NHL
Updated November 22, 2023
BY Calvin McAlee
Reviewed By Stuart Stalter

20 Best NHL Hockey Players Ever, Ranked

A list of the greatest players of any sport is always sure to be controversial. While some NHL players are a given as a top-ten player ever, there are always at least a couple of players who someone disagrees with. But that's the fun of it, isn't it?

And when you're betting on today's top stars, be sure to use our NHL predictions.

Who are the best hockey players of all time?

A plethora of deciding factors determine a hockey player’s greatness. The recipe for a successful legacy calls for more than goals, assists, and wins. While stats are of course a huge indicator, there are other things that you can’t put on a stat sheet when it comes to talent and impacting the game on the ice. 

Out of respect to those who finished their career in the grasp of greatness, no current player joins the top 10 best hockey players of all time.

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3 Best NHL Player Eve

1. Wayne Gretzky

  1. Career Seasons: Played 20 seasons for 4 teams, including the Oilers and Kings.
  2. Goals: Scored 894 goals in his career.
  3. Assists: Made 1,963 assists.
  4. Plus-Minus: +520 in 1,487 games.
  5. Trophies: Won 9 Hart Trophies and 5 Lady Byng Trophies.

2. Gordie Howe

  1. Career Seasons: Played 26 seasons for the Red Wings and Whalers.
  2. Goals: Scored 801 goals.
  3. Assists: Made 1,049 assists in 1,767 games played.
  4. Points: At the time of his retirement, he had an NHL career record of 1,850 points.
  5. Trophies: Won 6 Hart Trophies and 4 Stanley Cups.

3. Bobby Orr

  1. Career Seasons: Played 12 seasons for the Bruins and Black Hawks from 1966 to 1978.
  2. Goals: Scored 270 goals.
  3. Assists: Made 645 assists in 657 games.
  4. Plus-Minus: +582.
  5. Trophies: Won 3 Hart Trophies, 8 Norris Trophies, the Calder Trophy, 2 Conn Smythe Trophies, and 2 Stanley Cups.

20 Best Hockey Players of All Time, Ranked

20. Marcel Dionne

Marcel “Little Beaver” Dionne chewed through goaltenders. He built a ‘dam’ fine career that places 6th in career points and goals scored. Nobody notched more seasons with over 100 points except Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. Failing to win the Stanley Cup traps “Little Beaver” at the bottom of this greatest hockey players of all time list.

19. Martin Brodeur

Martin Brodeur concluded his record-setting run with almost 700 wins — 140 more than runner-up Patrick Roy. He topped career shutouts and played in over 200 more games than any other goaltender as well. He added 3 amazing goals scored and 3 Stanley Cup trophies for the New Jersey Devils.

18. Patrick Roy

Goaltender greatness is tricky to evaluate relative to other positions. There’s nothing debatable about Patrick Roy’s all-time credentials. He is the NHL’s only 3-time winner of the Conne Smythe Trophy. He held 4 Stanley Cups and won the most playoff games of any goalie. A trio of Vezina Trophies given to the best regular season goalie caps his regular season success with a save rate of over 91 percent in a 19-year career.

17. Eddie Shore

Eddie Shore landed on the shores of unparalleled prosperity through his pre-World War II NHL journey. His 4 Hart Trophies gained in the 1930s remain a defenseman record. He guided the Boston Bruins to Stanley Cup victories in 1929 and 1939.

 16. Doug Harvey

Doug Harvey innovated two-way defenseman play. Valuable versatility snagged the Hart Trophy 7 times, tied for second all-time. Only Mark Messier played in more Stanley Cups. Game evolution dictates higher consideration for modern players, but respect Harvey as a prolific pioneer.

15. Joe Sakic

Only six players have been elected an NHL All-Star more times than Joe Sakic. Leading in all-time overtime playoff goals scored shows Sakic rose above stars when games mattered the most. Clutch play spearheaded two teams that won the Stanley Cup and Canada’s first ice hockey gold medal win in 50 years.

14. Mike Bossy

Mike Bossy validated his last name as the leader of the 1980s New York Islanders dynasty that won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 through 1983. He also leads in career goals per game at 0.762. Only Gretzky and Lemieux best his career points per game mark. Scoring 50 goals in nine consecutive seasons helps. Lacking individual hardware for these efforts hampers his list ascension.

13. Nicklas Lidstrom

Defense wins championships. Dominant defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom won four Stanley Cups and never missed the playoffs in his 20-year career— an accomplishment nobody else matches. Only Bobby Orr captured more James Norris Memorial Trophies.

12. Alex Ovechkin 

The chief of the Washington Commanders conquers goals at a rate that’d make any Commander in Chief in Washington D.C. jealous. “Ovi” ranks second all-time behind Wayne Gretzky in goals scored with 812. Being the only hockey player in the top 10 to play his entire career against 21st-century competition magnifies that achievement. 

Scoring is the name of the game and Ovechkin has won the Rocket Richard Trophy a record 9 times en route to a trio of Hart Trophies. Individual greatness translated to team success, earning a Stanley Cup, Conn Smythe Trophy MVP, and a rightful place among the very best hockey players ever.

11. Sidney Crosby

Phenomenal Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby navigates the ice with effortless excellence any real penguin could appreciate.He has marched the Penguins to 3 Stanley Cups and waddled his way through playoff competition en route to 2 Conn Smythe Trophy MVPs. Crosby is the third player in NHL history to win playoff MVP in consecutive seasons. Plenty of gas remains in his terrific tank at age 35.

10. Jaromir Jagr

Jaromir Jagr is 48 years old and is still playing hockey back in his hometown in Czechia. Jagr is the Iron Man of hockey and perhaps the most physically gifted player in league history.

Jagr is 2nd in NHL career regular-season points and 5th in career playoff points. Being very good for a very long time makes Jagr very popular in the record books. One of the best all-around players to ever play, this workhorse is still tearing it up back in his home country at nearly 50 years old.

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9. Guy Lafleur

Lafleur scored 50-plus goals and 100-plus points in six consecutive seasons, making him the first NHL player to do so back in the 1970s. He also was a member of the Montreal Canadiens team that won four consecutive Stanley Cup titles. 

Lafleur has all of the hardware to solidify his spot on this list. He's won five Stanley Cup Championships, two Hart Trophies, and even a Conn Smythe.

8. Bobby Hull

“The Golden Jet” zoomed past his ‘50s and ‘60s competition. Goalies were no match for Hull’s rumored top skating speed of nearly 30 mph and a slapshot that reached above 115 mph.

Hull had 50-plus goals in five NHL seasons and ended with 610 career scores. Although his son had 741 career goals, Father did best at revolutionizing hockey. Hull also won a couple of Hart Trophies to go along with his 12 All-Star appearances.

7. Maurice Richard

Like Bobby Hull, Maurice “The Rocket” Richard was years ahead of the game. At the time of his retirement, Richard held 17 NHL records. He was the first player to score 50 goals in a season and his name is on the trophy given to the league’s top scorer each season.

Richard made 14 All-Star appearances and won eight championships in his 18 seasons. At the time of his retirement, Richard's 544 goals were a record.

6. Mark Messier

Messier places third in points (1,887) and second all-time in playoff points (295). Like Tom Brady, Messier racked up title wins with 6 and Messier managed to play a ridiculously long 26-year career at a high level. 

Messier has multiple MVP awards and is known in New York as a legend for helping bring the Rangers their first title in more than 50 years.

5. Jean Béliveau

Consider Béliveau the NHL version of Bill Russell. Béliveau won a Stanley Cup title in half of the seasons he played in his career, winning 10 in total. He also surpassed 1,200 career points and won himself two Hart Trophies. 

Add in a Conn Smythe Trophy and 13 All-Star appearances and Béliveau is without a doubt one of the best to ever step on the ice.

4. Mario Lemieux

Like his teammate Jagr, Lemieux was as physically gifted as they come. Not only that, but he was also one of the best goal scorers the league has ever witnessed. He and Wayne Gretzky are the only two players to score 69 goals four separate times.

Lemieux also holds the fifth-highest point total in a single season at 199. The supreme talent owns four of the 13-highest single-season points totals.  Gretzky monopolizes the other nine.

Lemieux ended his career with 1,723 points, three Hart Trophies, two Stanley Cups, and nine All-Star appearances. Still, Lemieux remains one of the biggest “what-ifs” in sports history. Cancer limited his pantheonic potential.

3. Bobby Orr

Much like Ken Griffey Jr in baseball, Bobby Orr was plagued by injuries and could have had an even better career with better luck.

Regardless, Orr scored 120 points and win the league scoring championship as a defenseman in the ‘69-’70 season. He surpassed 100 career points 6 times in his career. Orr also took home eight consecutive Norris Trophies as the league’s top defenseman. Playing just 10 seasons, Orr finished with 888 points in just 631 career games.

2. Gordie Howe

“Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe was Gretzky before “The Great One” came around. Howe scored 20-plus goals for 23 consecutive seasons, even scoring 15 goals when he was 52 years old. You read that right, 52 years old! 

Age isn’t the only impressive number. Howe became the first player to score 800 career goals. Howe ended with 801 career goals in 26 NHL seasons and 174 other goals in six WHA seasons. 

Howe has six MVP awards, six scoring titles, and four Stanley Cup championships. Until Patrick Marleau surpassed him in April 2021, Howe held the record for most games played in the history of the league, with 1,767.

1.   Wayne Gretzky

Being nicknamed “The Great One” signifies being the greatest. Wayne Gretzky epitomizes excellence. He has more career assists than any other player in NHL history and has total points. That feat arguably stands above all as the most dominating stat across the “Big Four” of sports. Gretzky ended his career with 1,963 assists and 894 goals.

“The Great One” managed to win four Stanley Cup Titles, 10 Art Ross Trophies, nine Hart Trophies, and made 18 All-Star games. Gretzky skates circles around the greatest hockey players of all time.

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FAQ

Who is the best NHL hockey player ever?

Hands and hockey pucks down Wayne Gretzky. Take away his record-setting 894 goals and he would still own the NHL points record.

Who is the most successful player in 2023?

Connor McDavid is virtually guaranteed to win his third Hart Trophy at age 26 while leading the NHL in scoring 4 times.

Who has won the most Stanley Cups?

Henri Richard won 11 with the Montreal Canadiens.

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Comments (3)
@coughco
1/25 6:08 PM
0
Orr should be #1. Hands down.
@raidermatt
5/4 1:38 AM
0
Marleau has passed Howe with most games played
@byronleemarley
8/9 8:33 AM
0
This is a hockey list. Ovechkin plays for the Washington Capitals, not the Commanders.
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