Can Lafrenière be the best French-Canadian Ranger ever?
There is no argument when it comes to the greatest French-Canadian players in Rangers history. They grew up playing hockey together and were linemates for over a decade. If at the end of his career we can say that Alexis Lafrenière exceeded the accomplishments of Rod Gilbert or Jean Ratelle, Ranger fans are in for a treat.
We’ve talked a bit about Rod Gilbert. A Montreal native, the 16 year old was scouted and signed by Rangers scout Yvon Prud’homme who also signed Jean Ratelle.
In those days, there was no entry draft and teams were free to sign any players that they could. They would sign teenagers and embed them in a developmental system. There’s been a misconception that the Montreal Canadiens had first choice to sign kids from Quebec, but that’s not true as proven by the Gilbert/Ratelle signings.
Though Gilbert never won a Stanley Cup with the Blueshirts, he played his entire 16 year career in New York, retiring in 1978. He was a first or second team All-Star twice , won the Masterton Trophy in 1976 and was a member of the famed GAG line of the early 1970s. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.
Second only to Gilbert was center Jean Ratelle. Born in Lac St-Jean, Quebec, he didn’t speak a word of English when he was signed by the Rangers in 1958 at age 18. He made his debut in the NHL in 1960-61, playing three games and made it for good the next season.
Ratelle was headed to one of the greatest seasons ever for an NHL player in 1971-72 when he broke his ankle after 63 games. He finished the season with 46 goals and 109 points and many point to his injury as the reason the Rangers didn’t win the Stanley Cup that year.
Ratelle was traded to the Boston Bruins in 1975 for Phil Esposito in what was the biggest deal of the decade and went on to star for six years in Beantown. Despite the trade, Ratelle is still second in the franchise in career goals and game winning goals and third in assists and points.
Ratelle won the Lester Pearson Award as league MVP as voted by the players in 1973. Always considered a gentleman, he won the Lady Byng Trophy twice (1972, 1976), and the Masterton Trophy in 1971. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.