Most Influential Hockey Players of All Time

In 2023, there are 711 total players in the NHL. US hockey players make up about 28.4% of this total. But it is Canada that leads the way, with 294 players coming from the Great White North.

Some of the most influential hockey players in history count themselves among this group. There's three-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin. Then there's two-time Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid.

Yet, we can't forget about the greats of history. From Gordie Howe to Wayne Gretzky, many of the top NHL record-breakers came out of days past. But that doesn't make them any less influential.

Are you wondering who the most famous hockey players are today and in history? If so, this article is for you. Keep reading to learn our picks for the top hockey players of all time.

Gordie Howe

Howe isn't called Mr. Hockey for nothing. He played a total of 26 NHL seasons during his heyday, racking up an incredible 1,767 games. That makes him the second-most prolific hockey player in history behind Patrick Marleau.

A Canadian by birth, Howe played 25 of his 26 seasons for the Detroit Red Wings. He was active from 1946 to 1980, when he retired at the age of 52. During his career, he scored 801 goals, over 1,000 assists, and 1,850 points.

Today, Gordie Howe gear is among the most in-demand autographed hockey memorabilia. Autographed hockey jerseys with Gordie Howe's signature can sell for thousands of dollars.

Wayne Gretzky

Ask even a non-hockey fan, and they've likely heard of Wayne Gretzky. That is because Gretzky had an incredible career. Still, to this day, he is the NHL record holder for goals, assists, and points.

Gretzky played 20 seasons from his debut in 1979 to his retirement in 1999. During this career, he played for the Racers, the Oilers, the Kings, the Blues, and the Rangers.

After his retirement, Gretzky earned a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He also became the Phoenix Coyotes' head coach from 2000 to 2009.

Bobby Orr

There's a lot of debate surrounding the title of best hockey player of all time. Some people say it's Howe, while others firmly defend Gretzky.

Yet, there is one thing that almost all hockey fans can agree on: Bobby Orr is the greatest defensive player of all time. He is the only defenseman to win the Art Ross Trophy once, let alone twice.

Orr began his career in 1961, playing for the Boston Bruins first before joining the BlackHawks in 1976. Despite recurring injuries, Orr was able to continue playing until his retirement in 1978.

Mario Lemieux

Lemieux, who is also known as The Magnificent One, is one of the tallest players to ever play in the NHL at 6 feet 4 inches. Extreme height may typically be a disadvantage in this sport, but that was not the case for Lemieux.

He played for the Pittsburgh Penguins throughout his entire career, which spanned 21 years from 1984 to 2005. He also played for Team Canada at the 2002 Olympics, when the country won a gold medal.

Another credit to Lemieux is that he is the only person to ever win the Stanley Cup as both a player and an owner. He owned his former team, the Penguins, from 1999 to 2006.

Maurice Richard

Maurice Richard is the first Canadian on our list who actually played for a Canadian team. He played from 1942 to 1960, during which time he racked up an all-time high for goals at 544.

Richard scored an incredible 50 goals in a single season. That makes him the first player in history to ever do so. That's why it's called the Rocket Richard Trophy for players with the most goals in a season.

During his time with the Montreal Canadiens, the team won a whopping eight Stanley Cups. Much of their success was thanks to Richard.

Mark Messier

To this day, Mark Messier still has one of the longest hockey careers in history. His career spanned nearly 26 years, from 1978 to 2004. During that time, he played for the Oilers, the Rangers, and the Vancouver Canucks.

He helped bring home six Stanley Cups during that time. He also comes in fourth for the highest number of All-Star games played by one player. He also holds the #2 spot for all-time high playoff points and #3 for games played.

After retiring from the NHL in 2004, he went on to play for the World Hockey Association. He played for the Indianapolis Racers and the Cincinnati Stingers.

Bobby Hull

Bobby Hull was a Canadian left wing who played for the NHL and the WHA. During his 23-year career, he played for the BlackHawks, the Jets, and the Whalers. The BlackHawks won the 1961 Stanley Cup with his help.

After retiring in 1979 due to injuries, Hull attempted a comeback. He joined the New York Rangers and played five games before going into permanent retirement.

Throughout his career, Hull played over 1,000 games. He scored 610 goals and accumulated 1,170 points, making him one of the greatest historic hockey players.

Jean Beliveau

Jean Beliveau is one of the league's greatest centers of all time. He helped the Montreal Canadiens win 17 Stanley Cups during his career from 1950 to 1971. This is the most Stanley Cups won by a single player to date.

People consider him one of history's top hockey players because of his 507 career goals, and he is a two-time nominee for the NHL's MVP award, the Hart Memorial Trophy. He has also won the Art Ross and Conn Smythe trophies.

In addition to being a great player, Beliveau also served as an activist for some of the NHL's biggest controversies.

Stan Mikita

Stan Mikita was born in the Slovak Republic in the 1940s. He relocated to Ontario, Canada in 1948 and started playing for the NHL in 1958. Mikita only played for one team, the BlackHawks, until he retired in 1980.

Many people name Mikita as the #1 center of the 1960s. He helped the BlackHawks win six total Stanley Cups during his career. He scored 86 points during the 1967–1968 season, a record that was only broken a few years ago.

Mikita is also known for his early use of hockey helmets, which he adopted after a concussion. The NHL made helmets a requirement for players a few years later.

Terry Sawchuk

To this day, Sawchuk is still one of the best goaltenders to ever play in the NHL. His career spanned nearly three decades, from 1949 to 1970. During those years, he made 103 shutouts, which was record-breaking at the time.

Only one NHL player has ever managed to surpass his record. Only seven goaltenders have ever surpassed his record of career wins, having reached 447 by the time of his retirement.

Sawchuk played for the Red Wings, Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Kings, and Rangers. He won a total of four Stanley Cups during his 21-year career.

Jaromir Jagr

Jagr was a right winger who currently plays for Czechoslovakia. From 1998 to 2008, he played in the NHL for the Penguins, the Capitals, and the Rangers.

After retiring from the NHL for a stint in Russia, he returned to the NHL in 2011. From 2011 to 2018, he played for the Flyers, the Stars, the Bruins, the Devils, the Panthers, and the Calgary Flames.

In all, Jagr has played an incredible 35 seasons, which equates to more than 2,000 games. He is the best hockey player to come out of Europe, as seen by his #2 spot behind Wayne Gretzky for all-time points.

Steve Yzerman

You may better know Yzerman as the Detroit Red Wings' general manager. But before that, he played 22 seasons with the team. He played from 1983 to 2006 and served as the Red Wings' team captain for 20 years.

Under Yzerman's leadership, the Red Wings won three Stanley Cups. He retired in 2006 with the honor of being the sixth-highest scorer of all time with 65 goals and 90 assists.

Yzerman also has a long history with the Olympics. He led Canada's hockey team to the Olympics for two games in a row, winning gold in 2002.

Jacques Plante

Another goaltender to make our list is Plante, who some argue to be an even greater great than Terry Sawchuk. Plante played for various teams during his career, including the Montreal Canadiens, the Rangers, and the Bruins.

One of the most famous hockey moments in history occurred when a slapshot hit Plante in the face during a game. He ended up needing 21 stitches. The event led the NHL to require face masks for goalies a few years later.

While goaltending for the Canadiens, Plante helped his team win five Stanley Cups. He is also a seven-time winner of the Vezina Trophy.

Dominik Hasek

If Jaromir Jagr is the greatest player to come out of Europe, Hasek is the best goaltender from the EU. He played for Czechoslovakia before joining the NHL's Chicago BlackHawks in 1983.

Hasek stuck with the NHL for the next 16 years of his career. He played for the Sabres, the Red Wings, and the Ottawa Senators. He represented his home country in the 1998 and 2006 Olympics, winning gold and bronze, respectively.

Even Wayne Gretzky himself has called Hasek one of the best players to grace the rink in the 1990s and 2000s.

Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby currently serves as the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was the #1 draft pick for his debut in 2005. Since then, he has helped lead his team to three Stanley Cups.

In his first season alone, Crosby scored 102 points. He is the youngest player to ever score over 100 points in a season to date. He was also the youngest player to win the Art Ross Trophy for the 2006–2007 season.

Crosby's career is not even over yet, and he has already racked up 1,190 total game points with 550 goals and 952 assists.

Alex Ovechkin

Many people consider Alex Ovechkin the greatest player still in action today. To date, he has won the Maurice Richard Trophy four times, the Hart Memorial Trophy three times, and the Stanley Cup once.

Ovechkin played for Moscow before joining the NHL with the Washington Capitals in 2004. He was the #1 pick for that year's draft.

At only 38, Ovechkin still has years left in his career. Yet already, he is the #3 player in history in terms of goals in a regular season. The only two players to surpass this record are Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky.

Connor McDavid

Connor McDavid is the future of the NHL. At only 25 years old, he is only at the beginning of his career. He was the #1 draft pick for the Edmonton Oilers when he debuted in the NHL in 2015.

Despite his relative youth, he has already racked up 750 points and four Art Ross Trophies. He also holds three Ted Lindsay Awards and two Hart Memorial Trophies.

Many people believe that McDavid will soon win his first Stanley Cup. With his 123-point season high, he may also shoot to the top of everyone's list of the best hockey players in history.

Chris Chelios

Chris Chelios may not be on everyone's list of the most influential hockey players. But he is definitely one of the best US-born hockey players of all time. The Chicago native began his career in 1984 and retired 26 years later in 2010.

Chelios is the second-oldest NHL player ever and has played the second-most number of games behind Gordie Howe.

He played for the Canadiens, the Red Wings, and the Thrashers. He also had the honor of playing for his home team, the Chicago Blackhawks. During his career, he scored 185 goals and a whopping 763 assists.

Looking for Autographed Hockey Memorabilia from Influential Hockey Players?

These influential hockey players are the best the NHL has to offer. They have incredible hockey stats, dozens of trophies, and thousands of fans just like you to their names.

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