Since the NHL formed back in 1917, fans have seen a plethora of talent come and go. There have been many greats in the past, plenty of whom are still talked about to this day. There are tons of players in the league today who will one day be thought about in the same realm, such as Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and many more.
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Both now and in the past, there have been many great players of many different nationalities. The United States has produced plenty of great talent, as have many European countries. With that said, many would argue that Canada leads the charge in terms of NHL legends, and looking at lists of the leagues all time leading scorers, it is hard to argue that claim.
Here are the top 5 Canadians to ever lace them up.
5. Mark Messier
While the most common player thought of when remembering the Edmonton Oilers 1980’s era is Wayne Gretzky, he also had a great supporting cast around him. At the top of that supporting cast was Mark Messier, who was able to win a ridiculous six Stanley Cups throughout his career, five of which came with the Oilers, and the final one with the New York Rangers.
His Cups are far from the only hardware he picked up during his 1,756-game career, though. He was awarded the Conn Smythe in 1984, and also boasts two Lester. B Pearson Trophies (now known as the Ted Lindsay Award), along with two Harts.
Messier’s 1,887 career points rank third all time, while his 694 goals are ninth. While his offensive skills were incredible, they were far from his only asset. Each time he stepped on the ice, opposing players had to keep their heads up, as he had the ability to flatten anyone with a check, and wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves either, proven by his 1,912 career penalty minutes. On top of all that, he was one of the best leaders the game has ever seen, which is why the Mark Messier Leadership Award has been an annual trophy given out since 2007.
4. Gordie Howe
You can’t have a list of the top 5 Canadian players of all time without including Mr. Hockey himself. Before guys like Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky, it was Gordie Howe who was recognized as the best to ever do it. While there were several things that made him so special, one in particular was his longevity, as he appeared in 1,767 career NHL games, and suited up for an additional 419 in the World Hockey Association (WHA).
Howe won four Cups in his career, while also winning six Art Ross and Hart Trophies. His 801 goals trail only Wayne Gretzky in NHL history, while his 1,850 points rank fourth. While his numbers are spectacular, however, one thing he is remembered by in particular today is the ‘Gordie Howe Hat Trick’, which is accomplished when a player records a goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game.
As mentioned before, Howe’s longevity is something to marvel at. While his games played his outstanding enough, what really makes it incredible is realizing that he suited up for at least a single game at the professional level in 33 different seasons. Safe to say there will never be another like Howe.
3. Bobby Orr
In today’s NHL, there are several defenceman who put up very high point totals, and we all have Orr to thank for that. Prior to Orr entering the league, defenceman were all about keeping the puck out of their net, and were never much of a threat to put offence on the board. That all changed when Orr came around, as he finished his career having recorded north of 100 points on six different occasions.
Perhaps the stat that most proves how dominant Orr was is the fact that his 1.393 points per game (ppg) is fifth all-time in NHL history. Had it not been for plaguing knee injuries, he would without a doubt be the all-time highest scoring defenceman, as he recorded an absurd 270 goals and 915 points in just 657 games.
By the time his career was wrapped up, Orr finished with two Stanley Cups, eight Norris Trophies, three Harts, two Conn Smythes, two Art Ross trophies, and last but not least, both a Calder and a Lester B. Pearson Award. What makes his numerous accolades all the more impressive is that he only had eight seasons in which he played north of 60 games. He is undeniably the greatest defenceman of all time, and will likely remain just that forever.
2. Mario Lemieux
There are some out there who would argue that Mario Lemieux is the greatest player of all time. Like Orr, his overall totals should be even greater than they are, but back injuries, as well as being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in the prime of his career, limited him to 915 games.
In those 915 games, he put up a ppg of 1.883, which is second in NHL history. His 1,723 points are eighth all-time, despite playing in far fewer games than anyone surrounding him with those totals. Don’t forget, his 690 goals rank 11th.
Lemieux was able to hoist the Stanley Cup twice as a player, while also taking home a ridiculous six Art Ross Trophies, four Lester B. Pearsons, three Harts, two Conn Smythes, a Calder and a Bill Masterton. Had he not been forced to miss three straight seasons from 1997-2000, there is a serious debate to be had that he may have been able to pass, or at least be close to, Gretzky’s career totals.
1. Wayne Gretzky
If it wasn’t already obvious enough before clicking on the article, it was made quite clear by reading the rest of the list that Gretzky would be at the top. You don’t get the name ‘The Great One’ very easily, yet it is perfectly suitable for Gretzky, who is not only the greatest Canadian, but the best player of any nation to ever play hockey.
To this day, Gretzky remains the only player to have recorded 200 points in a season, something he did four times, with his best coming in 1985-86 where he put up a whopping 215. He also has the highest goal total in a season with 92, which came in 1981-82. While there are plenty of stats proving that he is by far the best to ever do it, perhaps the most telling is that if you took away all of his 894 career goals, he would still sit number one for points in NHL history, as his 1,963 assists top Jaromir Jagr’s 1,921 career points, which sit second all time on the NHL leaderboard.
As far as personal accolades go, nobody’s list comes anywhere near Gretzky’s. Aside from his four Stanley Cups, he won 10 Art Ross Trophies, nine Harts, five Lester B. Pearsons, five Lady Byngs, and two Conn Smythes. Suffice to say, there is a reason he is widely recognized as, not only the greatest hockey player to ever live, but one of the greatest athletes of all time.
Plenty to Debate
As it goes with any type of list like this, there will be plenty of varying opinions. While the majority would agree that Gretzky belongs at number one, there are good arguments to be had on the others. Whether you would add someone who isn’t on, or simply swap those who did appear on this list, I’m interested to hear your opinions. Leave a comment below to give your say.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.