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We are running Jira Core 8.5.1 LTS along with Service Desk. We would like to upgrade to 8.5.17. Can we merely install the most recent minor release, or do we have to install all of them sequentially?
Single upgrade, no need to step through anything.
There are some releases you really do need to go through when upgrading, and there are some limits on how far ahead you can jump in one go, but these are never the "point" releases, and often not the middle number either.
Given Jira x.y.z, where z ranges from 0 to say 87, upgrading from x.y.0 straight to x.y.87 is always supported, recommended and (almost always) painless.