The Best Athletes Ever to Play Hockey

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The Best Athletes Ever to Play Hockey

Hockey is a fast-paced sport with an intense atmosphere. The competition during the game radiates off the ice. It’s because of that intensity that many will argue that hockey is the best sport ever. The best hockey athletes need excellent stamina, skill and talent. Between the speed required to play the game and the skill needed to earn the title of best, it’s easy to see why so many people love hockey.

Hockey has seen its fair share of fantastic talent. While the National Hockey League is chock-full of incredible athletes who have skated their way across the ice and into hockey fans’ hearts, there is just something about the athletes on this list.

To excel in an intense sport like hockey, there are many balls that one needs to juggle. To be a great athlete on the ice, players can’t just show up for practice and be part of a team. They must be coachable, adaptable and willing to go the extra mile to hone their abilities. The athletes on this list have incredible skill, as shown by their movements on the ice, not just their numbers. From Wayne Gretsky to Sidney Crosby, the best athletes to play hockey all have something that outshines the rest.

To compile a list of the best hockey athletes, 24/7 Tempo consulted multiple sites, including sports reports and the official National Hockey League website. Now, in no particular order, let’s take a look at these top hockey athletes. (Don’t forget to read our list of the 40 most shocking scandals that rocked the sports world.)

Wayne Gretzky

2020 NHL All-Star Skills
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Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky won numerous trophies over the course of his 20-year career.

Wayne Gretzky is often considered the best of the best in hockey. While his size was not impressive, his stamina was unparalleled. He also loved the game and knew it inside and out.

Gretzky holds numerous awards for his time on the ice, including four Stanley Cup victories, nine Hart trophies, and five Lady Byng trophies. Gretzky led a 20-year career and then retired in 1999. Twenty-five years later, he is still considered the GOAT, the greatest of all time, in the sport of hockey.

Bobby Orr

2013 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six
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The image of Bobby Orr flying through the air has been memorialized with this statue outside Boston’s TD Garden.

Bobby Orr played for 12 seasons and retired because of his knee injuries. He is considered the most outstanding defenseman to ever come through the NHL. Not only was he a top defenseman, but Don Cherry, a coach from the Bruins, stated, “He broke the mold because before that, defensemen were big, slow guys. They just cleared the guys out and got the puck up. Bobby changed the whole face of the game and how it’s played.”

Orr was the top NHL scorer in two seasons, earning him the Art Ross trophy both times. It’s hard to imagine a defenseman reaching such an achievement, but Orr did it. He also received the Hart Memorial trophy three times and the Conn Smythe trophy twice.

Mario Lemieux

2017 NHL Awards - Arrivals
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Despite a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease, Mario Lemieux returned to the ice to play professional hockey.

Mario Lemieux had a way of motivating those around him to play harder, especially his opponents. Lemieux won Stanley Cups two seasons in a row and received MVP honors.

Aside from his incredible talent on the ice, Lemieux has immense perseverance. He has overcome Hodgkin’s disease and a back injury. After returning to hockey, he was stronger than ever in his beloved sport.

Maurice Richard

Maurice Richard Arena - Montreal - Canada
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The Maurice Richard Arena in Montreal, Canada takes its name from the hockey legend.

Maurice Richard is called “The Rocket” because of his speed. He has also won eight Stanley Cups and scored 544 goals. Richard has long been considered the greatest hockey player of the 1950s.

Bobby Hull

Chicago Blackhawks v Montreal Canadiens
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“The Golden Jet” could shoot a hockey puck like no one else.

Bobby Hull was nicknamed “The Golden Jet.” This is because he had golden hair and was extremely fast. When he shot the puck, its speed and velocity were akin to a bullet.

Hull was a left winger who played in the NHL for 17 seasons. His scoring ability made him notorious, and he also achieved the feat of scoring 50 points in 50 games.

Jean Beliveau

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Montreal Canadiens star Jean Beliveau won 10 Stanley Cup championships.

Jean Beliveau holds incredible records and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972. He has won two Hart trophies and the Conn Smyth trophy.

However, one of his most impressive feats is winning 10 Stanley Cup championships as a player and seven as the Canadiens’ executive vice president.

Another factor that made Beliveau great was his respect for other people. His demeanor with those around him and his incredible skill made him one of the most respected hockey players ever.

Jaromir Jagr

Los Angeles Kings v Pittsburgh Penguins
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Right winger Jaromir Jagr will likely be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2024.

Jaromir Jagr is a right winger who started his rookie year for the Penguins in 1990. He is regarded as an excellent player with incredible offensive skills. Jagr is one of the leading scorers in the NHL.

Although he is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame, many still consider Jagr one of the top players in the NHL. There are plans for him to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2024.

Mark Messier

2019 NHL Awards - Arrivals
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Hockey star Mark Messier is lauded for his leadership skills.

Mark Messier is often described as an incredible leader who is loyal and equally dedicated to his team and sport. He played in the NHL for 25 years and won six Stanley Cups.

Additionally, Messier received two Hart Memorial trophies as MVP. He also had great success in coaching and management roles and philanthropy work.

Guy Lafleur

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“The Flower” chose not to wear a helmet during many of his games.

Guy Lafleur had incredible speed and smooth skating ability, but after three seasons, he chose not to wear a helmet during his games. Yes, at one time, players could choose not to wear one. Therefore, his speed, choices and skating left fans in awe.

Lafleur was nicknamed “The Flower” because his skill on the ice was quite elegant and because of the translation from his surname into English. He earned five Stanley Cups through the 1970s. He, indeed, was a legend on ice.

Gordie Howe

Windsor, Ontario Canada - October 22, 2023: Gordie Howe bridge under construction showing both support towers final height.
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An enormous cable-stayed bridge named after Gordie Howe is expected to open in 2025.

Gordie Howe had immense longevity in the NHL. He played for 26 seasons, and before Gretzky came along, Howe held the record for goals and points in the NHL.

Howe was also the oldest player in the NHL before retiring at 52. Howe was strong and agile and honed his incredible skills throughout his career. He also won four Stanley Cups. For many years, he was often compared to the energizer bunny because of his ability to keep going and going.

Marcel Dionne

2022 Hockey Hall Of Fame Induction - Sports Card Expo
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Marcel Dionne scored over 700 goals during his career.

Many people measure success by the awards you have won. However, there are more factors than trophies that measure success. No, Marcel Dionne never won a Stanley Cup. However, he scored over 700 goals and earned over 1,700 points, which is impressive.

Dionne played Center and was in the NHL for 18 seasons. He is said to have had plenty of humility, and his skill is often underappreciated.

Steve Yzerman

2016 Coors Light Stadium Series - Alumni Game
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Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman greatly improved his NHL team.

Steve Yzerman was a center with incredible passing skills and longevity. He ranks on the NHL’s all-time scoring list with 1,514 points, 692 goals and 1,063 assists.

Additionally, Yzerman won three Stanley Cup championships, the Selke trophy and the Masterton trophy. One of his best accomplishments was improving the Red Wings Detroit team.

Sidney Crosby

Pittsburgh Penguins v New Jersey Devils
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Canadian hockey player Sidney Crosby still plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidney Crosby is considered one of the top players in the NHL. He is in his 19th season and seemingly keeps getting better. His statistics show that he is highly determined and passionate about hockey.

He has three Stanley Cups, three Lindsay Awards and two Art Ross trophies. The awards do not stop there. Additionally, Crosby has had 584 goals and 991 assists. His skill is essential to his team.

Phil Esposito

Esposito Vs. Montreal
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The Athletic ranked Phil Esposito as one of the top ten best hockey players in 2023.

Phil Esposito is ranked in the top ten best Hockey players in the 2023 edition of The Athletic. Esposito was a center who received two Stanley Cups.

Additionally, Esposito scored over 1,000 points in his career. He was an influential player whose talents are still remembered.

Alex Ovechkin

Winnipeg Jets v Washington Capitals
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“The Great Eight” earned his nickname thanks to his talents on the ice.

Alex Ovechkin, also known as “the Great Eight,” is a passionate hockey player who came after Gretzky. Because of his passion for the game, he is often considered one of the most outstanding players.

Ovechkin is a top scorer in the NHL, with 848 goals and 1,416 points. Since he is still playing the game, the question “Will Ovechkin be able to surpass Gretzky?” has been tossed around. It’s quite possible, considering he is not far behind Gretzky in goals. (Test your sports IQ with these brainteasing trivia questions.)

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