 6-foot, 185-pound center during his first season on Broadway.

 

Head coach C.H. Day, Syl Apps, and team manager Conn Smythe of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate their Stanley Cup victory over the Detroit Red Wings in 1948.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

Backchecking

Apps Sr. bullied opposing goaltenders and defensemen for 201 goals and 231 assists in 423 regular-season games. In today’s game, those stats translate into 274 goals and 390 assists (27 and 39, respectively, per season), according to his adjusted stats calculated by hockey-reference.com.

Apps Sr. was just as tough in the postseason with 25 goals and 28 assists in 69 games. He led the Leafs in the playoffs in games (twice), as well as goals and assists, and scored in overtime of Game Four of the 1947 Finals against the Montreal Canadiens, helping Toronto win the Cup in six matches.

As a 22-year-old rookie in 1936-37, Apps Sr. won the Calder Trophy after leading the NHL in games and assists. He also led the league in power-play goals and assists-per-game (twice apiece), as well as short-handed tallies and goals-per-game.

Five times he was named an all-star, finished among the top-10 in goals, and finished no lower than third in voting for the Hart Trophy, including three second-place efforts. He fell a distant second in voting to Montreal winger Toe Blake in 1939 and Brooklyn Americans defenseman Tom Anderson in 1942 but lost by just six votes in 1940 to Detroit Red Wings blueliner Ebbie Goodfellow.

Apps Sr. was indeed a bully, but not in the traditional sense. He wasn’t a pugilist. He wasn’t an antagonist. On the contrary, he was a highly-skilled gentleman. For his career, he had just 56 penalty minutes in the regular season and just six in the playoffs. He won his only Lady Byng in 1942 after playing 38 matches without being penalized. He finished second and third in voting twice, respectively, and fourth once.

The most PIMs he had in one regular season was 12 in 55 matches in 1947-48 — his last and most productive campaign in the NHL. He established single-season personal bests in goals (26), points (53), power-play points (22), and extra-man goals (11). How’s that for “compensating” for having taken a whole 12 minutes in penalties?!

 

Apps Jr. arrives on Broadway

Apps Sr. wasn’t long into his post-playing days when the 1964  Amateur Draft was held, so when the Rangers read the scouting report on Apps Jr. comparing him favorably to his father, the choice to draft him was a no-brainer.

Apps Jr. was the first Princeton University alum to play in the NHL. Sixteen others followed, including former Rangers’ center Jeff Halpern and ex-enforcer George Parros.

Halpern signed with the Rangers in July 2012 and had one assist in 30 games before being claimed off waivers by Montreal the following March. Fifth on Princeton’s career points list, Halpern’s NHL totals of 152 goals, 221 assists, and 641 PIMs rank second among the school’s alum only to Apps Jr.’s 182 markers, 423 apples, and 311 PIMs.

Parros made a playing career out of beating up opponents and collecting PIMs (1,092). Par for the course in the NHL, he’s now head of the league’s Department of Player Safety. You can’t make this stuff up.

Apps Jr. made his Rangers’ debut on October 10, 1970, in a 3-1 loss to the Blues in St. Louis. It wasn’t pretty. He was held pointless on two shots and was on the ice for two of the Blues’ goals (minus-2).  He would play another 30 games for New York (notching a goal, two assists, and 11 PIMs) before getting traded with defenseman Sheldon Kannegiesser to Pittsburgh for scrappy forward Glen Sather.

Sather played parts of four years for the Rangers. His best season on Broadway was 1972-73 when he posted 11 goals and 15 assists in 77 matches before being traded to St. Louis the following season. Sather, as you know, was the architect of the Edmonton Oilers’ dynasty of the mid-to-late 1980s, and later became one of six former Blueshirts to serve the team’s general manager.

Apps Jr. had three straight seasons of at least 24 goals for Pittsburgh before scoring 32 in 1976. His 32 tallies were his most in one season, as were his 67 apples and 99 points. In addition to the Rangers and Pittsburgh, Apps Jr. also played for the Los Angeles Kings. However, the Penguins got his best, including 500 of his 606 points, 34 of his 39 power-play goals, and 20 of his 22 game-winners.

Despite a slow start with the Rangers, Apps Jr. proved to be the best skater in his draft class. The 21st of 24 players selected, he was one of only nine players to play in the NHL. He was the most productive skater, leading all others in games, goals, assists, points, plus-minus (plus-36), and point shares (46.3).

Only one other skater chosen that year came close to matching Apps Jr.’s productivity — and that was another Rangers’ pick, winger Tim Ecclestone. Selected ninth overall (second round), Ecclestone finished his NHL career with 359 points in 692 matches. (Ecclestone never skated for the Blueshirts — he was traded to St. Louis with Gary Sabourin, Bob Plager, and Gord Kannegiesser for Rod Seiling.)

The only player from that draft better than Apps Jr. was goalie Ken Dryden, taken by the Boston Bruins at 14th overall (third round). Like Ecclestone, Dryden never played for the team that drafted him. Instead, he haunted them.

After Boston traded his rights to Montreal with Alex Campbell for Guy Allen and Paul Reid, Dryden tormented the Bruins throughout the 1970s. By the decade’s end, Dryden was a Hall of Fame lock with six Stanley Cup rings, six all-star selections, five Vezina trophies, a Calder, and a Conn Smythe.

Like grandpa and dad?

While playing in Pittsburgh in 1976, Apps Jr. and his wife had a son, Syl Apps III. Signed by Toronto in 1999 as an undrafted free agent out of Princeton University, Apps III spent the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons with Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate St. John’s. In 127 games with St. John’s, he notched 11 goals, 15 assists, and 160 PIMs.

Like his grandfather and father, Apps III was relatively average in size, listed at 6 feet, 195 pounds. he played with tremendous heart, but a future as an NHL player wasn’t meant to be. After being cut loose by Toronto following the 2000-01 season, Apps III played for four different teams, two in the AHL and two in the ECHL.

Apps III’s greatest accomplishment on ice probably came during the 1998 Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y, when he scored in overtime in the championship against Clarkson University. The victory gave Princeton its first conference title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where the Tigers fell, 2-1, in the opening round to eventual national champion Michigan at Ann Arbor.