By: Andrew Lindroth | Follow me on Twitter! @andrewlindrothh
Rick Middleton was born on December 4th, 1953, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He began playing juniors as an 18-year-forward for the Oshawa Generals (OHA-Jr.) from 1971-1973, putting up phenomenal numbers in each of the two seasons but is most notable for his performance in the 1972-1973 season. In just 62 games that season, Middleton dominated the OHA-Jr. League as he scored an astounding 67 goals and 137 points, leading him to win the Red Tilson Trophy for the league’s ‘Most Outstanding Player.’
After graduating from juniors, Middleton was selected as the 14th overall pick by the New York Rangers in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft. His professional hockey career began in the American Hockey League with the Providence Reds in 1973. The 20-year-old forward suited up for 63 games that season, notching 36 goals and 84 points. That year he earned the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award for ‘Rookie of the Year’ and was named the AHL’s First All-Star Team. After an impressive stint in the AHL, he was called up to the New York Rangers the following season for his first piece of action in the National Hockey League.
Middleton kick-started his NHL career as a Ranger in 1974, and was considered one of the best rookies in the league that year, contributing 22-18-40 numbers, and was limited to playing only 47 games due to injuries. The following season, Middleton maintained staying healthy, suiting up for 77 games but failed to rekindle his rookie season offensive success and exhibited defensive defencies, recording just 50 points with a minus-39 rating.
Following his sophomore season, the Rangers decided to cash-in on the 22-year-old winger and traded him to the Boston Bruins in exchange for aging-veteran Ken Hodge on May 26th, 1976. Middleton scored a hat-trick his first game as a Bruin, and Ken Hodge would go on to play only one more season before retiring. The 5’11, 170-pound forward began to slowly set the world on fire his first year as a Bruin, eclipsing 20 goals and 42 points in 72 games (he scored all 20 goals at even-strength). After that season, Middleton began his legendary reign in Boston and became a legitimate star-forward in the NHL.
Mid-1970s: Rick Middleton with @NYRangers – Cat Francis drafted him 1st round, 14th overall in 1973 – before his trade for Ken Hodge took him to @NHLBruins for 12 seasons. Bruins will retire Middleton's No. 16 on Nov. 29 pic.twitter.com/cyIBsx99ym— Dave Stubbs (@Dave_Stubbs) July 31, 2018
In 1977-1978, Middleton had a career-high year across the board, notching 25 goals and 66 points with an astonishing plus-41 rating in 79 games. The Bruins were a force to be reckoned with that year and battled their way to the Stanley Cup Final but were defeated by the Montreal Canadiens. He appeared in 15 post-season games, contributing five goals and seven points while maintaining an impressive 18.5% shot percentage. At that point, the talented right-winger began to be known as Rick “Nifty” Middleton, whose play embodied his nickname.
Middleton exploded the next season offensively and indicated to the whole league that he was one of the top ‘pure goal-scorers’ in the NHL. The forward found the back of the net 38 times while dishing out 48 assists with a plus-32 rating in 71 games. He was also on the penalty sheet just twice that season, being assessed a minor penalty and a fighting major, combining for a total of only seven PIM. To top off yet another career-high year, the forward also finished fourth in the league in shooting percentage with a whopping 25.0%.
The next two seasons, from 1979-1981, Middleton dominated the league and continued to set career-high offensive numbers each season. He joined the 40-goal club, scoring 40 goals in 1979-1980 and 44 goals in 1980-1981, and also joined the 100-point club when recording 103 points in 1980-1981. The winger also became dangerous on the power-play unit for the Bruins, combining for 25 power-play goals and 71 points through 1979-1981.
The 1981-1982 season will go down as one of the most impactful seasons for Middleton. The 28-year-old finished seventh among the league in scoring, racking up 51 goals (31 scored at even-strength) and placed first among all NHL players in shooting percentage with an astounding 25.2%. In 1982, he earned the honor of being named to the NHL All-Star Team after falling short the previous year. He also went on to win the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy for “player who exemplified the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct to the game combined with a high standard of playing.”
Throughout the next three campaigns from 1982-1985, Middleton suited up for all 80 games in each regular season. In the 1982-1983 season, he led the Bruins to the league’s best regular-season record. During the 1983 playoffs, he had a mind-blowing performance throughout the 17 games he played and managed nearly two points-per-game, finishing with 33 points a +13 rating. He set unbroken records that year for the most points scored in the playoffs by a player not advancing to the finals and for the most points and assists in a single playoff series with 19 points and 14 assists in the Eastern Quarter-Final against the Buffalo Sabres.
“Nifty” earned his nickname once again the following season when he achieved yet another career-high of 105 points (47G-58A), notching his second 100-point campaign. This also tied Ken Hodge’s record for most points scored in a single season by a right-winger, and this record still remains unbroken. In 1984-1985 though, his immaculate scoring production began to decline, barely breaking the 30 goal mark but still managed to contribute 76 points.
Starting in 1985, Middleton began struggling to stay healthy as injuries started to sideline the 32-year-old star winger as he only appeared in 49 games that season. Fast forward to 1986 and this time he hardly misses a beat, suiting up for 76 games and potting 31 goals and 68 points. Unfortunately for 34-year-old Middleton, he would play his final season in the NHL from 1987-1988 due to a lingering injury sustained in 1986. Middleton officially retired from the NHL in 1988.
Throughout his 14-year tenure in the NHL, Middleton appeared in a grand total of 1,005 games with 881 of those games as a Boston Bruin. He finished his career with 448-540-988 numbers, a plus-175 rating, and only 157 PIM. On November 29th, 2018, the Boston Bruins retired Middleton’s #16 and hung his number up in the rafters at TD Garden.
Now, Rick Middleton currently serves as the President of Boston Bruins Alumni and a partner in Orlanda Energy Systems. Happy 67th Birthday, Rick Middleton!