For some reason, ice hockey seems to be a real familial sport, more so than others. The list of brothers, fathers, sons, grandfathers, uncles, and so on, who have all played at the NHL is too long to recount. Whether it is the Sedin twins making their family back in sleepy Örnsköldsvik, Sweden proud, or the Sutter and Staal farms in Viking, Alberta and Thunder Bay, Ontario, respectively, that keep churning out NHLer after NHLer, family ties run strong in the game of hockey. But of course, familial relationships are not always easy. Whenever you get two brothers together, there is an invariable sibling rivalry of some kind. And when those brothers are both hockey players, look out.
Part of this is on us, to be honest. The hockey watching public and media just can’t seem to help but compare siblings who both played at the NHL. It’s natural. It’s unavoidable. Whether it is Frank vs Peter Mahovlich, Geoff vs Russ Courtnall, or Ryan vs Dylan Strome, we are always fascinated by how brothers are alike, and how they are different. This list will focus on younger brothers who had an expectation to live up to because of an older brother’s reputation, and also on those younger brothers who obliterated any memory of their elders.
Note: We will focus only on pairs of brothers who both played in the NHL. We’re not going to get into stuff like ranking all the various Sutter family members; that would require an entirely separate article.
15 Surpassed: Mark Messier
You might be surprised, dear reader, to come across Mark Messier on this list. All the more reason for him to be here because he has so, so far exceeded his elder brother Paul, that many of us don’t even know poor Paul exists.
Indeed, anybody who does know of Paul Messier beyond his immediate family and friends likely know him only as the older brother of Mark Messier. While Mark retired after having played 1756 NHL regular season games and scored 1,887 points (second all-time at the time of retiring, only recently surpassed by Jaromír Jágr), Paul’s statsheet is decidedly less stellar. He played nine games and notched zero points.
But in Paul’s defense, he did play for one of the most abysmal teams of all time, the Colorado Rockies. On a better team, he may have picked up an assist or two.
14 Lived in the Shadow: Valeri Bure
"The Russian Rocket", Pavel Bure, dazzled fans in Vancouver, Florida, and New York. His younger brother Valeri... Well, he dazzled once or twice, too.
Actually, it would be unfair to Valeri to entirely dismiss his accomplishments. The younger Bure notched 400 regular season NHL points in 621 games. That is a very good NHL career. But anybody hoping he would light the lamp as often as Pavel would have been sorely disappointed, with Valeri scoring 263 goals fewer than Pavel’s haul of 437. One thing both Bures have in common, however, is that they both retired young: at 32 and 31, respectively. Had injuries not got in the way, both could have been even more successful. Nevertheless, Valeri did manage to marry miss DJ Tanner herself, Candace Cameron. So hey, that’s a pretty good life he’s led.
13 Surpassed: Mario Lemieux
With Mario the Magnificent, we have a situation very similar to the Messier brothers. Mario’s bro is Alain Lemieux, four years Mario’s senior. While Paul Messier was only in the NHL for a cup of coffee, Alain Lemieux’s tenure was more substantial. He played a total of 119 regular season NHL games and scored a surprisingly high 72 points.
Like his baby bro, Alain was a center, and his best season came with the Quebec Nordiques in 1984-85 in which he played 30 games and scored 22 points. That would be impressive by today’s standards, but remember, this was the 1980s, a decade in which NHL teams seemingly forgot how to defend.
Interestingly, Alain and Mario played one game together for the Penguins on February 17, 1987. For those of you who are perhaps too young to remember "Super Mario", here’s a quick overview of his stats: 915 regular season games, 690 goals, and an eye-watering 1723 points. He also played through chronic back problems and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. There’s a reason he is in most hockey pundits’ top three of all time.
12 Shadow: Dennis Hull
This one feels like a cheap shot, but by the strictest terms of this list, Dennis Hull belongs here because he came well short of surpassing his older brother, Bobby. From 1964 to 1978, Dennis scored a respectable 654 points in 959 regular season NHL games, almost all of them with the Blackhawks. Good enough to earn him the nickname, “The Silver Jet”.
It sounds flattering until you realize that even Dennis’ nickname qualifies his worth by comparison to his brother, “The Golden Jet”. Five years Dennis’s senior, Bobby Hull racked up 1170 points in 1063 regular season NHL games (as well as 638 points in 411 games in the rival WHA).
Add to this that Bobby’s son, Brett, would go on to become one of the most prolific goalscorers of all time, and poor Dennis looks like the black sheep of the family.
11 Surpassed: Tomáš Kaberle
With 563 points in 984 NHL regular season games, it is no surprise that Tomáš Kaberle has surpassed his elder brother, František. Tomáš is the second highest scoring defenseman in Leafs history (behind only Börje Salming), and he finally won the Stanley Cup late in his career with the Boston Bruins in 2011.
František was no schlub, though. He played over 500 NHL regular season games and scored nearly 200 points. Although a solid player, František was never outstanding, so he did not cast a very large shadow on his younger brother.
The Kaberle brothers only got to play together when representing their native Czech Republic, with whom they won gold at the 2005 IIHF World Championships. Hockey skill definitely runs in the family as their dad, František, Sr. was a successful player in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s.
10 Shadow: Steve Kariya
When your older brother is one of the most naturally proficient forwards in the game, he casts a long shadow. This is why younger brother Steve never quite emerged behind Paul.
In truth, he never really came close. Paul Kariya had a point per game career. (Literally, 989 points in 989 games). Steve Kariya, meanwhile... Well, he tried. He managed 27 points in 65 career NHL games.
To be fair, Steve did go on to have a successful career in Europe, mostly in Finland. And before you start to feel sorry for him, spare a thought for the baby of the brothers, Martin, who never quite made it to the NHL. Furthermore, their sister, Noriko, played field hockey in college before becoming a professional boxer. What a family.
9 Surpassed: Ken Dryden
When Ken Dryden debuted at the NHL, his older brother Dave had already played over 70 NHL games. Both were goalies and Dave is six years older than Ken.
Ken famously debuted late in the 1970-71 season as a 25-year-old, having delayed his pro career to do his Bachelor's at Cornell University. As an emergency call up, the rookie played so well in six regular season games that he got the number one position ahead of all-star Rogie Vachon going into the playoffs. Dryden would then backstop the Canadiens to the Cup and won the Conn Smythe before he won the Calder.
Although he would play over 200 NHL games, no such honors would ever come Dave’s way. But it doesn’t stop with hockey; Ken would go on to become a successful lawyer and Liberal cabinet minister in the Canadian federal government. Dave... Well, I’m sure he’s done stuff, too. Apparently, he is the chairperson of a charity that provides beds to needy kids, so that is something worth mentioning.
8 Shadow: Marcel Hossa
Now we are getting into the lot that are known only as the less successful baby brothers of famous hockey players. Having said that, it is not as though Marcel Hossa’s NHL career was entirely forgettable. A total of 61 points in over 200 NHL regular season games is worth mentioning. As was Marcel’s KHL career (he now plays in the Czech Republic).
However, compared to older brother Marián’s 1000-plus points and three Stanley Cup rings, it is clear who has had the better career. It has been rumored that infamously inept Canadiens GM Réjean Houle drafted Marcel in 2000 thinking he was going to get a younger version of Marián. Nope. Nonetheless, the two brothers have played together for the Slovak national team as well as in Sweden during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
7 Surpassed: Brayden Schenn
One could argue that the jury is still out on this one as both Schenns are still active at the NHL. And neither are old, with the elder Luke being only 27. But it is fair to say that, at least thus far, Brayden has had the superior career.
This is an interesting case as both were drafted 5th overall in their respective draft years. However, Luke was drafted into the hockey-mad market of Toronto and there was a lot of pressure put on him. The expectations were so great, the young player buckled underneath them.
On June 23, 2012, Luke was reunited with his baby bro in Philadelphia, the Leafs having dealt Luke for James van Riemsdyk (a rare win for the Leafs). Unfortunately, Luke went from a player who struggled to meet lofty expectations to a player who just flat out struggled. He’s journeyed around the league in recent years, making stops in L.A. and Arizona. Brayden, however, has made himself a fixture in Philly’s offense, having scored above 200 points in more than 400 regular season games for the Flyers.
6 Shadow: Brett Lindros
Eric Lindros is a case of what could have been. What could have been if his career had not been cut short by concussions? What could have been if maybe he got along better with general managers and team executives?
But let us take a look at his career: 865 points in 750 NHL regular season games and a Hart Trophy to boot. That can be considered as an excellent run.
His younger brother Brett? Well... he was there, too... for a while. Brett played 51 games and scored seven points, all for the Islanders. However, it was not a case of Brett not being good enough to hack it at the NHL and bumming around the AHL or Europe for years.
That is the one thing he and Eric had in common: concussions. Both of their careers were sadly cut short due to repeated concussion problems.
5 Surpassed: Denis Potvin
Denis Potvin is recognized as one of the greatest defensemen and captains in NHL history. He is also known for captaining and backstopping the great New York Islanders dynasty to four consecutive Stanley Cup championships in the early 1980s.
His older brother Jean is known for, well, for being Denis’ older brother. Which is too bad because Jean had a very respectable career. Totaling 287 points in 613 regular season NHL games is a great achievement, even during the era of high-scoring games. The two Potvins played together for several seasons with the Islanders, including Jean’s final two seasons where they won cups in both years.
And if Jean ever feels insignificant, at least he can say he was better than their cousin Marc Potvin (eight points in 121 games).
4 Shadow: Fedor Fedorov
Honestly, “Fedor Fedorov” sounds like an off-brand, bootleg version of Sergei Fedorov, which is pretty much what Fedor was. While Sergei can count three Stanley Cups, two Selke Trophies, and a Hart Trophy among his NHL achievements, Fedor can count two... assists.
With a sizeable 12-year age gap between them, Sergei had plenty of time to wow fans and analysts before Fedor was drafted in 1999. And again in 2001. Yeah, it is not a good sign when a player has to re-enter an NHL draft. For anybody who thought they were getting a slightly less awesome Fedorov at a bargain price, they were sorely mistaken. While Fedor has found success at the KHL, he only entered the rink 18 times at the NHL.
3 Surpassed: Jamie Benn
The Benn brothers are an interesting case. Even though Jordie is the elder Benn, Jamie began his NHL career first. While Jamie had a decent junior career, representing Canada at the World Junior Championships in 2009, Jordie’s was much less distinguished. He was not even drafted.
Presumably pleased with the performances of the younger Benn with the Dallas Stars, their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, decided to sign Jordie in 2010. Jordie got the call up to the big league in 2011 and established himself as a regular in the Stars lineup during the 2013-14 season. The next year, he got to watch from the blueline as his younger brother won the Art Ross Trophy.
Nevertheless in recent years, Jordie’s play has steadily improved, earning him a trade deadline move to Montreal this year where he has proven to be an important player for the Habs. Could we see a rare instance of an older brother coming from behind and surpassing his younger bro? Probably not, but we will be sure to keep tabs.
2 Shadow: Brent Gretzky
The Gretzky brothers are the most successful siblings in the history of hockey. Statistically speaking, at least. They combined to score a massive record of 2,861 regular season points, and Brent is responsible for a whopping four of those points.
Let’s face it. When your older brother is the greatest player in the history of the sport, you are going to have some unrealistic expectations attached to your name. It would be one thing if Brent was a solid journeyman third liner for a few years. It is quite another when he only ever managed to play less than 20 NHL games, all of those were for an expansion Tampa Bay franchise, one wonders if they were just trying to cash in on his name value.
Interestingly, the two Gretzkys faced one another in an NHL game. Brent has said they took maybe 15 draws against each other and he managed to win one. At least Brent can say he surpassed the eldest Gretzky brother, Keith, who never even made it to the NHL.
1 Surpassed: Henri Richard
We saved the hottest take for last. Yes, you are reading that right, Henri Richard was better than his older brother Maurice. Now, before Habs fans lose their minds over this one (I know how much you all revere “The Rocket”), let us look at the stats. “The Pocket Rocket”, Henri, racked up 1,046 points in 1,256 NHL regular season games, becoming only the ninth player to hit the 1,000 point mark, an achievement never met by Maurice, who scored only 965 points in 978 games in his career. Of course, Maurice was a more prolific goal scorer, being the first player to score 500 goals in a career and the first to score 50 in 50 games, though he did so in the 1944-45 season when the talent pool was thin due to World War II.
The two were very different. Maurice was a loud, tough, goal scorer. Henri, a massive 15 years younger than Maurice, was a quiet playmaker. The most telling stat? Henri won the Stanley Cup a record 11 times; Maurice won it eight times.