The National Hockey League (NHL) has been graced by countless athletes whose talent, skill, and sheer tenacity have helped redefine the sport of hockey. We have witnessed magical moments on ice, from record-shattering goals to breathtaking saves, all contributing to the rich tapestry that makes up the NHL’s century-long history. With countless hours spent researching and considering various factors like statistics, impact, longevity, and titles, we have compiled the definitive list of the top 20 NHL players of all time.
- Wayne Gretzky The “Great One” tops our list, holding nearly every scoring record in the NHL. His 2,857 career points remain untouched. A four-time Stanley Cup winner with the Edmonton Oilers, Gretzky was the embodiment of hockey greatness.
- Mario Lemieux Despite facing severe health issues, Lemieux showcased tremendous skill and resilience. His points-per-game average is second only to Gretzky’s, and his impact on the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise is immeasurable.
- Gordie Howe A symbol of longevity in the NHL, Howe’s career spanned five decades. A 23-time All-Star and four-time Stanley Cup champion, “Mr. Hockey” was a force on the ice.
- Bobby Orr Arguably the greatest defenseman in NHL history, Orr revolutionized the position with his scoring ability. He remains the only defenseman to win the league scoring title, which he did twice.
- Maurice Richard The “Rocket” was the first player to score 50 goals in a single season and the first to reach 500 career goals. Richard’s goal-scoring prowess and fiery play style were pivotal in the Montreal Canadiens’ success.
- Jean Beliveau One of hockey’s classiest players, Beliveau won the Stanley Cup 10 times as a player. His leadership and skill were integral to the Canadiens’ dynasty in the 1950s and ’60s.
- Sidney Crosby One of the most complete players in NHL history, Crosby’s exceptional playmaking ability and scoring touch have earned him numerous awards and three Stanley Cup championships.
- Bobby Hull The “Golden Jet” was one of the most exciting players to watch in the NHL. Hull’s blistering slapshot and speed made him a key figure in popularizing the sport.
- Doug Harvey Harvey redefined the role of the defenseman in the NHL. His puck-moving ability and outstanding defensive play helped him win seven Norris Trophies.
- Guy Lafleur The cornerstone of the Canadiens’ late 1970s dynasty, Lafleur’s playmaking ability and clutch scoring earned him two MVP awards and five Stanley Cups.
- Mark Messier A born leader, Messier is the only player to captain two different teams to Stanley Cup victories. His toughness and skill made him a dominant forward in the league.
- Patrick Roy Arguably the greatest goalie in NHL history, Roy’s innovative butterfly style and clutch goaltending won him four Stanley Cups and three Conn Smythe Trophies.
- Ray Bourque One of the best two-way defensemen ever, Bourque’s 21 All-Star selections and five Norris Trophies attest to his exceptional career.
- Steve Yzerman Known for his leadership and offensive skill, Yzerman spent his entire 22-season career with the Detroit Red Wings, leading them to three Stanley Cup championships.
- Nicklas Lidstrom A model of consistency and skill, Lidstrom was the backbone of the Red Wings’ defense for two decades, earning seven Norris Trophies in the process.
- Martin Brodeur The all-time leader in goalie wins and shutouts, Brodeur’s remarkable career included three Stanley Cups and four Vezina Trophies.
- Eddie Shore One of the NHL’s earliest stars, Shore won the Hart Trophy four times, a record for defensemen that still stands today.
- Phil Esposito Esposito was a dominant scorer in his era, leading the league in goals for six consecutive seasons and winning two Hart Trophies.
- Howie Morenz Known as the “Stratford Streak”, Morenz was one of the NHL’s first superstars. His speed and skill set the standard for future generations.
- Jaromir Jagr Playing well into his 40s, Jagr’s longevity, combined with his scoring ability and skill, make him one of the greatest players in NHL history.
From frozen ponds to the glistening ice of NHL rinks, these 20 players have dazzled us with their skill, grit, and love for the game. They have inspired generations of young players and set the gold standard for what it means to be great in the NHL. As the NHL continues to evolve, we look forward to the emerging talents that may one day earn their place among these legends of the ice.
A list of the top 20 NHL players will inevitably leave out some deserving names. Mike Bossy, with his pure goal-scoring ability, and Stan Mikita, with his well-rounded skill set, are notable omissions. Bossy’s career, albeit shortened by injury, was filled with exceptional scoring feats, including nine straight 50-goal seasons. Mikita, on the other hand, was a master playmaker who won the Hart Trophy twice.
Potential Future Additions
The NHL today is blessed with a wealth of talent that may well make their way onto this list in the future. Connor McDavid and Alex Ovechkin stand out as two such players. McDavid’s speed and skill have taken the NHL by storm, and he has already won multiple Hart Trophies at a young age. Ovechkin, a prolific goal scorer, continues to climb the all-time goals list and could very well finish his career near the top.
With the constantly evolving talent in the NHL, this list is fluid, and future stars may etch their names alongside these hockey greats. The onus is on the next generation to continue pushing the boundaries of this great sport. The future of the NHL is in excellent hands, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store.