Who Is The Best NHL Player In History?

Who Is The Best NHL Player In History? (Comparing Stats)

With so many stars, legends, and talents coming out of the NHL since its inception in 1917, the debate of who the best NHL player is has gone on. There are also many great players whose exceptional talents have put spectators in awe and even influenced the game that to pick the greatest of all time seems partial to the other greats. 

Ice hockey as a sport has expanded over the years, and when it comes to picking the best ice hockey players of all time, the NHL is the basis used. This is because, of every ice hockey league in the world, none is as competitive, popular, or equipped with talents as the NHL.

The NHL serves as a platform for only the most skilled player in ice hockey. This is why it is the basis of ranking the best hockey players. 

With over a century worth of talent to go through, we will be looking at some of the best NHL players in the history of the NHL.

So you know, these guys did not just play the game, they lived for the game and changed the way the game is looked at. Their talents on the ice were only short of unbelievable with unbroken stats records that still exist to this present day.

Let’s begin. 

Wayne Gretzky As The Best NHL Player: The Great One

It is one thing to be considered one of the best NHL players, it is another to be named “The Great One”. Gretzky was born on January 26, 1961, in the city of Brantford, Ontario Canada. 

At just the age of two, Gretzky began skating and when he turned six was playing with skaters that were almost twice as old as him. Right from his days as a teenager, it was definite that Gretzky would become an icon in the sport. At this point, the question became “Which team would he play for?”

Once the young lad who had become the center of attention in his country clocked 17, he went pro after signing with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association. But this contract did not last long as he was traded to the Edmonton Oiler just after eight games

Later on, the Edmonton Oiler became absorbed by the NHL after the merging of the World Hockey Association. 

Now, in the NHL and playing for the Edmonton Oilers, the greatness of Gretzky truly began to manifest. 

Why Is Wayne Gretzky Referred To As The Greatest Player Of All Time?

Why Gretzky is the best player of all time in the NHL

During the era of Wayne Gretzky, he was known as the best NHL player of his time. Some even argue that he is the best NHL player to ever put on skates. Not only was he great, but he also left a great impact on the game of ice hockey

Gretzky was so good as a player that his stats, career, and nature of play were in an entirely different league. Here are some of the points Wayne is still referred to as the G.O.A.T. in ice hockey

Best NHL Player In Stats

No NHL player in the league still date has come close to the stats of Gretzky while he played. Since his retirement over two  decades ago, Gretzky still has the best stats in the following areas:

  • Number of career goals (894)
  • Most career assists (1963)
  • Total career points (2857)
  • Most game points in a season (with Gretzky topping eight spots of the 10 spots with the most points in a season)

Throughout his twenty seasons in the NHL, his dominance in the game was consistent and each time he came to play, the fans knew they were experiencing a phenom. 

A measure of the magnitude of Gretzky’s stats, if Gretzky decided not to score any goal in his career, the number of assist points he has is sufficient to top the NHL total career points leaderboard. 

All-Time Record Holder

The all time record holder of the NHL

Another reason Wayne Gretzky is referred to as the best player to ever play in the NHL is that he made and broke so many records that seemed nearly impossible. Most of the records he made and broke are yet to be broken, and currently, it does not seem like they would be any time soon. 

Here are some of the records of Wayne Gretzky: 

  • 4 Stanely cups
  • Gretzky is the NHL player with the most career points, goals, and assists in the NHL regular season (894 goals, 1963 assists, and 2857 career points)
  • He also has the most career goals, points, and assists in the NHL playoff (122 goals, 260 assists, and 382 playoff career points)
  • He is also the only player in the NHL to achieve 200 points in a season
  • Gretzky holds the record for the NHL player with the most points in a season. And also hold 8 of the top 10 spots for the most point in a season. 
  • NHL player with Hart Trophies (9 Hart Trophies)
  • NHL player with the most Art Ross Trophies (10 Art Trophies)
  • The only player to score 50 goals in 39 games 
  • Gretzky holds the record for most NHL seasons with 100 points or more (scoring at least 100 points in 15 regular seasons)
  • The only player to reach 2000 career points in the regular season
  • He is the only player to surpass 3000 points when adding regular season and playoff points.

And these are just a few of the records he holds in the NHL.

It just escalated to the point where we are going; Okay, there is no end to his ability to break records.

Glenn Anderson

Lustrous career 

The 20 seasons career Gretzky was really one of the best any NHL player has recorded. He won basically every trophy in the league from the Art Ross, Hart Memorial, Conn Smyth, and even the Stanley Cup among others.

Right from his tender age, up till his requirement, he maintained his dominance and uniqueness in the still of his play. 

Nature of play

When it comes to how Gretzky played in the NHL, he perfected the art of playing from the back of the net. The back of the opposing team’s goal net was a specialty of Gretzky as it gave him options. He could pass the puck, move to the front of the net and score, give a rebound, and much more. 

In addition, even though Gretzky never had an intimidating physique like other ice hockey players, he had one thing that many players didn’t; superb game knowledge. His knowledge of the game gave him a bigger view of how the entire game and how to create openings. 

He knew the right time to pass, give rebounds, perform slap shots, dribble, create openings, or just get in line to receive a pass. His calculative and strategic mode of playing made it seem as if he was playing chess, with himself controlling the game.

Related Post: Why No One Can Wear Number 99 In The NHL

Gretzky’s Influence On The NHL

When Gretzky played ice hockey in the NHL, he was known by everyone. Even people who did not watch ice hockey knew about “The Great One”. The popularity he carried was part of what brought a whole lot of attention to the league. 

However, one major influence he had in the NHL was the development and buildup of the sport in the United States. The “Trade of the Century” saw the movement of Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. 

This move set the backbone for the NHL’s current reach in the U.S. as people came from all over to see Gretzky in action. 

According to John Shannon, a broadcaster, he said he wasn’t sure there would have been the Anaheim Ducks, Tampa Bay Lightnings, or Florida Panthers if not for the movement of Gretzky to the United States.

This is because, at the time Wayne Gretzky’s name was so synonymous to hockey that people knew of the sport because of him

Gordie Howe As The Best NHL Player: Mr. Hockey

In a time when televisions and media were not as renowned as they are today, nor was the game the same as the current NHL, Gordie Howe made an excellent name for himself in the league.

Nicknamed Mr. Hockey, Gordie (as he preferred to be called), was an integration of an intimidating size, stamina, and incredible offensive and defensive ability. All these infused into a player made him a scare to his players on the rink. 

The reason is that even with his size, Gordies was not reluctant to get into a fight, bodycheck an opponent or get even.

However, the main reason Gordie was still regarded as one of the best NHL players to ride the ice is because of his love for the game. 

Gordie’s love for hockey transcended just scoring goals and gaining points. He loved every moment he spent on the ice and the love and support he got from his fans. Another reason why Gordie is referred to as the best NHL player the league has ever seen is that he was arguably the best-rounded player in the league. 

In some instances, he is referred to as “the complete hockey player”.

Gordie Howe In His Prime

Mr Hockey, began his NHL career with the Detroit Red Wings, playing his first game as an 18-year-old (during the 1946-47 NHL season) and also scoring a goal in his first game. Eventually, he bagged seven goals and fifteen assists which accumulates 22 points for his rookie season.

The Production Line also began with Howe in his rookie season consisting of himself alongside Sid Abel and Ted Lindsay. The legendary line of forwards was one of the finest as they understood themselves so well and were all goal-scorers. 

However, this was cut short after Howe suffered an injury that nearly ended his NHL career. At the start of the 1950 playoff season, Howe suffered a fracture to his skull. But, this did not stop the Red Wings from winning the Stanley Cup that season. But this win was made without Howe that season. 

The injury made him unable to play for the rest of the season and there were rumors that he might never be able to play ice hockey ever again. 

Eventually, Howe would go on to play the next season as if he had not sustained an injury. His pure passion for the game made him want to play to his very best every time he stepped on the ice.

Coming back to the league, Howe began his title streak with four consecutive scoring titles, two Art trophies, and three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings.

Why Is Gordie Howe Called The G.O.A.T. Of Ice Hockey?

Why is Gordie Howe Called the Best player in the NHL

Howe’s Longevity

One thing that made Gordie Howe stand out in his career was how long he was able to play hockey. He started playing in the NHL at the age of 18 and played in the Detroit Red Wings for 24 years before he retired.

But Gordie always wanted to play one more time, therefore two years after he retired from the NHL, he began playing the WHA with his sons. Gordie played in the WHA for six years before the WHA merged with the NHL. 

After the merge, Howe played in the NHL for another two seasons before finally hanging his jersey. 

At the age of 52, Howe played his last game in the NHL for the NHL All-Star team.

Howe’s gameplay transcended time, and during his last game, parents who watched him in his prime along with their children, and even grandchildren who saw a grandpa on skates, gave an ovation to applaud the phenom who was the face of the game in his time.

Howe’s NHL Records

In his time, Howe broke records and made records. During Howe’s time in the NHL here are some of the awards and records he made. 

  • Six Art Ross trophies
  • Six Hart trophies
  • Led the league in points five times 
  • Won five Stanley Cups with the Detriot Red Wings 
  • He was the player with the longest NHL career with 26 seasons played 
  • NHL player with the most NHL games played (1687)
  • By the time of his retirement, he led the NHL in points, goals, and assists. This would eventually get broken by a young rookie at that time, Wayne Gretzky


Howe was a dominant player in his prime. Even when he played at the age of 50, although he was slower, he was not a pushover. He was ready to give or receive tackles from anyone. 

He was also very fond of engaging in fights during his prime. At that time, every player knew that Gordie was a player that liked to get even. If he is unable to get even in a game, he would look forward to the next game. 

Best Interaction And Personality Of AN NHL pLayer

All who played with Howe (with him or against him) attested to his kind personality. Even with his intimidating physique and a long list of achievements in the NHL, Howe had respect for everyone.

According to Howe, every player can be a good player on a given day. Even when tackling players from the opponent or getting in fights, Howe always found his way to resolve any beef. 

Wayne Gretzky who was lucky to play with him and against him in the All-Star game after the merging of the WHA said he was always ready to answer questions and communicate even with a relatively new player as himself.

Bobby Orr: Revolutionizing Offensive Defense

During the days of Bobby Orr in the NHL, he stood out to be something remarkable from his very first day. Bobby Orr was a defenseman in the NHL and he played for the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks during his time in the NHL. 

Born on May 20, 1948, in Perry Sound, Ontario Canada, Orr developed a love for hockey at a young age. Initially, Orr was placed as a forward at a young age because he possessed more speed and stickhandling ability than most of the players his age. 

Later on, he was taken to defense but was encouraged by his coach (Bucko McDonald) to utilize his skill in the offensive. Eventually, this is what gave rise to the style of play Orr brought to the ice.

Just at the age of twelve, the young lad caught the eyes of one of the NHL franchises; the Boston Bruins. Later on, Orr would go on to sign a contract with the Boston Bruin to become the most-paid player of his time and made his debut in the NHL at the age of 18 during the 1966-67 NHL season. 

Impact Of Bobby Orr In The NHL

The impact of Bobby Orr in the NHL as he changed the offensive position

What made Bobby Orr one of the best NHL players in history is that he single-handedly changed the way the defensive position was viewed. He also gave a new prospect to the role of a defenseman in the NHL. 

Before Orr, defensemen did just one thing, defend. There were no defensemen that really moved up for a goal or made attempts to score goals in the league. However, with a talent as great as Orr, the limits of the defensive position were broken

During his rookie season with the Bruins, the coach was unsure if they should make him play forward or defense. While with the Bruins, Bobby Orr was known for his fast skating from the defense and structuring the play toward a goal. 

In addition to being fast, he was good at scoring. When Orr began his NHL career with the Bruins, his teammate got to know his style of play. Instead of them waiting for the puck to be passed to the forwards before they went up to score a goal, Orr was ready to move up and create the opportunities himself.

At the time, this was not a norm in the NHL. The total number of points Bobby Orr gained in the NHL as a defenseman was more than that of many forwards in the league. 

Even though he only spent 10 seasons with the Bruins, he recorded six 100-point or more seasons with the Bruins.

In addition, before Orr started playing in the NHL, the most points scored by an NHL defenseman during a season was 59. However, Orr broke the record multiple time and made a new record of 139 points in a season. This record still stands to date.

Bobby Orr Injuries: Shortened Career Of NHL’s Greatest Player

Unfortunately for Bobby Orr, he quit the NHL at a relatively young age after playing for 12 NHL seasons. The offensive defenseman, who was a powerhouse of the Bruins who were one of the lowest franchises in the league prior to his entrance into the league, had a relatively short career due to repeated injuries to his left knee. 

For most of this time in the NHL, Orr played on just one good leg. This is part of what really makes people recognize his greatness as he was able to do so much even though he had issues with his left leg. 

With 11 surgeries to his left knee, he didn’t play as good of a hockey game as he did when he first started in his rookie season. But the dominance he carried on a foot surpassed many forwards in his time.

Eventually, during the 1975-76 season, Orr’s injuries became worse and he was able to play only 10 games that season. During the next season, Orr was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks where he played a total of 26 games in two NHL seasons

After this, he retired from ice hockey. Coming out of the league fans and enthusiasts of the NHL while Orr played imaged the records he would have shattered if he had not suffered the dreadful injury to his knee that followed him career-long.   

NHL Hockey Stats Of Bobby Orr

  • Most points in an NHL season by a defenceman (139 points)
  • Most assists in an NHL season by a defenceman (102 assists)
  • Only defenseman in the NHL to have six consecutive seasons with at least 100 points
  • Only defenseman to win the Art Ross (2 Art Trophies)
  • Three Hart trophies
  • NHL player with the most Norris Trophies
  • Highest plus/minus in one NHL season (+124)
  • Most assists in one NHL game by a defenceman (6 assists)
  • Bobby Orr is the only NHL player to win 4 individual awards in a season. He won the Hart trophy as MVP of the regular season, the Norris Trophy as the best all-round defenseman, Art Ross as the player with the most point for the season, and Conn Smythe as the MVP in the playoff
  • He is also the only player to win the Norris and Art Ross in the same season
  • Fastest goal from the start of overtime to clinch the Stanley Cup

Notable Mentions: Best NHL Player In The History Books

Some notable players who are also part of the best players in the NHL

Mario Lemieux As The Best NHL Player

The story of Lemieux is the story of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Before Lemieux even stepped foot into the NHL, his junior career was a buzz. Lemieux was a born goal scorer and well-rounded offensive player.

Right from his junior league, Lemieux made records for most goals and points in a season and was all over the media as an ice hockey sensation. 

Finally, during the 1984 NHL draft, Lemieux was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins. At that point, the Penguins were a dying franchise with little ticket sales and lower revenue. 

When Mario Lemieux entered the league, he confirmed the buzz that had been going on about how much of a talent he was. In his first game, he scored a goal on his very first shot on target and this would go on to cement the expectation of people concerning Lemieux. 

During his rookie season, Lemieux would go on to score 100 points to win the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year. He would also record ten seasons where he scored 100 points or more out of his 17-season-long career. That makes him the only player next to Gretzky who has 19 seasons with at least 100 points. 

Lemieux, although worthy to be called the best NHL player of his time was largely underrated because he played during the same era as “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky. 

Of the many stat that Lemieux recorded, one of them is that he is the only player aside from Wayne Gretzky to ever record close to 200 points in a season (with 199 points).

Just like the other best NHL players on this list, Lemieux suffered injuries and later had cancer. This led him to miss some games and later on, to his early retirement. 

Stats Of Mario Lemieux

  • Six Art trophies 
  • Three Hart Memorial trophies 
  • Two Conne Smythe Awards 
  • Won Rookie of the Year in 1985
  • He holds the record as the only NHL player to score five goals in five different ways in a game (even-strength, PP, PK, penalty shot, and empty net)

Maurice Richard: The Rocket Richard

Maurice Richard also known as Rocket was a French Canadian ice hockey player who is the face of ice hockey in Quebec to date. The legend began playing in the NHL at a time when there were only audio transmissions therefore only people who watched his matches live truly beheld his greatness. 

Richard was an explosive ice hockey player who had “fire in his eyes” every time he held the puck. He was a goal scorer who tore through defense just to net a goal. The stats and records he held during his time were remarkable as they were rare for NHL players. 

This is mostly because at that time, the league was smaller and teams played fewer matches in a season compared to the 82 regular season games today. 

But not only was Richard just any hockey player, but he also represented the heart and soul of the French Canadians of Quebec

Playing 18 seasons in the NHL (1942-1960), Richard played in just one team, the Montreal Canadiens. And just in his second year of playing in the NHL, Richard, alongside Toe Blake and Elmer Lach gave birth to one of the best lines in ice hockey, The Punch Line

The Punch line was an immersed attack force and with this, Richard broke and made records. 

Richard’s Suspension In The NHL

One memorable moment in the story of Richard is when he was suspended for hitting an official. Even though the Rocket was among the best offensive player in the NHL at that time, he had a hot temper

This eventually led to his suspension, however, when the chairman of the NHL attended the next game of the Canadiens, all hell broke loose as the entire street of Montreal was engulfed in a riot over the suspension of their hero, Maurice Richard

Tear gas was thrown into the arena while the game was on and this led to the immediate stoppage of the game. Richard who was present as a spectator in the match had to give a press speech, urging the people of Montreal to maintain calm

The Maurice Richard Trophy 

The Rocket Richard trophy, as it is most popularly called is a trophy given to the NHL player with the most goal point in a season. 

It was donated by the Montreal Canadiens as a gift to the NHL in honor of the iconic goal scorer of the Canadiens, Maurice Richard. The honor was for him being the first NHL player to score 50 goal points in a season, 50 goals in 50 games, and also the first NHL player to reach the 500 career goal mark.

Comparing Stats Of The Best  Players In The NHL History Books

Players Stanley CupArt Ross TrophyHart Memorial Trophy Calder Memorial TrophyCareer Points Career Goals 
Wayne Gretzky410902857894
Bobby Orr2231915270
Gordie Howe46601850801
Mario Lemieux26311033690
Maurice Richard8010965544
Data collated by Cleatshub.com

Conclusion: Who Is Truly The Best NHL Player?

The legends in the NHL go way back in time. Also, these greatest of all time are known not just because of the near-impossible stats and achievements they attained in their time, but also because of the legacy they left behind.

This goes from Gretzky to Bobby Orr, Gowdie Howe, and even “The Rocket Richard”. Their insane achievement as one of the best NHL players of their time (and even up to date) was supplemented by the changes they made to ice hockey and the NHL. 

The new generation of ice hockey is also showcasing remarkable talent and feats. When we talk about some of the best players that are currently in the NHL we are talking about players like Sidney Crosby, Alexender Ovechkin, and Connor McDavid among many other stars. 

But only time will tell if they have what it takes to become one of the best players the NHL has ever seen. Thank you for reading.

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