One of the most physical and fast-paced sports around, Ice Hockey has produced some fierce competitors over its long history and we have chosen the five greatest players to have taken to the rink.
Before we get stuck into the top five, this was an incredibly difficult selection process due to the number of fantastic players to have graced the game and there are some notable absentees from the list.
Mark Messier, Sidney Crosby, Maurice Richard, Bobby Hull, Jean Beliveau and Mario Lemieux have all failed to make the cut, highlighting the plethora of players to have made their mark on Ice Hockey.
Everyone will, of course, have their own opinion on the five greatest players and whether you agree with this list or not, there is no denying the five individuals below deserve to be in the conversation.
5) Dominik Hasek
As is quite often in a number of sports, the attacking players tend to receive the plaudits and they more often than not dominate when it comes to winning the end-of-season awards.
Ice Hockey does follow this pattern to an extent and you only have to look at the all-time records to see this. However, goaltenders are immensely important and I couldn’t create a top-five list without putting a goalie in.
There have been several great goaltenders over the years but the name of Dominik Hasek sticks out to me and he occupies number five on my list. In his 16-season NHL career, the Czech played for the Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings and the Ottawa Senators, winning the Stanley Cup twice with the Red Wings.
Nicknamed ‘The Dominator’, he won six Vezina Trophies – the most under the award’s current system of voting for the best individual goalie – while he became the first goaltender to win the Hart Memorial Trophy multiple times when handed the award in 1998. Hasek also led the NHL in save percentage for six consecutive seasons (1993-1999).
4) Jaromir Jagr
Arguably the greatest European to play in the NHL, Czech star Jaromir Jagr enjoyed a 23-season stint in total, 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.
The right winger picked up two Stanley Cups during his career – both with Pittsburgh – while his total points haul of 1,921 is second to only Wayne Gretzky.
Jagr, who is also third in goals (766) and fifth in assists (1,155), won the Art Ross Trophy (League Scoring Champion) five times, the Hart Trophy and the Lester Pearson Award three times, while he is a seven-time NHL First All-Star Team member.
3) Bobby Orr
Bobby Orr’s impact in the NHL can’t be stressed enough, as he revolutionised the position of defenceman to become the first historic offensive defenceman.
The Canadian became the first defenceman to lead the league in points in the 1969-70 season, racking up an impressive 120, and he is the only player in his position to win the Art Ross Trophy, scooping the award on two occasions.
Orr, who holds the record for most points and assists in a single season by a defenceman, won a record eight straight Norris Trophies (NHL’s best defenceman) and three consecutive Hart Trophies.
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979 at 31 years of age, the youngest at that time, Orr played for the Boston Bruins and Chicago Black Hawks during his 12-season NHL career, landing the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972.
2) Gordie Howe
It doesn’t take long when delving into the history books to find the legendary Gordie Howe, nicknamed ‘Mr. Hockey’, who some may feel should be at number one.
Howe enjoyed an incredible 32 professional seasons, with 26 of those in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings and six in the World Hockey Association (WHA).
The Canadian, who passed away at the age of 88 in 2016, won four Stanley Cups, six league MVP awards and was top scorer on six occasions.
Playing his last game in 1980, Howe’s record of 801 goals, 1049 assists and 1850 total points were all NHL records that stood until Wayne Gretzky came along.
Howe, a 23-time NHL All-Star, still holds the NHL record for seasons played while his all-time games played record of 1,767 was only surpassed in 2021 by Patrick Marleau.
The Floral-born star is the only player to have played in the NHL across five decades, while he was the inaugural recipient of the NHL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
1) Wayne Gretzky
There could only be one player that heads my list and that is, of course, the sensational Wayne Gretzky, who holds a staggering 61 NHL records acquired during his 20-season career.
Having played for the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers, ‘The Great One’ won four Stanley Cup titles with the Oilers, landed the Hart Trophy nine times and was a 10-time winner of the Art Ross Trophy.
The Ontario-born star was also a two-time winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy (postseason MVP) and five-time winner of both the Lady Byng Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award.
Away from his haul of silverware, Gretzky is the all-time leader in goals (894), assists (1,963) and points (2,857), while his single-season records are as equally impressive. In one campaign, he hit 92 goals, 163 assists and 215 points.
The list of accomplishments goes on and on for Gretzky. I could write an article just based on his NHL career! He is truly the greatest Ice Hockey player of all time.