One of the toughest debates in hockey is who are the best NHL players of all time. There isn’t much debate when arguing who the number one spot belongs to, but after that, there are a lot of different players to choose from.
Best NHL players of all time
Compiling a list of the top 25 greatest NHL players ever is not an easy task. This list includes the best forward ever, the best defenseman ever, and the best goalie ever, which makes it difficult to compare these different types of players.
Statistics, Stanley Cups, and awards greatly determine the best players of all time. It is also important to look at the most dominant players in each era, the ones opposing teams feared whenever they were on the ice.
Every player on this list has given opposing players and coaches headaches for a large portion of their careers and is remembered as one of the game’s greats long after their playing days are over.
25. Connor McDavid
There is no doubt Connor McDavid will shoot up this list as the years go by. At age 25, McDavid has already surpassed 750 points and is averaging more than 1.4 points per game.
McDavid is a four-time Art Ross Trophy winner, a three-time Ted Lindsay Award winner, and has won the Hart Memorial Trophy twice. He has registered 100 or more points in five of his seven seasons in the NHL, with a career-high 123 points in 2021-2022.
The only big thing McDavid is missing is a Stanley Cup. If he is able to achieve that and continue at the scoring pace he is at, there is no doubt McDavid will be a top-five player ever when his career is over.
24. Jacques Plante
Jacques Plante was the main reason for the Montreal Canadiens’ success in the 1950s.
Plante had a career record of 437-246-145 as an NHL goaltender. His 82 shutouts are the fifth most in league history. Plante is a six-time Stanley Cup champion, all of which came with the Canadiens.
Plante has won the Vezina Trophy a record seven times in his career, while also adding a Hart Trophy to his collection in 1962. He also holds the record for most wins in the Stanley Cup Final, collecting 25 wins, four of which came via shutout.
23. Bobby Hull
A 12-time All-Star, Bobby Hull was an elite winger for the Chicago Blackhawks. He finished his career with 1,170 points in 1,063 games.
Hull was an exceptional goal scorer, leading the league in goals in seven different seasons which included four in a row in the late 1960s. He also led the league in points on three separate occasions.
Hull won a variety of awards during his career, including three Art Ross Trophies, two Hart Trophies, and a Lady Byng Memorial Trophy. He also captured his lone Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 1961.
22. Guy Lafleur
Guy Lafleur is a Montreal Canadiens legend, holding the record for most points in a single season in franchise history with 136. He is also the Canadiens’ career leader in points with 1,246.
Lafleur dominated the league in the late 1970s. He led the league in points for three straight seasons and registered at least 115 points in six consecutive seasons. Lafleur is a career +446, which is the 11th-best in NHL history.
He was a big part of the 1976-1977 Canadiens team, which is one of the best NHL teams ever. Lafleur captured his third Stanley Cup that season while taking home his first and only Conn Smythe Trophy. Lafleur would go on to win two more for a total of five championships in his career.
21. Joe Sakic
Sakic sits 9th all-time with 1,641 career points, which he did in 1,378 games. His 1,016 assists rank 13th all-time, while his 625 goals are the 16th most by a player in league history.
Sakic was an NHL All-Star 12 times in his career. He registered at least 100 points in six different seasons and holds the franchise record for most career goals and points by a Colorado Avalanche.
20. Jean Beliveau
Jean Beliveau played 20 seasons in the NHL, all of which came with the Montreal Canadiens. He helped the team capture 10 Stanley Cups between 1956 and 1971.
Beliveau had 1,219 points in his career. He led the league in goals twice, assists twice, and total points once in a season. He was named an All-Star 13 times.
Beliveau was a two-time Hart Memorial Trophy winner and won the Art Ross Trophy once. He also took home the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1965.
19. Ray Bourque
Ray Bourque holds the record for most All-Star appearances by a defenseman with 19, which is the second most ever among all skaters.
Bourque spent the majority of his 22-year NHL career with the Boston Bruins but is best known for his lone Stanley Cup victory with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 at 40 years old. He finished his career with 1,579 points, which is the most by any defenseman in NHL history. His 180 career playoff points rank third all-time among defensemen, only behind Paul Coffey and Nicklas Lidstrom.
Included in his list of accolades are five James Norris Memorial Trophies, a King Clancy Memorial Trophy, and a Calder Memorial Trophy.
18. Doug Harvey
Doug Harvey was the best NHL defenseman in the 1950s and early 1960s. He spent 19 seasons in the NHL, 14 of which came with the Montreal Canadiens.
His elite skating and passing made him one of the most dominant players in the league and put him above the other defensemen in his era. Harvey would go on to win six Norris Trophies with the Canadiens and one with the New York Rangers. His seven Norris Trophies are tied for the second most all-time.
Harvey was a six-time Stanley Cup champion, which included five in a row with Montreal from 1956-1960. He finished his career with 72 points in 137 career playoff games.
17. Marcel Dionne
Marcel Dionne was one of the best players ever at getting on the scoresheet every night. In 1,348 games played, Dionne collected 1,771 career points, putting him 6th on the all-time list.
Dionne had eight seasons where he collected over 105 points. Between 1978-1981, Dionne went three consecutive seasons scoring at least 130 points. His best season came in 1979-1980 when he led the league with 137 points.
Although Dionne was never able to capture the Stanley Cup in his career, he did win some other awards, including two Lady Byng Trophies, two Ted Lindsay Awards, and an Art Ross Trophy. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.
16. Steve Yzerman
One of the best ice hockey players ever, Steve Yzerman finished with over 1,750 points in his career.
Yzerman spent his entire career with the Detroit Red Wings and is the franchise leader in points and goals scored in a single season. He ranks 10th all-time in goals, 9th all-time in assists, and 7th all-time in points in NHL history. Yzerman scored 94 game-winning goals in his career, which is the 13th most in league history.
A three-time Stanley Cup champion, Yzerman collected 185 career playoff points in 196 games. His incredible play in the 1998 playoffs helped lead the Red Wings to back-to-back titles, while Yzerman was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy.
15. Patrick Roy
Patrick Roy was a big reason why both the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche won Stanley Cups during his era.
Roy won four Stanley Cups in his career, two with Montreal and two with Colorado. He was awarded the Conn Smythe in three of those four championships for his dominant play throughout the postseason. In 247 career postseason appearances, Roy finished with 151 wins, which is the most all-time. His 23 playoff shutouts are the second most ever behind only Martin Brodeur (24).
Roy was a three-time Vezina Trophy winner and also won the William M. Jennings Trophy five times. He finished his career with a record of 551-315-131. His 551 wins are the second most by a goaltender in NHL history.
14. Alex Ovechkin
He is not only one of the best NHL players of all time, but also arguably the greatest goal scorer in the history of the game.
Alex Ovechkin has been a scoring machine ever since he entered the league in 2005. He currently sits second all-time in goals with over 800 in his career. Ovechkin has won the Rocket Richard trophy a total of nine times, which is given out to the player who scores the most goals in a season. His nine wins are the most of any player in league history.
For a long time, the only thing Ovechkin was missing was a Stanley Cup, which he finally got in 2018 with the Washington Capitals. His other achievements include three Hart Trophies, three Ted Lindsay Awards, one Art Ross Trophy, and a Conn Smythe Trophy. If he is able to pass Wayne Gretzky for the most goals of all time, Ovechkin will find himself even higher up on this list.
13. Phil Esposito
Phil Esposito amassed over 1,500 points during his 18-year NHL career, which was spent with the Blackhawks, Bruins, and then the Rangers.
His best seasons came as a member of the Boston Bruins. He had five seasons where he led the league in points and also led the league in goals for six straight seasons while playing for Boston. He finished his career with 717 goals, which is the 7th most in NHL history.
Esposito excelled at coming up with big goals in big moments, scoring the 4th most game-winning goals ever with 118. He would go on to win two Stanley Cups with the Bruins and would also take home the Hart Trophy on two separate occasions. If that wasn’t all, Esposito also won the Art Ross Trophy five times, tied for the 4th most all time.
12. Mike Bossy
Mike Bossy only played in the NHL for 10 seasons, but he definitely made the most of it. He finished his career with 1,126 points in just 752 games played.
Bossy led the league in goals in 1978-1979 when he scored 69 goals, and then again two years later with 68 goals. He registered at least 75 points in every season he played in the NHL. Bossy had seven seasons in which he collected over 115 points, including six straight from 1980-1986.
Bossy played a big role for the New York Islanders when they won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the early 1980s. He was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy after their 1982 championship. Bossy was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.
11. Martin Brodeur
Collecting the most wins by a goaltender in NHL history puts you in the same discussion among the best NHL players of all time.
Martin Brodeur won 691 games in his 22-year career, which is the most all-time and 140 wins more than the next-best goalie. He also sits atop the list of the most shutouts in league history with 125.
Brodeur played 1,259 of his 1,266 games with the New Jersey Devils, helping them win three Stanley Cups. In 205 career playoff games, Brodeur was 113-91 with 24 shutouts. The 113 wins are the second most in postseason history, while the 24 shutouts lead all goalies. Brodeur was a four-time Vezina Trophy winner and won the William M. Jennings Trophy five times.
10. Nicklas Lidstrom
A Detroit Red Wings legend, Nicklas Lidstrom was an elite defenseman all throughout his 20-year career.
Lidstrom was one of the best at dominating both ends of the ice as a defenseman. He had an exceptional understanding of the game, making the position look easy at times. He finished with 1,142 points and was a career +450, which is the 8th-best plus/minus in NHL history.
Lidstrom helped lead the Red Wings to four Stanley Cup championships during his tenure and was awarded the Conn Smythe in 2002. He won the Norris Trophy seven times, which is tied for the second most ever.
9. Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby continues to show us why he is regarded as one of the greatest players in NHL history.
There isn’t much left to accomplish for the Penguins superstar, as he has three Stanley Cups to his name, along with multiple Hart, Art Ross, Ted Lindsay, Maurice Richard, and Conn Smythe Trophies. Crosby has led the league in points in a season twice and has registered at least 100 points in six seasons.
Had it not been for the multiple injuries he has suffered in his career, Crosby would find himself even higher up on this list. He currently has more than 1,450 career points, and his 201 career playoff points are tied for the 5th most in league history.
8. Dominik Hasek
The highest-ranked goaltender on this list, Dominik Hasek robbed many great players of goals throughout his 16 years in the NHL.
Hasek has a career record of 389-223-82-13. His 0.922 career save percentage is the best save percentage ever among goalies who have played at least 200 games. He also sits 8th all-time with a 2.20 goals-against average.
Hasek won six Vezina Trophies during his career, all of which came with the Buffalo Sabres during an 8-year span. Hasek was also awarded the Hart Trophy in back-to-back years as a member of the Sabres. Although Hasek never won a Cup with Buffalo, he did win two championships as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
7. Jaromir Jagr
It took a long time for father time to catch up to Jaromir Jagr, as he did not stop playing in the NHL until the age of 45. Even at the age of 44, Jagr played all 82 games that season.
Jagr has played the 4th most NHL games by a player in history, and sits second all-time in points with 1,921, behind only Wayne Gretzky. He won back-to-back Stanley Cups as a member of the Penguins in 1991 and 1992 and won the Hart Trophy while playing for Pittsburgh in 1999.
Jagr led the league in points for four consecutive seasons between 1997-2001. He also led the league in assists three times. His best season came in 1995-1996 when he had 149 points, the most by any non-Canadian-born player in NHL history.
6. Mark Messier
There are only a few that have had a better career than Mark Messier. Messier played over 1,750 games over his 25-year career, collecting the third most points all-time with 1,887.
Messier won six Stanley Cups in his career, with the most memorable one being his lone championship with the New York Rangers in 1994. He had 30 points in 23 playoff games that year, helping the Rangers end the “Curse of 1940.”
Messier played in 15 All-Star games in his career, tied for the 4th most all-time. His other accomplishments include two Hart Trophies, two Ted Lindsay Awards, and a Conn Smythe Trophy.
5. Maurice Richard
Maurice Richard was an elite goal scorer in his era, which is why the award for most goals in a season is called the Rocket Richard Trophy.
Richard’s best season came in 1944-1945 when he scored 50 goals in 50 games, which was 18 more than the second-best goal scorer. He would go on to lead the league in goals on five separate occasions, including the 1946-1947 season where he won the Hart Trophy.
Richard was a big reason why the Montreal Canadiens won eight Stanley Cups during his time in the NHL. He collected a total of 126 points in 132 career playoff games. His 82 postseason goals are the 8th most in NHL history.
4. Bobby Orr
There is no debate on who the greatest defenseman is of all time. That honor goes to none other than Bobby Orr.
What Orr did in just 12 seasons in the NHL was remarkable. He finished his career with 915 points in just 657 games. His 1.393 points per game is the most by any defenseman in history by a wide margin and is the 5th most among all players.
Orr holds the record for most Norris Trophies with eight, which he won all in a row from 1968-1975. He also won the Hart Trophy three times and the Art Ross Trophy twice. Orr was a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Boston Bruins and won the Conn Smythe Trophy in both instances.
3. Gordie Howe
Gordie Howe played 26 seasons in the NHL, tied for the most in NHL history. He played his final season at age 51 where he was still able to score 15 goals and collect 41 points.
Howe was awarded the Hart Trophy six times in his career, which is the second most all-time. His 1,767 games played are behind only Patrick Marleau for most ever, while his 1,850 points are the 4th most in league history.
Howe’s best seasons came in the 1950s when he had a stretch of four straight years leading the league in points. He helped lead the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cups in a span of six seasons between 1950-1955 (1950, 1952, 1954, 1955). Howe played in 23 All-Star games in his career, which is a record that will likely never be broken.
2. Mario Lemieux
Despite battling cancer and back problems during his career, Mario Lemieux is one of the best NHL players of all time.
Looking at Lemieux’s stats shows how unbelievable of a player he was. He averaged 1.883 points per game, which is only 0.038 behind Wayne Gretzky for the best points per game average in NHL history. Lemieux sits 8th all-time in points with 1,723 points, which he did in just 915 games. He is the only player in the top 35 in career points to have played less than 1000 games.
The greatest Penguins player ever, Lemieux led the team to back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992 and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy both times. He would go on to have 10 seasons of 100 or more points, with his best season coming in 1988-1989 when he had 199 points.
1. Wayne Gretzky
With 2,857 career NHL points, 936 more than the next-best player, Wayne Gretzky is the clear choice as the league’s all-time greatest player.
Gretzky holds the record for goals, assists, and points in both the regular season and playoffs. He led the league in points 11 different times and is the only player in history to reach 200 points in a single season, which he did four times. Gretzky won nine Hart Trophies, including a span of eight in a row in the 1980s.
Gretzky led the Edmonton Oilers to four Stanley Cups and was awarded the Conn Smythe for two of them. Due to an incredible career that will most likely never be surpassed, Gretzky’s number 99 was retired league-wide in 2000, the only NHL player to ever receive that honor.