Top 15 Best Hockey Players of All Time

Mario Lemieux

While there have been many fantastic NHL players over the years, it’s no straightforward task to choose the best hockey players of all time. There are several aspects to consider when talking about the best. To make our list as accurate as possible, we have left our opinion at the door and want to select players based on skill and what they contributed to the sport.

Each hockey team has players dedicated to certain roles. While we can all appreciate the role of an enforcer, this list is not looking to celebrate the roughest players. If you want to see the greatest enforcers, check out our list of the best hockey fights of all time. The players we have included below were dangerous for another reason beyond violence. 

How did we create our selection? When a list like this comes up, we try to cast our net as wide as possible. That means looking back across the ages to find the best NHL players across each decade. Once we have a list of players spanning the entire history of hockey, we can delve into the stats and individual achievements of each player. If the player was a forward, we are looking at their offensive contributions, such as goals and assists. For goaltenders, we want to see shutouts and Vezina Trophies. Overall, we searched for players who achieved more in their careers than what many considered possible.

15. Alexander Ovechkin

Alexander Ovechkin is a Russian hockey player who has spent his entire NHL career with the Washington Capitals. He is one of two players on our list still in the NHL. Ovechkin was the first overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft. The Capitals knew they had signed an outstanding player as he scored 106 points in his first season. He made the NHL All-Rookie plus the NHL All-Star Team and won the Rookie of the Year Award in his debut season.

Few players have achieved a reputation as fierce as Ovechkin for being a prolific goalscorer. In 1,347 NHL games, he has 822 goals and 663 assists, totaling 1,485 points in his career. Stats like these often come with awards, and Ovechkin has enjoyed a well-decorated career. He has nine Maurice Richard Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Awards, and he made 12 All-Star appearances. He won his first and so far only Stanley Cup in 2018 after experiencing most of his career as the best player to never win the grand prize.

After facing another defeat to Sidney Crosby’s Penguins, in the 2017 playoffs, Ovechkin hit the ice early and hard to prepare for the next season. He delivered immediately with back-to-back hat tricks in his first two games. In that same season, he became the fourth player to reach 600 goals under 1,000 games. Few players took to the ice as quickly as he did in the NHL, and few ever will.

  • Position: Left Winger
  • Appearances: 1,274
  • Goals: 780
  • Points: 1,410
  • Stanley Cups: 1
  • Art Ross Trophy: 1
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 3

14. Jaromír Jágr

Jaromír Jágr is a Czech hockey player who has played in the NHL with several franchises. His NHL career began as the fifth overall pick in the 1990 Draft for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He started strongly with the Penguins, making the NHL All-Rookie Team in his debut season. From here, the Penguins won two consecutive Stanley Cups, but it wasn’t until the 94-95 season that his awards came in. Jágr was involved in seven consecutive All-Star teams, six in the first team and one in the second. During this streak, he won the Art Ross Trophy five times, four of them consecutively.

Jágr was unstoppable for the Penguins from when he first joined till when he left in 2001. He had three seasons with the Capitals, then three with the New York Rangers. After this, he bounced around a few more teams in the NHL, including the Flyers, Stars, Bruins, Devils, Panthers, and one final stint with the Flames. After 22 appearances for the Flames, Jágr returned to his homeland to play in Kladno. He began his career at Kladno and has played for them five times since 1988. He is currently playing for Kladno Knights, a team he helped gain promotion from the Czech second league.

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Players like Jágr are not common. He won two Stanley Cups, three Ted Lindsay Awards, five Art Ross Trophies, and made eight All-Star appearances. Not only did he tear it up in the NHL, but he went back home to play for teams close to his heart.

  • Position: Right Winger
  • Appearances: 1733
  • Goals: 766
  • Points: 1,921
  • Stanley Cups: 2
  • Art Ross Trophy: 5
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 1

13. Steve Yzerman

Many consider Steve Yzerman to be one of the best hockey players of all time. His career began as the 4th overall pick of the 1983 NHL Draft. He played 1,514 games in the NHL, all of which were for the Detroit Red Wings. Yzerman spent 22 years on the ice for the Red Wings and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. He had a brilliant hockey career as a player and is now the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings.

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Yzerman's career started incredibly well. He played in 80 games, scoring 87 points, and made it to the 1983-84 NHL All-Rookie Team. He had to wait five more seasons before he won his first award, the 88-89 Ted Lindsay. Yzerman led Detroit to their first Stanley Cup in over 40 years, a feat which he repeated a year later. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy, a Frank J. Selke Trophy, a Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, and one All-Star Team appearance before retiring in 2006.

Yzerman was the type of leader every captain should aim to be. He set the NHL record as the longest-serving captain of a single team at 1,303 games across 19 seasons. He was also incredibly humble when he overtook Mario Lemieux for total goals scored in the NHL. Yzerman said in an interview with ESPN:

I don't really know the significance. If anything, it shows how good Lemieux is; he played almost five years less than I did.

- Steve Yzerman

It does not matter if you were a fan of Detroit or not, you would love to have a player like Steve Yzerman leading your team. Plus, when you consider the number of goals he scored and the three Stanley Cups he helped lift, you can see why he makes our list.

  • Position: Center
  • Appearances: 1,514
  • Goals: 692
  • Points: 1,063
  • Stanley Cups: 3
  • Art Ross Trophy: 0
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 0

12. Doug Harvey


Doug Harvey was a defenceman who spent the best part of his career with the Montreal Canadiens. He was a part of the almost unstoppable Canadiens side which dominated the Stanley Cup in the late 50s. Harvey joined the team in 1947, but it wasn’t until 1950 that he could leave his mark on the NHL. In 1951 Harvey got his NHL All-Star appearance, his first of 11 in a row with only one for the second team.

Not only did Harvey win the Stanley Cup six times, but he is also a seven-time James Norris Memorial Trophy winner. Between 1954 and 1962, Harvey either won or came in the top five for the Best Defenceman of the Year award. In 1961, he moved to the New York Rangers. This was his last strong season, finishing the year with a James Norris Memorial Trophy and taking second place for the Hart Memorial Trophy. The Rangers turned their back on Harvey after two seasons, sending him to the affiliates team. In 1966 he signed for the Red Wings but only made two appearances in the NHL. He had one final NHL season with the St. Louis Blues at 44 years of age.

Harvey was a phenomenal defender during his time in the NHL. He played when it was not customary for the defense to contribute to the goal tally, which is why he only has 88 to his name. He does, however, have 452 assists, showing that he wasn’t just solid at the back. Doug Harvey will go down in NHL history as one of the best hockey players of all time.

  • Position: Defence
  • Appearances: 1,113
  • Goals: 88
  • Points: 540
  • Stanley Cups: 6
  • James Norris Trophies: 7
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 0

11. Terry Sawchuk


Terry Sawchuk is one of the greatest hockey players of all time. He was a goaltender for a variety of NHL teams, spending the most time with the Detroit Red Wings. Not only did Sawchuk win over the hearts of the Red Wings fans, having three separate stints with the team. But he also impressed hockey icons as they inducted him into the Hall of Fame forgoing the waiting period.

Sawchuk is one of the best NHL goaltenders of all time, with 103 shutouts. For those of you who don’t know, a shutout is when the goaltender stops a team from scoring for the entire game. Looking at the goaltenders with the most shutouts in NHL history, Sawchuk is second behind Martin Brodeur. Not to make excuses, but Brodeur has an additional 22 shutouts but with almost 300 extra games.

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If we look at what Sawchuk achieved in his career, very few goaltenders come close to the legendary Hall of Famer. He won the Stanley Cup four times, achieved four Vezina Trophies for being the best goaltender in the league, and made seven All-Star appearances. Most of his success came while he was a Red Wings player. The only award he won outside of the team was one final Vezina in his first year with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Sawchuk had a 21-year career in the NHL and few players have left as big a mark as the iconic goaltender.

  • Position: Goaltender
  • Appearances: 971
  • Wins: 445
  • Shutouts: 103
  • Stanley Cups: 4
  • Vezina Trophies: 4
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 0

10. Bobby Hull

Bobby Hull was a left winger who started his career with the Chicago Black Hawks. Hull then had stints with the Winnipeg Jets and the Hartford Whalers. During his time in the NHL, he built up a reputation for a powerful slapshot and incredible speed on the ice. The result was he scored over 50 goals in nine seasons across his legendary career. Hull scored 54 goals in 1966, setting the record for 97 points in a season in the NHL.

However, Hull was unsatisfied with his poor salary and the Hawks’ poor performance. He agreed on a huge money move into the now-defunct World Hockey Association (WHA), quickly becoming the highlight of the WHA hockey league. At the end of his career, Hull won three Art Ross Trophies, two Hart Memorial Trophies, and one Stanley Cup. Plus, he was the WHA’s most valuable player on two occasions and the NHL's leading goal scorer seven times. 

  • Position: Left Winger
  • Appearances: 1,063 NHL / 411 WHA
  • Goals: 610 NHL / 303 WHA
  • Points: 1,170 NHL / 638 WHA
  • Stanley Cups: 1
  • Art Ross Trophy: 3
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 2 NHL / 2 WHA

9. Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby is a center for the Pittsburgh Penguins and he is the only player in the top ten to still play in the NHL. Crosby began his professional career in 2005 as the first pick in the draft. He has played for the Penguins since making his debut and remains captain of the team to this day. In the 2005-06 season, Crosby scored 102 points, making him the youngest player to score 100 points in a season. In his second season, Crosby led the league with 120 points, becoming the youngest player to win the Art Ross Trophy.

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Throughout Crosby’s career, he has earned various achievements. They include two Art Ross Trophies, two Hart Memorial Trophies, and three Ted Lindsay Awards. He also won three Stanley Cups and two Maurice Richard Trophies, in addition to eight NHL All-Star Game appearances. Crosby has several records to his name, most of which celebrate the success he had in his early career. For more details about each of the records, check out his profile page.

  • Position: Center
  • Appearances: 1,190
  • Goals: 550
  • Points: 1,502
  • Stanley Cups: 3
  • Art Ross Trophy: 2
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 2

8. Guy Lafleur

Guy Lafleur was a right winger who began his career in 1971 with the Montreal Canadiens. Lafleur was the first pick in the 1971 NHL Draft and he stayed with the Canadiens until 1985. It was at this point in his career he asked to be traded because of a disagreement with head coach Jacques Lemaire. The general manager refused his request, so Lafleur hung up his skates and retired. He returned to the NHL in 1988, where he had a brief stint with the New York Rangers and Quebec Nordiques.

Lafleur had a fantastic career which includes five Stanley Cups. He won the Art Ross Trophy three times and was a two-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy. Lafleur won a Lester B. Pearson Award, one Conn Smythe Trophy, and was a First Team All-Star Right Winger on six occasions. Also, he was the first player to score 50 goals and 100 points in six consecutive seasons, securing his spot on our list of the best hockey players of all time.

  • Position: Right Wing
  • Appearances: 1,126
  • Goals: 560
  • Points: 1,353
  • Stanley Cups: 5
  • Art Ross Trophy: 3
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 2

7. Mark Messier

Mark Messier was a center who began his professional career in the WHA league with the Indianapolis Racers. He made five appearances for the Racers before moving to the Cincinnati Stingers. Messier had a brief stay with the Houston Apollos in the CHL, which opened the door to the NHL. His NHL career began with the Edmonton Oilers in 1979. Messier stayed with the Oilers for most of his career. In 1991 they traded him to the New York Rangers, where stayed until 1997. He moved again as a free agent to the Vancouver Canucks for three seasons before one more free agent move back to the Rangers before retiring.

During his four-decade career in the NHL, Messier achieved more than his fair share of records and Stanley Cups. He made 15 NHL All-Star Games and made it to the NHL All-Star First Team four times, twice as a left winger and twice as a center. Messier is the only NHL player to have captained two teams to Stanley Cup wins. He won six Stanley Cups, two Hart Memorial Trophies, and one Conn Smythe Trophy. Messier scored 1,877 points in his regular-season hockey career, placing him third on the all-time list.

Messier retired in 2004, ending a legendary 25-season-long career. Many of his peers idolized him and Wayne Gretzky led tributes to his former teammate. He said:

Mark has done so much for the game of hockey and taught so many of our young players. He was an exceptional leader who was unselfish, hardworking, and dedicated. He was the best player I ever played with and it was a pleasure to play with him each and every day.

- Wayne Gretzky
  • Position: Centre
  • Appearances: 1,756
  • Goals: 694
  • Points: 1,887
  • Stanley Cups: 6
  • Art Ross Trophy: 0
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 2

6. Jean Béliveau

Jean Béliveau was an ice hockey player who spent his entire professional career with the Montreal Canadiens. He signed a contract with the Canadiens in 1950, allowing him to play a couple of games in the NHL as an amateur. When he turned pro in 1953, he signed a professional deal and never looked back.

Béliveau had a sensational career, quickly establishing himself amongst the league’s top scorers. He was the second player in the NHL to score 1,000 points and the fourth player to score 500 goals. His time at the Canadiens was extraordinarily successful, including a monumental ten Stanley Cups. Béliveau won a further seven Stanley Cups as an executive of the team, the most by any individual. During his time as a player, he also won two Hart Memorial Trophies and one Art Ross Trophy.

  • Position: Centre
  • Appearances: 1,125
  • Goals: 507
  • Points: 1,219
  • Stanley Cups: 10
  • Art Ross Trophy: 1
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 2

5. Maurice Richard

Maurice Richard was another ice hockey player who spent his entire professional career with the Montreal Canadiens. He is undoubtedly one of the best hockey players of all time, as he was the first player to score 50 goals in a season. He scored 50 goals in 50 games in the 1944-45 season and was the first NHL player to reach 500 career goals. The league was thin on players at that time because of military service. However, Richard broke his ankle early in his hockey career. The injury would later prevent him from joining the Canadian military in WW2, as they deemed him unfit for combat.

Players like Maurice changed ice hockey forever, raising the bar and changing what many regarded as possible. Richard won eight Stanley Cups, including five in succession. It is well-known that Maurice Richard was a major driving force in getting more fans in the stands for ice hockey games. One of Richard’s rivals, Gordie Howe, spoke well of him after he announced his retirement in 1960. On September 16, 1960, Howe left a tribute in the Montreal Gazette. Howe said:

He sure was a drawing card. He brought in the crowds that helped pay our wages. Richard certainly has been one of the greatest players in the game and we will miss him.

- Gordie Howe
  • Position: Right Wing
  • Appearances: 978
  • Goals: 544
  • Points: 966
  • Stanley Cups: 8
  • Art Ross Trophy: 0
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 1

4. Bobby Orr

Bobby Orr was a defenceman for the Boston Bruins for ten seasons. He then spent two seasons with the Chicago Black Hawks before retiring in 1978. Orr revolutionized the defense role in ice hockey, using his scoring, speed, and playmaking ability to great effect. To this day, he remains the only defenceman to have won two Art Ross Trophies; the top scorer in the league.

Speaking of Orr’s records, he has the most points and assists in a season as a defenceman. He also won three consecutive Hart Trophies as the league’s MVP and eight successive Norris Trophies, another NHL record. While Orr only won two Stanley Cups, he scored the decisive goal, becoming the playoff MVP. Orr was one of the first players to use an agent to negotiate a contract. He was the first NHL player to sign a million-dollar deal.

Players like Orr are remembered fondly, even to this day. The influence he had on the sport was more than just entertaining fans when he was on the ice. He changed the way players handled contracts and revolutionized the role of a defenseman. Lots have played hockey with the same lethal strike as Orr, but few have left as much of an impact.

  • Position: Defence
  • Appearances: 657
  • Goals: 270
  • Points: 915
  • Stanley Cups: 2
  • Art Ross Trophy: 2
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 3

3. Mario Lemieux

Mario Lemieux was a center for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He spent his entire career with the Penguins across two stints, taking a break from 1997 to 2000 to focus on his health. They diagnosed Lemieux with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and missed the entire 94-95 season. He also had a torrid time with injuries, missing many games throughout his successful career. From a possible 1,430 regular season games, Lemieux only made 915 appearances.

However, the injuries did not make his career any less prolific, winning two successive Stanley Cups in the 90/91 season and 91/92. He won an incredible six Art Ross Trophies for being the league’s point leader. Also, Lemieux won three Hart Memorial Trophies, four Ted Lindsay Awards, and two Conn Smythe Trophies.

One of Lemieux’s most iconic moments came in 1988 when he scored five goals in five different ways to beat the New Jersey Devils 8-6. His goals included one from a power play, a shorthanded goal, an even-strength goal, a penalty, and an empty-net goal. While our words may not do his achievement justice, you can watch all the goals in the clip below.

  • Position: Centre
  • Appearances: 915
  • Goals: 690
  • Points: 1,723
  • Stanley Cups: 2
  • Art Ross Trophy: 6
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 3

2. Gordie Howe

Gordie Howe will go down in history as one of the best hockey players of all time. Howe began his famous career with the Detroit Red Wings, where he played on the right wing. He started with the Red Wings in 1946 and established himself as a dominant force in the NHL until 1971. Howe then made a famous switch to the Houston Aeros, a member of the newly founded rival league, the WHA. He stayed with the Aeros until 1977 and then moved to the New England Whalers for two seasons. He spent his final professional season with the Whalers, who changed their name to the Hartford Whalers for the NHL-WHA merge.

Amazingly, Howe played professional hockey for 26 seasons in the NHL and six in the WHA, totaling 2,186 games. He holds the NHL record for the most seasons played and has scored the second-most NHL goals of all time. Howe won six Art Ross Trophies, four of which were in consecutive seasons. He also won four Stanley Cups and was a six-time winner of the Hart Memorial Trophy. Howe made 23 NHL All-Star games across five decades.

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Some of Howe’s records remain to this day, including the most NHL regular season games with the same team. He has the most consecutive 20 or more goal seasons in the NHL and the most All-Star appearances. He holds several records if you combine both his stints in the NHL and WHA. If you want to read more about Gordie Howe’s many records, visit his Wikipedia page.

  • Position: Right-wing
  • Appearances: 1,767 NHL / 419 WHA
  • Goals: 801 NHL / 174 WHA
  • Points: 1,850 NHL / 508 WHA
  • Stanley Cups: 4
  • Art Ross Trophy: 6
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 6 NHL / 1 WHA

1. Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky is the best hockey player of all time. He had a long and successful career, starting in the WHA with the Indianapolis Racers in 1978. They traded him during the season to the Edmonton Oilers, who moved to the NHL when the WHA merged in 1979. He stayed with the Oilers until they controversially traded him to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. He remained with the Kings until the 95/96 season when they traded him to the St. Louis Blues. His stint with the Blues was brief before moving to the New York Rangers to see out his career.

Gretzky earned his place at the top of our list because of his incredible achievements. He holds the NHL records for most career total points, career goals, and regular season short-handed goals. He won ten Art Ross Trophies in his career, seven for the Oilers and three for the Kings. Gretzky also won the Ted Lindsay Award on five occasions and won the Hart Memorial Trophy nine times, seven of which were in succession. He also won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy five times across three franchises. After he announced his retirement in 1999, the Hockey Hall of Fame immediately inducted Gretzky and the NHL retired the jersey number 99 across the league.

If you would like to know more about Gretzky, you can read his Hockey Hall of Fame profile for more information. If you want to see some of his best bits, watch the clip below!

  • Position: Centre
  • Appearances: 1,487 NHL / 80 WHA
  • Goals: 894 NHL / 46 WHA
  • Points: 2,857 NHL / 110 WHA
  • Stanley Cups: 4
  • Art Ross Trophy: 10
  • MVP/Hart Memorial Trophy: 9

Best Hockey Players: Honorable Mentions

No list of the best players would be complete without paying our respects to the legends that helped make ice hockey the sport it is today. Although they did not feature, they are all incredible players in their own right and deserve recognition. Below, you will find a small list dedicated to the men who narrowly missed out on making it into the best hockey players of all time.

  • Martin Brodeur
  • Henri Richard
  • Yvan Cournoyer
  • Red Kelly
  • Joe Sakic

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