A lot has changed since Eddie Livingstone founded the National Hockey League in 1917. There were only four Canadian teams at the NHL’s inception, but the league later expanded to six teams; the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. Now, there are 32 teams in a league that has continued to grow in North America and beyond.
Joe Malone was one of the first players to burst into the scene, scoring 44 goals in 20 league games during the league’s first season. Since then, many other talents have graced hockey’s biggest stage, including current sensation Connor McDavid, who is leading the early NHL betting odds for the 2022/23 Hart Memorial Trophy.
As we prepare for the start of another promising NHL season, we decided to rank the top 10 greatest NHL players of all time:
Jaromír Jágr is still an active player for the Rytíři Kladno of the WSM Liga in Czechoslovakia. However, he already made his mark as a right-winger for different franchises in the National Hockey League.
Jágr was selected 5th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1990 NHL Draft and was an important piece in the Penguins’ 1991 and 1992 Stanley Cup winning squads. The Czechoslovakian has won the Art Ross Trophy, an award given to the NHL scoring champion, five times, the most by a non-Canadian player.
He received the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player in the 1999 regular season. The now 50-year-old is one of 25 players to belong to the Triple Gold Club; an elite group of players who have won the Stanley Cup, World Championship, and Olympic gold medal at least once.
Jágr was also the recipient of the Lester B. Pearson Award three times for his outstanding performances. He holds numerous NHL records, including the most game-winning goals (135), most career points (1921) and assists (1142) by a right-wing, and most consecutive 70-point seasons (15), just to name a few.
His NHL career spanned from 1991 to 2008 and 2011 to 2017. After spending 10 years with the Penguins, he featured as a member of the Washington Capitals (2001 to 2004), New York Rangers (2004 to 2008), Philadelphia Flyers (2011), Dallas Stars (2012), Boston Bruins (2013), New Jersey Devils (2013 to 2015), and Florida Panthers (2015 to 2017).
Patrick Roy is one of the greatest goaltenders to ever play in the NHL. He was drafted 51st overall by the Montreal Canadiens during the 1984 NHL Draft. Roy won two Stanley Cups with the Canadiens in 1986 and 1993 before being traded to the Colorado Avalanche in 1996.
In his debut season as an Avalanche, Roy led the franchise to their first Stanley Cup title since moving from Quebec, and another title in 2001. Roy retired in 2003 after eight years in Colorado and would later be appointed as the Avalanche’s coach in 2013.
The Canadian-born has won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoffs Most Valuable Player three times (1986, 1993, 2001), the most in NHL history. He also won the Jack Adams Award as a coach in 2014.
There are not so many players who could make a slapshot look so good, but Bobby Hull isn’t one of them. The former left-wing player was nicknamed the Golden Jet for his blond appearance and fast-speed slapshots.
Hull spent 15 years with the Chicago Black Hawks and led the team to a Stanley Cup win in 1961. He spent the final eight years of his professional career as a member of the Hartford Whalers and Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association.
The Golden Jet has several records to his name, including becoming the first player in the NHL to score more than 50 goals in a single season in 1966. He also led the league in scoring seven times, took home back-to-back Hart Memorial Trophies in 1965 and 1966, and has three Art Ross Trophies to his name (1960, 1962, and 1966). Hull made the NHL First All-star Team a remarkable 10 times and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.
Some players create huge sensations from the get-go and this was the story of Terry Sawchuk. After signing with the Detroit Red Wings in 1947, the Ukrainian-Canadian goaltender won the US and American Hockey Leagues Rookie of the Year awards in 1948 and 1949.
He led the Red Wings to three Stanley Cups in five years. In this span, he received three Vezina Trophies as the goaltender to allow the fewest goals. What’s more impressive is that Sawchuk was just one goal shy of winning five consecutive Vezina trophies in the two seasons he missed out.
After a successful stint in Detroit, the goaltender was traded to the Boston Bruins in 1955. He returned to the Red Wings for another seven seasons before signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs where he led the franchise to a Stanley Cup title, his fourth and final win.
Sawchuck signed with the Los Angeles Kings the same year before returning to the Red Wings for the final time. His final years as a professional hockey player were spent in New York before retiring in 1970.
His 21-year career achievements also include eleven All-Star appearances, including seven consecutive selections, seven NHL First All-Star Team, and a Calder Memorial Trophy in 1951. He was posthumously inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and won the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1971.
Sawchuk is widely regarded as the greatest goaltender of all time.
It’s alright if you place Guy Lafleur in your top five, but we have him sixth on our list. The Canadian former hockey player was selected first overall by the Montreal Canadiens during the 1971 NHL Draft.
Lafleur led the franchise to five Stanley Cups in six years, including four in a row from 1976 to 1979. He became the first player to score 50 goals in six consecutive seasons, and the first player to register 50 goals and 100 points in six consecutive seasons.
The Blonde Demon has won three Art Ross Trophies, two Hart Memorial Trophies, three Lester B. Pearson Awards, and a Conn Smythe Trophy. He is the all-time assist leader, with 728, and the Habs’ all-time leading scorer, with 1246.
Guy Lafleur passed on earlier in the year at the age of 70. His contributions to the game of hockey will never be forgotten. RIP.
Maurice Richard is generally regarded as the best winger to ever step foot on a hockey field. He spent all of his 18 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens.
In 1945, he became the first ever player to score 50 goals in a single season, averaging one goal per game. He is also the first player to reach 500 career goals, and retired as the all-time leading scorer, with 544 career goals.
Richard led the Canadiens to eight Stanley Cup titles, including a record five consecutive titles from 1956 to 1960. He is an eight-time First Team All-star and was named the recipient of the 1947 Hart Trophy Award. A Canadian sports icon, Richard was inducted into the country’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1975.
Le Magnifique was drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1984 and led the franchise to back-to-back championships in 1991 and 1992. The Penguins also won three championships while he was the franchise’s majority owner, making him the only individual with Stanley Cup titles as a player and owner.
Lemieux also led Canada to an Olympic gold medal in 2002 and a World Cup trophy in 2004. He is a three-time Hart Trophy Award winner and also received four Lester B. Pearson Awards during his time as a professional player. He holds numerous records, including most single-season power-play points (80), and is the player with the most points in a single NHL all-star game, with six. Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky are also the only players to score 10 or more short-handed goals in two different seasons.
The Canadian entrepreneur was inducted into the Canada Walk of Fame in 2004.
We may never see a player as complete as Gordie Howe and that’s okay. Howe finished his NHL career with an outstanding 801 goals, 1049 assists, and 1850 total points, which were records that stood for years. His contributions to the league earned him the nickname “Mr Hockey,” a registered trademark.
Howe spent his first 25 years as a Detroit Red Wing and is the only player to play in the NHL for five decades. The Red Wings were crowned Stanley Cup winners four times during his time. He has won numerous individual awards, including six Hart Memorial and six Art Ross Trophies. He has also made 23 All-star appearances (a record) as well as 12 NHL First Team All-star selections.
In 2008, Howe became the first man to receive an NHL Lifetime Achievement Award. He holds several NHL records, such as most regular season games played with a single franchise (1,687), and most NHL playoffs scoring leader (6), With 52 years, 11 days as an NHL player. Howe also remains the oldest player to play in the NHL (no other player has spent more than 48 years in the league).
Would there be another defenceman like Bobby Orr? Probably not. To this day, Orr remains the player with the most consecutive Norris Trophies (8), an award given to the NHL’s best defenceman. He is also the only defenceman to lead the league in scoring and win an Art Ross Trophy in the same season, which he did twice.
Orr was voted winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy three times in a row and holds the record for most single-season points and assists by a defenceman. He is also the only defenceman to win the Lester B Pearson Award, and the only player to receive the Norris Art Ross, Hart Memorial, and Conn Smythe Trophies in one season. His +124 plus-minus rating recorded in 1970–71 is the highest in a single NHL season.
In spite of the many achievements, Orr remains the biggest ‘what if’ in NHL history as he was forced to retire at 30 after repeated left knee injuries. He played 12 seasons in total, 10 with the Boston Bruins and two with the Chicago Black Hawks.
Orr became the youngest player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979, and at the age of 31.
You most likely weren’t expecting to see someone else top the list.
Wayne Gretzky isn’t nicknamed ‘the Great One’ for nothing. He is truly deserving of the top spot. He spent 10 years with the Edmonton Oilers, eight with the Los Angeles Kings, three with the New York Rangers, and was a St. Louis Blues player for one year.
No other player in NHL history has scored more career points (3,238) [2856 in the regular season and 382 in the playoffs], assists (1,962), and goals (894) than Gretzky.
Gretzky held 61 NHL records, including 40 regular season records, six all-star records, and 15 records in the postseason.
He is the only player to register 200 points in a single season, which he did four times (his highest tally is 215). He scored at least 100 points every season for 14 consecutive years, and 100 points in sixteen seasons.
Gretzky is also the player with the most career playoff goals (122), career playoff assists (260), and single-season playoff assists (31). He led the Oilers to four consecutive Stanley Cups.
His individual accolades include nine Hart Memorial Trophies, 10 Art Ross Trophies, five Lester B. Pearson Awards, and two Conn Smythe Trophies. He was the league leader in goals scored (five times) and assists provided (sixteen times)
He retired from professional hockey on April 18, 1999, and was immediately inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame that same year. Gretzky remains the latest NHL player to have his waiting period waived for induction.