Ranking the top 10 NHL players of all time
We rank the 10 greatest players in the history of the National Hockey League, including Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Jaromir Jagr and Sidney Crosby.
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10. Sidney Crosby
Crosby is the only active NHL player on this list, but few could dispute his inclusion.
Since being drafted No. 1 overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Crosby has gone on to win three Stanley Cups – in 2009, 2016 and 2017.
The first of those triumphs came when he was 21 years old, making him the youngest winning captain in Stanley Cup history.
On top of that, he has earned three Ted Lindsay Awards and two each of the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, Rocket Richard Trophy and Mark Messier Leadership Award throughout his career.
Although he is now approaching the end of his career, ‘Sid the Kid’ remains one of the league’s elite attackers, posting his sixth 100-point season in 2018-19.
9. Maurice Richard
At the end of every NHL season, the Rocket Richard Trophy is awarded to the league’s leading goalscorer.
The award is named after Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard, a legendary hockey figure who played 18 seasons in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens.
Known for his speed and physicality, Richard was an out-and-out goalscorer – he became the first player to score 50 goals in one season, the first to reach 500 goals overall, and led the league in goals five times throughout his career.
When he retired in 1960, Richard was the all-time leader in goals with 544. He had won eight Stanley Cups, and won the Hart Memorial Trophy for most valuable player in 1947.
He was such a legendary figure in Quebec that when he died in 2000 he was the first non-politician to be given a state funeral.
8. Jean Beliveau
‘Le Gros Bill’ played a part in 20 NHL seasons, winning the Stanley Cup in half of those, all with the Montreal Canadiens.
His haul of 10 Stanley Cups is the joint-second most in NHL history, and his seven subsequent wins as an executive puts him top of the pile as an individual.
Beliveau was one of the NHL’s elite scorers during his career, becoming the fourth player to reach 500 goals and just the second to register 1,000 points.
He won the Hart Memorial twice, the Art Ross once and was named the inaugural winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1965.
7. Mark Messier
Another player with a post-season award named after him, Messier played an incredible 25 seasons for the Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.
At the time of his retirement in 2004, Messier was the last active player to have been a professional in the 1970s.
Over the course of those 25 seasons, Messier won six Stanley Cups – five with Edmonton and one with New York – and is the only player to captain two teams to hockey’s ultimate prize.
Messier was most known for his leadership on the ice, hence the Mark Messier Leadership Award, and helped the Rangers end a 54-year championship drought in 1994.
A two-time league MVP, Messier was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2007.
6. Jaromir Jagr
Jagr is far and away the greatest European to ever play in the NHL, and will go down as one of the greatest to ever play the sport.
The Czech wing played 23 seasons in the league, turning out for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers and Calgary Flames.
When he was drafted at No. 5 overall in 1990, Jagr was the youngest player in the NHL, and when he transferred back home in 2018 he was the oldest player in the league.
He won just two Stanley Cups – both with Pittsburgh – but ended his career second in total points, behind only Wayne Gretzky.
5. Bobby Hull
Hull’s immense speed on the ice and wicked slap shot earned him the nickname ‘The Golden Jet’ as he terrorised defences throughout his 23 seasons in the NHL.
Hull led the league in goals seven times – the second most in history – and won the Art Ross for leading scorer on three occasions.
He won just a single Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961, but was named Hart Memorial winner for league MVP twice.
He ended his career with 610 goals and 560 assists, and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1983.
4. Mario Lemieux
One of Jagr’s teammates with the Penguins for their Stanley Cup wins in 1991 and 1992, Lemieux was one of the most talented players the NHL has ever seen.
Unlike Jagr, though, the Canadian struggled for longevity – he was beset by health issues throughout his career, and was limited to 915 of a possible 1,430 regular season games throughout his career.
Despite his health struggles, Lemieux won the Lester B. Pearson Award four times, the Hart Memorial three times, the Art Ross six times and the Conn Smythe twice.
Known as ‘Le Magnifique’, he ended his career as the seventh-highest point scorer in NHL history and still ranks second in goals-per-game with an average of 0.754.
There can be no doubt that Lemieux’s on-ice achievements could have been far greater, but the fact he is still seen as one of the greatest ever speaks to his unbelievable talent.
3. Bobby Orr
Orr is the greatest defenceman in the history of the NHL.
His speed and attacking abilities from the back revolutionised the position – he remains the only defenceman to win the Art Ross Trophy for the league’s leading scorer, a feat he achieved twice.
He also holds the record for most points and assists in a single season by a player in that position, and was the first player ever to record 100 assists in one campaign.
Orr was the league’s MVP on three consecutive occasions, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the age of just 31 – the youngest at the time.
He helped the Boston Bruins end their 39-year Stanley Cup drought in 1970, winning another with them in 1972.
2. Gordie Howe
The fact that Howe is known as ‘Mr. Hockey’ tells you all you need to know.
The Canadian legend is considered to be the most complete player to ever grace the NHL, and was seen as the greatest ever before a certain someone came along.
Howe played 26 seasons in the NHL, 25 of which were with the Detroit Red Wings, and ended his career as all-time leader in goals (801), assists (1,049) and points (1,850), while his records for games (1,767) still stands.
He led the league in points for six seasons – the second most in history – and ranked in the top 10 for 21 consecutive years.
He won four Stanley Cups with Detroit, and was named league MVP on six occasions – also the second most ever.
His return to play one season for the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80 made him the only player to compete in the NHL across five decades, and was the inaugural recipient of the NHL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
1. Wayne Gretzky
It was, of course, Gretzky who broke all of Howe’s records.
‘The Great One’ is the greatest player to ever grace the NHL – he is the leading point scorer, goal scorer and assist maker in league history.
Gretzky is the only player to have scored more than 200 points in a season – something he managed four times – while he reached the 100 mark in 16 seasons, 14 of which were consecutive.
When he retired, he held an incredible 61 records in the NHL.
Over his 20 seasons in the league with the Edmonton Oilers, LA Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers, Gretzky won four Stanley Cups, nine Hart Memorial Trophies, and a number of other awards.
He was inducted into the Hall of Fame immediately after his retirement, and has been named many times as one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century.
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