He may not be known too well for individual success with the New York Rangers, but make no mistake, Alexei Kovalev is a true Ranger.
Drafted into the franchise in the 1991 NHL Entry draft, going 15th overall, it didn’t take Kovalev long to become part of the teams rich history.
Kovalev made his first mark in the league in the 1992-1993 season, when he played in 65 games for the Rangers. As a rookie, he posted 20 goals and added 18 assists for a 38-point season.
A year later, though, Kovalev truly made his mark on the Rangers. In his second year in the NHL, Kovalev helped the Rangers to their fourth Stanley Cup in their storied history. In that year, 1993-1994, he played 76 games in the regular season, posting 23 goals and 33 assists. His 56 points that year was good enough for sixth-best on a Rangers team that was stacked with players like Mark Messier and Adam Graves.
In the playoffs, Kovalev continued to impress. He played in 23 games as the Rangers won the cup, registered nine goals and added 12 assists as one of New York’s most productive players. His 21 post-season points were third to only Messier and Brian Leetch, often considered the two best players in the history of the Rangers franchise.
Over the rest of his early career, Kovalev put up two more 50-plus point seasons in New York. In 1995-1996, he played in all but one regular season game, tallying 58 points — a career high in New York — with 24 goals and 34 assists, helping the Rangers to another playoff run.
Two years later, Kovalev put together another big season. He scored 23 goals and posted 30 assists in his second-to-last season in New York. The Rangers missed the playoffs that year.
Although many consider Kovalev as a player that shared most of his success with the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s hard to argue about a guy who won a Stanley Cup with the team that drafted him in the first round.
That same draft, by the way, made Kovalev the first-ever Russian-born player to be taken in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.
True enough, Kovalev did indeed have career-years in his days it Pittsburgh, but he never won a Stanley Cup with them.
Kovalev rejoined the Rangers for short terms in 2003 and 2004, but he was much more of a role player at that point, 10 years deep into his NHL career.
While Kovalev may not be as popular as many of the Ranger greats, he deserves to be considered as one of the better young talents they’ve ever had to help them win a championship.
Note: This column looks back at the 20 best players in the history of the New York Rangers, recapping each players role in the history of the team and their accomplishments in New York.