Who Is The Best NHL Player In History?

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

Since the NHL’s founding in 1917, a great number of stars, legends, and talents have come out of it, leading to ongoing discussions on who the best NHL player is. Picking the greatest player of all time might appear to favor some excellent players over others because there are so many outstanding players whose abilities have astounded spectators and even changed the game.

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 players in ice hockey. This is why it is the basis for ranking the best hockey players. However, with over a century’s worth of talent to go through, we will be looking at some of the best NHL players in the history of the NHL.

The players we will be looking at did not play the game; they changed the way the game was looked at. Their talents on the ice were nothing short of unbelievable, with unbroken stats and records that still exist to this present day.

Let’s begin. 

Wayne Gretzky As The Best NHL Player: The Great One

Being regarded as “The Great One” is far different from simply being regarded as one of the best NHL players. Canada’s Ontario province, Brantford, is where Gretzky was born on January 26, 1961.

At only two years old, Gretzky started skating, and by the time he was six, he was playing with skaters who were nearly twice his own age. It was clear that Gretzky would go on to become a legend in the sport even when he was just a teenager. Which team would he play for at this point? became the pertinent query.

After turning 17 and signing with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association (WHA), the young boy who had gained national recognition began playing professionally. Yet after just eight games, he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers as his contract with the Racers was shortlived.

As the World Hockey Association and NHL merged, the Edmonton Oilers were eventually absorbed into the NHL. The true magnificence of Gretzky started to emerge while he was playing for the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL.

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 currently playing has even come close to Gretzky’s career stats. Gretzky continues to have the greatest statistics in the following categories after his retirement more than 20 years ago:

  • 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)

Every time he came to play, the spectators knew they were watching a phenomenon because his domination in the game was constant over the course of his 20 seasons in the NHL.

Gretzky’s stats are so impressive that even if he opted not to score any goals throughout his career, he would still have enough assist points to lead the NHL in total career points.

Read more on: The meaning and types of assists in the NHL

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 will 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 2,000 career points in the regular season
  • He is the only player to surpass 3,000 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 

One of the best NHL players ever, Gretzky had a career spanning 20 seasons. He essentially won every league trophy there was, including the Stanley Cup, the Art Ross, the Hart Memorial, the Conn Smyth, and many more.

He maintained his authority and individuality in the still of his play from an early age up until the point of necessity.

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 the entire game and how to create openings. 

He knew when to pass, collect rebounds, shoot slap shots, dribble, create opportunities, or just get in position to receive a pass. His calculated and methodical style of play gave the impression that he was playing chess, with himself in command.

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.

Gordie (as he chose to be called) was dubbed Mr. Hockey and had a combination of a terrifying stature, prolonged endurance, and outstanding offensive and defensive ability. The combination of all these attributes in one athlete made him intimidating to his teammates.

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

During the 1946–47 NHL season, Mr. Hockey made his NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings, playing his first game at the age of 18 and recording a goal in his debut match. In the end, he scored seven goals and added fifteen assists for a total of 22 points throughout his first season.

Howe also launched The Production Line in his first season: a formidable offense that included Ted Lindsay, Sid Abel, and himself. The famous line of forwards was one of the best because they were all goal-scorers and had a deep understanding of who they were.

Unfortunately, Howe sustained an injury that almost terminated his NHL career. This injury also saw to the end of the Production Line in the NHL. The injury which was a skull fracture occurred at the beginning of the 1950 postseason. This did not, however, prevent the Red Wings from taking home the Stanley Cup that year. But that season, this victory was achieved without Howe.

The injury also prevented him from playing for the remainder of the year, and there were reports that he might never again be able to play ice hockey.

Surprisely, as if a miracle had happened, Howe continued to play the following season as if the injury never occurred. Every time he stepped onto the ice, his unbridled passion for the sport drove him to give everything he had.

Howe started his winning streak after returning to the league with the Red Wings, winning three Stanley Cups, two Art awards, and four straight-scoring titles.

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


At his peak, Howe was a dominant player. Although he was slower when he played at age 50, he was still no pushover. He was willing to engage in tackles with anyone.

In his prime, he also enjoyed getting into physical altercations. Every player at the moment was aware of Gordie’s penchant for exacting revenge. He would eagerly anticipate the following game if he were to be unable to get even during a match.

Best Interaction And Personality Of AN NHL pLayer

Everyone who played with Howe (either alongside him or against him) attested to his gracious demeanor. Howe showed respect to everyone despite having an intimidating size and a long list of NHL accomplishments to his name.

Every player has the potential to perform well on any given day, according to Howe. Howe always managed to settle any disputes, even when tackling opponents’ players or getting into altercations.

Once the WHA and NHL merged, Wayne Gretzky, who had the good fortune to play with and against him in the All-Star game, recalled that he was always willing to talk and answer questions, even with a player as inexperienced as himself.

Bobby Orr: Revolutionizing Offensive Defense

Bobby Orr was a fantastic player during his time in the NHL and this was immediately apparent from his first day. The Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks were two of Bobby Orr’s NHL teams that he played for as a defenceman.

Hockey was Orr’s first love as a child. He was born on May 20, 1948, in Perry Sound, Ontario, Canada. Due to his superior speed and stickhandling skills compared to most players his age, Orr was initially assigned as a forward when he was young.

Eventually, he was put on defense, but Bucko McDonald, his coach, urged him to use his talent on offense. This eventually led to the play style Orr introduced to the ice, which is what it ultimately came down to.

The youngster first got the Boston Bruins’ attention at the age of twelve, one of the NHL’s teams. Orr debuted in the NHL at the age of 18 during the 1966–1967 NHL season before going on to earn a contract with the Boston Bruin and became the highest-paid player of his time.

Impact Of Bobby Orr In The NHL

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

The fact that Bobby Orr single-handedly altered how the defense position was perceived is what made him one of the greatest NHL players in history. He also introduced an NHL defenseman role to a fresh prospect.

Defensemen only ever defended before Orr. Throughout the league, there were no defensemen who actually moved up for goals or tried to score them. But with a skill like Orr’s, the defensive position’s boundaries were pushed.

The Bruins’ head coach wasn’t sure whether to have him play forward or defense during his debut season. Bobby Orr was well-known for his quick skating from the defense and taking the game all the way till he scored.

He was not only quick but also proficient at scoring. Orr’s teammate became familiar with his playing style when he started his NHL career with the Bruins. Orr was prepared to advance and create the opportunity himself, as opposed to giving the puck to the forwards before they went up to score a goal.

This was not typical at the time in the NHL. While he played Bobby Orr amassed more points overall in the NHL as a defenseman than many forwards in the league.

Despite only playing with the Bruins for ten seasons, he had six seasons with 100 points or more.

Also, before Orr began competing in the NHL, a defenseman’s season-high point total was 59. Orr, though, repeatedly shattered the mark and set a new mark of 139 points in a season. The record is still valid today.

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

Unfortunately for Bobby Orr, he had to leave the NHL at a young age after 12 seasons of participation. Due to frequent injuries to his left knee, the offensive defenseman, who was a powerhouse for the Bruins, one of the league’s worst teams when he entered the league, had a very brief career.

Orr played with just one healthy leg for most of his stint in the NHL. He was able to accomplish so much despite having problems with his left leg, and this is part of what really causes people to notice his greatness.

He didn’t play as well of a hockey game as he did when he originally started in his first season after having 11 operations on his left knee. But he outperformed many attackers of his era with the dominance he carried on his foot.

Orr’s ailments eventually got worse during the 1975–76 season, and he was limited to just 10 games that year. Orr was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks during the following season, where he played a total of 26 games over the course of two NHL seasons.

After his time with the Blackhawks, he gave up playing ice hockey. Fans and NHL enthusiasts imagined the records that Orr would have broken while still in the league if he hadn’t sustained the terrible knee injury that ended his career.

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 points 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 Pittsburgh Penguins’ story is Lemieux’s tale. Before Lemieux entered the NHL, his junior career generated a lot of hype. Lemieux was a versatile offensive player and a natural goal scorer.

Lemieux became an instant celebrity in the media after setting records for the most goals and points in a season in his junior league.

Ultimately, the Pittsburgh Penguins selected Lemieux in the NHL draft of 1984. The Penguins were a fading team at the time, with poor revenue and few ticket sales.

However, when Mario Lemieux joined the league, he reaffirmed the rumor that he was a very talented player. He scored on his very first shot on goal in his first game, which helped to raise public expectations for Lemieux.

Lemieux eventually scored 100 points in his first season to take home the Calder Trophy as the best rookie. Out of his 17-season career, he would also record ten seasons in which he scored 100 points or more. Next to Gretzky, he is the only other player with 19 seasons of at least 100 points.

Lemieux, who is deserving of the title of greatest NHL player of all time, was widely overlooked since he competed in the same era as “The Great One”, Wayne Gretzky.

Lemieux’s notable accomplishments include being the only player, excluding Wayne Gretzky, to ever score close to 200 points in a single season (with 199 points).

Lemieux developed cancer later in his career, and just like the other top NHL players on this list who had experienced injuries had to stop playing. As a result, he missed a few games and later decided to retire early.

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

Rocket, also known as Maurice Richard, was a French Canadian ice hockey player who served as Quebec’s current mascot. The legend entered the NHL at a time when audio transmissions were all that existed, so only those who witnessed his games in person could properly appreciate how outstanding he was.

Richard was a fierce ice hockey player who always held the puck with “fire in his eyes”. He was a goal scorer who plowed right past the defense to score. His career statistics and accomplishments were impressive because they were uncommon for NHL players at the time.

The main reason for this is because, in contrast to today’s 82 regular season games, there were fewer teams and a smaller league back then.

Yet Richard wasn’t just any hockey player; he also embodied the spirit of Quebec’s French Canadian community.

Richard spent his whole 18-year NHL career (1942–1960) with the Montreal Canadiens. Only two years into his NHL career, Richard co-created The Punch Line, one of the game’s greatest lines, with Toe Blake and Elmer Lach.

Richard set and smashed records thanks to The Punch Line, which was an enmeshed offensive force.

Richard’s Suspension In The NHL

Richard’s suspension after assaulting a representative was one of the story’s noteworthy moments. The Rocket had a bad temper despite being one of the top offensive players in the NHL at the time.

Due to this, he was finally suspended; nevertheless, when the NHL’s chairman visited the Canadiens’ subsequent game, chaos broke out and Maurice Richard’s supporters rioted through the full length of Montreal’s streets.

The game was stopped immediately after tear gas was sprayed into the arena while it was still in progress. Richard, who was in attendance to watch the game, was required to make a public statement imploring Montrealers to remain composed.

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 NHL has a long history of legendary players. These legends are renowned not just for the nearly unachievable stats and accomplishments they obtained during their era, but also for the legacy they left behind.

Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Gowdie Howe, and even “The Rocket Richard” are examples of this. The improvements they brought to ice hockey and the NHL added to their incredible success as one of the top NHL players of all time (and even now).

Ice hockey’s younger players are also exhibiting amazing talent and accomplishments. When we discuss some of the top players in the NHL right now, names like Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Connor McDavid come to mind, among many other A-listers.

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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