Legends don’t just play the game, they change it. Hockey is more than just a game of skill: it’s also the ultimate contest of both physical and mental endurance. There have been players who have changed the face of the game, and there have been players who have become the face of the game.
This list takes of the ten best players of all time takes into account players’ longevity, impact on the game as a whole, and overall statistics. Every player on this list has at least one achievement in common: they have all drank from Lord Stanley’s Mug at least once. Most have multiple Cups, but another thing they all have in common is that they changed the way the game is played.
The Ten Best Hockey Players of All Time
10. Alexander Ovechkin
Stanley Cups: 1
Individual Awards: 18
Games Played: 1152
The Great 8 has more points, more goals, more game-winning-goals, and has suffered less downtime than his closest competitor, Sidney Crosby. The 12-time All-Star and 9-time Rocket Richard Winner has proven year after year that consistency and durability can change the destiny of an entire franchise.
Ovechkin has been the face of the Washington Capitals since he arrived from Russia in 2005. His bruising style of play combined with his unmatched skill on the puck is what sets him apart from pure scorers or pure goons.
He had faced years of criticism, being called a “choker” and a “coach killer” but at the end of that 2018 Stanley Cup Final, he finally shut up his critics. One moment that will forever stick with fans was his screaming and yelling as the clock hit zero. The emotion and struggle pent up inside of him was something that we will always respect. Ovi wears his heart on his sleeve and this could not be less obvious than in his team’s first Cup win in 2018.
Ovi is currently 8th all-time in goals and hat tricks, as well as being 4th all-time with 110 game-winners. He is also the only active player on this list and could very easily jump up a few positions in the upcoming years.
9. Mike Bossy
Stanley Cups: 4
Individual Awards: 5
Games Played: 752
This New York Islanders legend might be the most underrated player in all of sports history. His complete and total dominance has only been surpassed by one other player in the history of the league, Wayne Gretzky. However, because of the era he played in and his relatively short career, he often gets forgotten in the annals of history.
During his 10 year career, Bossy scored a total of 573 goals in a total of 752 regular season games, holding the record for goals per game at 0.76, which has stood for over 30 years. The right-wing sniper led the dominant Islanders to four back-to-back Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983.
Two things ultimately worked against him: injuries, and of course Wayne Gretzky. His early retirement due to knee and back injuries would ultimately end his Hall of Fame career early but not before racking up nine consecutive 50 goal seasons, with five of those reaching a tally of 60 or more goals. Only two players reached 500 goals faster, Lemieux and Gretzky, both of whom will make an appearance further down the list.
He may not have been the most decorated player of all-time, or have had the most points of all-time, what he did do was score a record number of goals, very consistently for 10 NHL seasons.
8. Mark Messier
Stanley Cups: 6
Individual Awards: 5
Games Played: 1756
Defense wins championships. The hard-hitting boy from Edmonton, Alberta would lead his hometown team to 5 Stanley Cups, playing alongside the Great One. He would prove himself to be one of the most versatile two-way players of all-time leading with grit and creative ability all the while opening up scoring chances for his teammates.
The Moose was always able to distinguish himself from his teammates. His style of play meant that he was a threat to score or to knock unaware opponents into next week.
Messier is 2nd all-time in games played, and 3rd all-time in points, combined with his 15 All-Star game selections, he is easily in the top 10 best players in hockey history. We will likely never see another player with his longevity and consistency again.
7. Jaromir Jagr
Stanley Cups: 2
Individual Awards: 10
Games Played: 1733
Jaromir Jagr had one of the longest careers of any player in the modern era of the NHL, playing for a total of 24 seasons (with an additional 4 years in Europe) from his debut in 1990 to his final NHL game in 2018. He spent his career split amongst 9 different teams but he will be most remembered for his time spent as a Pittsburgh Penguin. Jagr along with Mario Lemieux led the Pens to two Cups in 1991 and 1992, and despite these being his only two cups it doesn’t minimize his impact as an all-time great.
As of his retirement at age 46, Jagr was 3rd all-time in total games played, behind only Gordie Howe and Mark Messier, and also 2nd all-time in points with 1921, only behind Wayne Gretzky. Jagr was the first non-North American player to reach true superstar status and was a pioneer for Eastern Europeans in the NHL.
6. Mario Lemieux
Stanley Cups: 2 as a Player, 3 as an Owner
Individual Awards: 17
Games Played: 915
Mario will always be remembered for his fight with cancer, the recovery, and his return to the NHL in 1993. On his return to the game after battling with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the opposing Philadelphia Flyers fans gave him a standing ovation. Mario was respected for his determination and perseverance but also because of his skill, and eventually how he would ultimately change the game.
On September 1, 1999, Super Mario would become the controlling shareholder and owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team he had played for his entire career. After the approval of the deal by US Bankruptcy Courts and the official partners of the team, Lemieux would become the first former player to be the owner of an NHL franchise, taking titles of President, CEO, and Chairman of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
This isn’t where his story ends though. On December 27, 2000, Mario would return from retirement to play again with the Penguins, becoming the first player-owner in NHL history.
He would go on to play in 5 more seasons retiring at the end of the 2005-06 season.
He would end his career as a player with two Stanley Cups, six Art Ross Trophies, 12 All-Star Appearances and would end up being 8th All-Time in total points.
As the owner of the Penguins, Lemieux would also win three more Cups, and potentially more to come in the future.
5. Patrick Roy
Stanley Cups: 4
Individual Awards: 11
Games Played: 1029
Cocky, egotistic, and aggressive: these three words have been used to describe the best goalie of all time. Champion and Leader have also been used to describe the same man. Without the perceived negative characteristics, Patrick Roy would not have been the heart and soul of the league in the mid to late 1990s. Notoriously quitting on his Montreal Canadiens team in the middle of the season in order to be traded. Roy is one of the more controversial players in modern NHL history.
However, his overall achievements and statistical dominance can make even the most diehard hockey purist accept his place as the greatest goalie of all-time. Roy is the all-time leader in Playoff wins, and Playoff winning percentage at 151 and 61% respectively. He also won 4 Stanley Cups along with 3 Conn Smythe Trophies.
He is commonly credited with popularizing the “butterfly” style of goalkeeping. This is one of the most impactful revolutions to the game of hockey since curved sticks and without this style change, hockey wouldn’t be the game we know and love today.
It could be argued that Martin Brodeur deserves this spot on the list, however in the one meaningful matchup between the two legendary netminders, the Canadiens-turned-Avalanche keeper won the Stanley Cup in 2001 against Brodeur’s Devils.
4. Bobby Orr
Stanley Cups: 2
Individual Awards: 17
Games Played: 657
The Boston Bruins № 4 takes his position at fourth on the list of the greatest hockey players of all-time. Bobby Orr led the Boston Bruins to two Stanley Cups and one of the most famous photos in the history of hockey. Orr led not only on defense but also as an offensive playmaker, ranking 3rd all-time for assists per game with 0.98 APG and 2nd all-time for career plus-minus at a staggering +582. He is undoubtedly the best defenseman in the history of the NHL.
He was known for his unbelievable speed and his skill on the puck. This was the first time that a team could structure their entire gameplan around letting a defenseman carry the puck and score. He had six seasons of 100 points in a row and led the league in scoring in two of those years. On top of his scoring feats, he would also win the Norris Trophy a record 8 consecutive times. № 4 not only punished opposing forwards for playing with their heads down, but he could also score and set up teammates.
Bobby Orr was a pioneer in the modernization of hockey. He was the first true two-way defenseman. Before he joined the NHL, the record for points in a season by a defenseman was 59, he shattered that record in 1970-71 with a total of 139 points. In that same season, he was the first player to win four individual awards in a single season, coming home with the Conn Smythe, Norris, Hart, and Art Ross Trophies.
3. Maurice Richard
Stanley Cups: 8
Individual Awards: 1
Games Played: 978
Not only was Maurice “Rocket” Richard the most prolific goal-scorer of his era, but he was also the most beloved Montreal Canadiens player, so much so that when he was suspended in 1955 for punching a linesman in Game 7 of the semi-finals, it caused the city of Montreal to burst into riots and flames over the perceived prejudice of the league.
Richard was the first player to ever score 50 goals in a season, and also the first player to score 500 career goals. During his 18 year career, The Rocket was a 14-time all-star, winning eight Stanley Cups including five back-to-back from 1956 to 1960. In 1999, the NHL revealed the newly named Rocket Richard Trophy which would be awarded to the league’s top goalscorer.
2. Gordie Howe
Stanley Cups: 6
Individual Awards: 13
Games Played: 1767
Gordie Howe played in the NHL in five different decades, with a career spanning 1946 to 1980. Think about that for a moment, he played professional hockey, one of the most physically and mentally demanding sports on the face of the planet for 26 consecutive seasons, oh and he was the most dominant winger of all-time, both as a skill player and also as a tough guy. He eventually retired from hockey at age 52!
The “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” is still mentioned today. It’s when a player scores a goal, gets an assist, and also receives a 5 minute major for fighting in a single game. When your nickname is “Mr. Hockey” it becomes easy to understand why Howe is still considered the most complete hockey player of all-time. He could score. He could set up goals. He was physical. He was also loved and respected by players, coaches, and fans from around the league.
Mr. Hockey is 4th all-time in NHL points with a staggering 1,850. He was also the first player to 1,000 goals, and still holds the records for most regular-season games played at 1,767 and most All-Star game appearances at 23.
Gordie Howe is hockey’s Babe Ruth, he changed how people watched and played hockey. He is possibly the most influential player in the history of the game. Unfortunately for him, his overall scoring achievements and dominance levels would be beaten by only one other player.
1. Wayne Gretzky
Stanley Cups: 4
Individual Awards: 32
Games Played: 1487
Wayne Gretzky, The Great One. Easily the best hockey player of all-time. He was the most dominant player for his entire career and led his teams to a total of four Stanley Cups. The Great One was the greatest scorer of all-time and it isn’t even close. He has more assists, 1,963, in his 21 seasons, than any other player has points. We can then add his 894 goals to that tally for the famous record of 2,857 total points. A record that will almost certainly never be broken.
What makes his scoring record even more insane is how clinical he was during his prime. Gretzky is the only player in NHL history to score over 200 points in a season, doing it four times, with a single-season record of 215. The next closest player, Mario Lemieux, topped out at 168 points. To put that into perspective, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning scored 128 points in the 2018-19 season and is the current active leader for points in a single season.
The Great One holds the records for goals, assists, points, short-handed goals, hat tricks, and total goals on ice-for. Gretzky was also an 18-time All-Star, 10-time Art Ross Winner, and 9 time Hart Trophy winner. It’s fair to say that these numbers will never be beaten and that he will forever be the greatest hockey player of all-time.
The Best of the Best
Honorable mentions that did not make the top 10 include Sidney Crosby, Denis Potvin, Niklas Lidstrom, Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, and Scott Stevens. Though they’re all undeniably great players, these ten stand above the rest for having dominated the competition, changed the game, and found their places in the Hockey Hall of Fame—with the exception of Ovechkin, but that story is sure to be written soon.