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Who are the best ice hockey players of all time?
Ice hockey has been filled with stellar players over the sport’s entire history. The NHL is the landmark league where you can identify the best players of all time. Let’s take a look at the best players to ever hit a puck.
When it comes to the sport of ice hockey, the NHL is the barometer of success. You can expect some big stars to pop up when the league is involved. You can watch any NHL game and see some stellar players who can be considered top-tier in any era.
Talented players are easy to gauge but the special stars are rare. In this list, you can learn more about the sport’s best players. This topic is one of the hottest debates of the modern era because the fans always look back at the players who influenced the current player base. Now, let’s dive into the NHL’s top stars.
Ice hockey is not as big as sports like football or basketball but it has a passionate fan base. While those sports have superstars of their own like Lionel Messi or Michael Jordan, a casual sports fan might not know the impact of Wayne Gretzky. They might know of the name because he was a massive star during his time playing in the NHL, most notably for the Edmonton Oilers.
Gretzky was the poster boy for ice hockey and with good reason. He was a superstar who had a big personality. Fans were drawn to watching him because not only did he play an exciting brand of hockey but he was also amazing. He was a breathtaking player who can be forced into impossible angles.
Hailed as ‘The Great One’, Gretzky has a long list of individual and team achievements in his career. He has a rich legacy as he held 61 individual NHL records. As of late 2021, Gretzky still holds the record for the most goals (894), assists (1,963), points (2,587), and hat tricks (50). In terms of points, the only player who comes close is Jaromir Jagr who only has 1,921. That tally means that Gretzky has more assists than anyone has total points in the NHL’s history.
The stats speak for themselves but Gretzky also has some solid accolades. He has numerous trophies including eight Hart Memorial Trophies or the NHL’s MVP award. Gretzky holds the record for most MVPs in any major North American sports league.
During his career, Gordie Howe was nicknamed ‘Mr Hockey’. That kind of nickname is not just given to anyone because he earned it during his stellar career. He is often considered one of the most complete players of all time. At the time of his retirement, Howe had 801 goals, 1,049 assists, and 1850 total points. They were NHL records at the time until they were broken by Gretzky years later.
Howe made his debut for the Detroit Red Wings where he spent the majority of his career. He had some stints with teams like the Houston Aeros, New England Whalers, and many more but his career was mostly defined by his success in Detroit.
Mr Hockey was not only considered a talented player but he was also known for his gritty style. He loved to get involved in scrappy fights but he still managed to help the Red Wings emerge victorious in four Stanley Cups.
Howe was also well known for his career longevity as he is the only NHL player to compete in five different decades. He even played a game back in 1997 in the Detroit Vipers of the IHL which meant he played professional ice hockey in six different decades. If it wasn’t for the names on this list, Howe would’ve been the unanimous choice but ice hockey has created some big stars during its history.
During his professional career, Mario Lemieux was a top goal-scorer. It was almost locked in that he would score goals in every match he played. Mario owns four of the highest single-season outputs in league history. Gretzky is the only player to have tallied 69+ goals on four separate occasions.
When he was playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Mario had six consecutive 100-point campaigns peaking at 199. Even if he was dealing with a battle with cancer during his career, Mario still had a legendary résumé as he still scored and assisted on countless goals throughout the years.
Mario could’ve been at the peak of ice hockey for a longer period but he was hampered by his ailments.
Hall of Fame forward Bryan Trottier believes that Mario would’ve been the best player of all time if he didn’t battle an illness. He said, ‘How many more points would he have had if he stayed reasonably healthy? Four hundred? Five hundred? Six hundred? We'll never know. No respect to Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Mark Messier, Bobby Orr, Gilbert Perreault but Mario did things nobody else could ever do’.
During his time with the Red Wings, Steve Yzerman managed to become the longest-serving captain in NHL history. He led Detroit to three Stanley Cups for a city that needed sports success with the Detroit Pistons’ title rosters fizzling out.
Steve was a well-rounded player who could play any role that involved scoring and/or defending. He did not have the same elite numbers as the other names on this list but he has a good argument when it comes to the overall impact on their teams.
These are just some of the names that can be considered for the best players in ice hockey history. You can look for other names which is the proof you need to know that the NHL has had elite athletes ever since the league’s inception.
Words: Cholo Martin