Henrik Lundqvist just announced his retirement after spending 15 seasons with the New York Rangers. He will be remembered for his great saves, consistency, and clutch performances in important games. However, he didn’t join the franchise as one of New York’s top prospects, and he had to earn his way to become the Blueshirts’ starting goalie.
As Lundqvist’s playing career with the Rangers has come to an end, here’s a look back at his improbable rise as a rookie during the 2005-06 season.
The Rangers selected Lundqvist 205th overall in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Draft, long after the rival New York Islanders picked goalie Rick DiPietro first overall. At the time, Lundqvist was playing in Sweden, and he began playing for Frolunda HC (then called Västra Frölunda HC) in the Swedish Elite League.
By the 2002-03 season, Lundqvist proved to be a dominant goalie for Frolunda HC, and his dominance continued during the 2003-04 season and the 2004-05 season.
Lundqvist’s excellent play in Sweden earned him an opportunity to play in North America, and he impressed the Rangers during training camp ahead of the 2005-06 season. He beat out goalie Al Montoya, who was selected sixth overall in the 2004 NHL Draft, for a spot on New York’s roster. However, veteran Kevin Weekes entered the season as the Rangers’ starting goaltender.
In the Rangers’ third game of the season Lundqvist made his first start and played well, but the Rangers lost 3-2 in overtime to their rival, the New Jersey Devils. However, he got an opportunity to start against the Devils again, just five days later, and helped lead the Blueshirts to a 4-1 victory, stopping 20 of the 21 shots he faced.
Lundqvist’s first victory earned him another start in New York’s next game, and he once again played well, allowing just one goal on 29 shots in a 5-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers. He followed up that performance with his first career shutout, as the Rangers beat the Florida Panthers. It became clear he could handle the pressure of playing in New York, and he became the Rangers’ number one goalie that season.
Lundqvist’s Play During the 2005-06 Season
Entering the 2005-06 season the Rangers hadn’t made the postseason since the 1996-97 season, and they were far from a lock to make the playoffs. Star winger Jaromir Jagr was a dominant force, and he formed excellent chemistry with linemates Michael Nylander and Martin Straka. While those three gave the Blueshirts a big boost offensively, they had some defensive struggles that season and had to rely on Lundqvist to keep them in games and make timely saves.
Lundqvist got off to a hot start and won 10 of his first 15 starts with the Rangers, and he quickly became a fan favorite, earning the nickname “King Henrik.” In one game against the Washington Capitals, he stopped 35 of 37 shots and helped send the game to a shootout. He then stopped 12 of 15 shots in the shootout, and the Rangers finally secured a victory on a highlight-reel goal by Marek Malik.
Throughout the season, Lundqvist remained consistent despite playing far more games than he ever had before in a single season. One of his best performances as a rookie was a 38-save shutout against the Panthers in January. That game was the beginning of a stretch where he went 11-2-1 from January to February, which helped the Rangers end their playoff drought.
Lundqvist finished his rookie season with a 30-12-9 record, .922 save percentage and 2.24 goals-against average. The Blueshirts’ record in games he didn’t start was 14-14-3.
Though the Rangers were swept in the first round of the postseason in 2006 after Jagr suffered a shoulder injury, the Blueshirts made the playoffs in 11 of Lundqvist’s first 12 seasons. He also won at least 30 games in 11 of his first 12 seasons, with the one exception coming in a 48-game season in 2012-13. That season he led the NHL with 24 wins.
The Rangers went from a team that consistently missed the playoffs to a team that consistently made the playoffs following Lundqvist’s great rookie season. He played at an elite level year in and year out, and gave the Blueshirts an opportunity to win games.
The 2005-06 season was a turning point for the Rangers, as they found their franchise player in Lundqvist, and he proved that his rookie season was not a fluke. It was, in fact, the beginning of an incredible career.
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, rooting for the Rangers, Yankees, Giants, and Knicks. When my dream of playing shortstop for the Yankees fell short, I started writing about sports instead. I’m a proud graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.