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40 best hockey players of all-time

In the long, storied history of the NHL, some exceptional players make spectators and analysts alike stop and stare, admiring the sheer skill these game-changing players bring to the sport.

In over 100 years of hockey, few have joined the club of elite athletes, with legacies that span far longer than their careers. The best hockey players come from an array of teams, countries and eras, but are still widely regarded as game changers.

Check out our list of best hockey players to ever play the game here.

Related: NHL games today – 2022 NHL offseason calendar, NHL Draft, free agency

Best goalies to ever play

The 40 best hockey players of all-time
In this April 14, 2010 file photo, Devils goalie Martin Brodeur looks up to the crowd during Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in Game 1 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers. Credit: Tyson Trish/The Record
  • Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils)

The winningest goalie in NHL history, Brodeur spent almost his entire career with the New Jersey Devils, bringing them to the Stanley Cup finals in 1995, 2000 and 2003. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner also has an array of other trophies on his mantle, include five William M. Jennings Trophies and a Calder Trophy.

In 1,266 NHL games, Brodeur has 691 wins, a .912 save percentage, and a 2.24 goals against average. Needless to say, stats like these make him one of the best hockey players of all time.

  • Jacques Plante (Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Edmonton Oilers)
  • Dominik Hasek (Chicago Blackhawks, Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators)
  • Patrick Roy (Colorado Avalanche, Montreal Canadiens)
  • Terry Sawchuk (Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers)
  • Georges Vezina (Montreal Canadiens)

Evidently, the modern day award for outstanding goaltenders is named after this Montreal Canadiens netminder, who led the Habs to five Stanley Cup Finals after the National Hockey Association merged to become the National Hockey League.

Vezina was one of the most dominant goaltenders in the early days, and never missed a start. He never allowed for a backup goaltender to take his place in the crease, and went on to start 328 consecutive regular season games, as well as 39 playoff games.

Tragically, Vezina was forced to retire in 1925 when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and he passed away in March 1926. To this day, Vezina is regarded as one of the best hockey players of all time.

  • Grant Fuhr (Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, Los Angeles Kings, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames)
  • Ken Dryden (Montreal Canadiens)
  • Roberto Luongo (New York Islanders, Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers)

The Best Defensemen in NHL history

The 40 Best Hockey Players Of All Time
Oct 1, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Former Boston Bruins player Bobby Orr congratulates Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) as part of pregame ceremonies in his honor prior to a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
  • Paul Coffey (Edmonton Oilers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins)
  • Ray Bourque (Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche)
  • Bobby Orr (Boston Bruins)

Many NHL fans wonder what Bobby Orr’s career would have been like if modern day knee surgery was available to the legendary defenseman.

Touted as one of the best hockey players to ever play the game, Orr’s countless trophy victories include the Art Ross, Calder, Hart, Norris and, of course, two Stanley Cups with the Boston Bruins. Forced to retire at age 30, Orr’s short but lasting impact on the game of hockey is still talked about today.

If he had good knees, didn’t have to undergo constant surgery and was afforded modern medicine, he may have put up better stats than Wayne Gretzky. Without a doubt, he is one of the best hockey players in the history of the sport.

  • Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit Red Wings)
  • Brian Leetch (New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins)
  • Scott Neidermayer (Anaheim Ducks, New Jersey Devils)
  • Chris Pronger (Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers)
  • Borje Salming (Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings)
  • Zdeno Chara (New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals)
  • Art Ross (Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Hockey Club, Haileybury Comets, Brandon Wheat City, Kenora Thistles)
  • Victor Hedman (Tampa Bay Lightning)
The 40 Best Hockey Players Of All Time
Jun 5, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) passes the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes during the third period in game four of the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Victor Hedman’s career is far from over, he is widely touted as one of the best hockey players in the modern era. The 30-year-old blue liner is a huge factor in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s success of late, winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Bolts.

Hedman has won both the Norris and Conn Smythe Memorial Trophies, and even played in the most recent playoffs with a torn meniscus in his knee. The dominant d-man was a second overall pick for the Lightning in 2009, and his career is already hall of fame worthy.

  • King Clancy (Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs)
  • Doug Harvey (Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, St. Louis Blues, Detroit Red Wings)
  • Scott Stevens (Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues, New Jersey Devils)
  • Rob Blake (Los Angeles Kings, Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks)

The NHL’s best forwards ever

The 40 Best Hockey Players Of All Time
Jun 21, 2017; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Wayne Gretzky presents Edmonton Oilers player Connor McDavid with the Hart Trophy as the league MVP during the 2017 NHL Awards and Expansion Draft at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
  • Wayne Gretzky (St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, Indianapolis Racers)
  • Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers)
  • Jaromir Jagr (Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Dallas Stars, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames)
  • Alexander Mogilny (Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs)

Often underrated and forgotten in the best hockey players conversation, Alex Mogilny’s legend goes beyond his stats (which, standing alone, are impressive). But, Mogilny was the first player to defect from the Soviet Union to join the NHL, after years of drafting Russian players being considered a throwaway pick.

Mogilny scored 76 goals in a season with the Buffalo Sabres, won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2000, and broke many records playing for the Sabres in the early 90s. There is now speculation that he will finally see the Hockey Hall of Fame, and could potentially be inducted next year.

  • Mario Lemieux (Pittsburgh Penguins)
  • Gordie Howe (Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers)
  • Joe Sakic – (Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche, currently the Colorado Avalanche general manager)
  • Phil Esposito (Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers)
  • Pavel Bure (Vancouver Canucks, Florida Panthers, New York Rangers)
  • Stan Mikita (Chicago Blackhawks)
  • Steve Yzerman (Detroit Red Wings, currently the Red Wings general manager)
  • Mike Bossy (New York Islanders)
  • Maurice Richard (Montreal Canadiens)
Jul 2, 2021; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Montreal Canadiens logo statue outside of the arena prior to game three of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Maurice “Rocket” Richard was once given the first, second and third stars of a game, and the goal-scoring trophy is named after the legendary Montreal Canadiens forward. He led the league in goals five times in his career, and was a 13-time All Star.

Richard played 18 seasons in the early NHL for the Habs, and even scored an eight-point night that is still talked about as an iconic moment in NHL history. Oh, and he is the man the Rocket Richard Trophy is named after. Without a doubt, Richard (and his legacy) deserves to be considered as part of the best hockey players conversation.

  • Marcel Dionne (Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers)
  • Bobby Hull (Chicago Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets, Hartford Whalers)

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