It's the plight of many a promising hockey player.
Exquisite hands. Extraordinary vision. A rifle of a shot. Off-the-charts hockey sense. Strong as an ox.
In the 70s and 80s, you might have gotten away with it. Not anymore, though. The "Fastest Game on Earth" has become exactly that, and without speed, the NHL might as well be Mars for many hockey players: attainable, if it weren't for that one major obstacle.
Of course, for every plodder there's a speedster, a gazelle on blades who can reach top speed within a matter of seconds. One second, they're in front of you - the next, they're behind you streaking towards your net. No matter how big or strong the players on your roster are, there's no substitute for speed in today's NHL. Hook and grab if you'd like, but you'll be spending half the game on the penalty kill.
Even though the quality of skating has risen exponentially in the past decade, there's no ignoring the pioneers of the art. The technique, style and equipment might have evolved over time, but there's no denying that some of the classics could flat out fly - some of them even faster than today's player, whose blessed with lighter, higher quality gear that is engineered to squeeze out every last mile-per-hour that a player can generate.
The players on this list have awed us not only with their talents with the puck on their stick, but also through their elegance, grace and raw power in careening around the ice at breakneck speeds - and making it look easy in the process.
15 Carl Hagelin
We'd be remiss if we did not add diminutive New York Rangers forward Carl Hagelin to this list. After all, if we look solely at the one timed speed-based event the NHL holds every year - the NHL's Faster Skater competition at the All-Star game - then Hagelin should be atop this list as the event's current record-holder. Hagelin put the league on notice at the 2012 All-Star game with an incredible 13.218 second run, just beating out former title-holder Mike Gartner.
Hagelin won't tear up the score-sheet and most likely won't finish in the top 10 in scoring during his career, but he's earned a reputation as a guy you have to respect on the outside - like a deep threat wide receiver who cornerbacks play off of to avoid getting beat for a big gain (or long touchdown, for that matter).
14 Scott Niedermayer
Unlike Hagelin, Scott Niedermayer is considered one of the best at his craft, and he was in no small part aided by his incredible skating ability. Niedermayer had one of the smoothest skating strides among the defenseman of his era, and it was the perfect complement to his crisp passes and innate hockey sense. Not only was he one of the smartest, he was able to work at top speed - and if that wasn't enough to convince you, he also has two Fastest Skater competition victories on his resume.
13 Marian Gaborik
Marian Gaborik could give away some of his speed to his linemates and still be the quickest player on the ice. Few have the kind of wheels Gaborik put on display during his prime, and even though he's slowed down a touch, he's still one of the leagues top skaters. Gaborik has the ability to blow by would-be defenders at any given moment, and his incredible North-South speed makes him just as challenging for opposing goaltenders.
12 Erik Karlsson
When legends like Bobby Orr are singing your praises, you know you're doing something right:
""The kid has wonderful speed. Great, great hockey sense," Orr told the Ottawa Sun in 2011. "You get a kid who can skate like that and you let him go."
He was of course talking about defensive dynamo Erik Karlsson, who has established himself as one of the premier offensive blueliners in the league today. Karlsson has been criticized at times for his poor defensive play, but there's no denying his speed on the rush or on the backcheck, making him one of the league's all-around best players.
11 Peter Bondra
Arguably the greatest Capitals player not named Alexander Ovechkin, Peter Bondra was the Caps European superstar before the "Great Eight" ever came along. Bondra was a late-bloomer in every sense of the expression, but once he found his game, it took off; not unlike the way he took off after an explosive first step. Bondra was not just a fast skater, but a strong and balanced one, and he used his speed in every facet of his game - especially to score goals.
10 Joe Sakic
"Burnaby Joe" was everyone's favorite player who didn't play for your team. It was hard to hate on the guy, as Joe Sakic was as lovable a hockey player as there ever will be. Besides the scoring touch, leadership and clutch performances was the incredibly smooth skating style Sakic put on display throughout his NHL career. Never choppy or panicked, Sakic was able to move around the ice with the grace of a figure skater and the power of a speed skater - quite the combination for any hockey player, one might say.
9 Gilbert Perreault
Gilbert Perreault falls under the "old school" category of great skaters. He made it look easy, whether he was cutting through the offensive zone or attempting (and probably succeeding) an end-to-end rush. Perreault would often baffle defenders by seemingly slowing down into a widened stance, before snapping back into full stride in the blink of an eye and blowing by (or dangling around) his opposition. It helped make him an elite scorer and arguably the greatest Buffalo Sabre in the history of the franchise.
8 Jean Béliveau
Jean Béliveau was the prototypical hockey player in every sense of the word. Smart, talented, tough and as classy as the game has ever seen, Béliveau was as graceful on the ice as he was off it. In an era where big men were considered galoots, Béliveau was the opposite - effortless, deceptively quick and light on his feet but with the ability to barrel down on opponents and goaltenders like a runaway freight train. He redefined the centre position during his illustrious career, and a big part of it was his incredible skating ability.
7 Mike Gartner
Mike Gartner is the epitome of the "speed demon" label. A 17-time 30-goal scorer, Gartner used his blazing speed to leave defenders spinning throughout the entirety of his NHL career - emphasis on entirety. Most players lose a step in their 30's; somehow, Gartner managed to find a way to not only keep his speed, but go even faster. He's one of the four players to win the Fastest Skater contest twice, and he won his two titles at the ages of 33 and 36.
Who said hockey was a young man's game?
6 Bobby Hull
"The Golden Jet" - an appropriate moniker for the incredibly fast and immensely talented Bobby Hull, who was one of truly elite players during a glorious era of professional hockey. Not only did he boast the hardest shot in the NHL at his peak, he was also the NHL's fastest skater. He was arguably "The Great One" before Gretzky came along and stole his thunder, but no one will ever forget Hull's booming slapper or his impeccable skating stride.
5 Paul Coffey
If it wasn't for the likes of Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey might be considered the greatest offensive defenseman of all-time (even with the points record, many still consider Orr the best).
Coffey was a remarkable skater, with the ability to reach top speed in practically no time while turnstiling defensemen and oncoming opponents with relative ease. Anyone who makes the argument that Coffey was propped up by Gretzky's presence is a fool - while it certainly helped, Coffey was still elite in his own right, in large part thanks to his incredible speed.
4 Guy Lafleur
Guy Lafleur had a couple of things going for him during his younger years. He could skate fast, score goals, and look good doing it. Combine them all together and you get "The Flower," a blur of blue, white, red, and blond streaking down the right wing, practically unbeknownst to anyone until he was slowing down and passing by the red light he'd just illuminated behind a bewildered goaltender. Lafleur was arguably hockey's "prettiest" skater, but pretty doesn't get by hulking defenseman or put the puck in the net - his talent took care of that.
3 Sergei Fedorov
Arguably the most complete player the modern NHL has ever seen, Sergei Fedorov's greatest asset was his skating ability. His effortless stride was long and graceful, and while he might not fall into the "speedster" category, his stride was so good that he didn't need to be the fastest player on the ice. This probably made him even more dangerous - opponents might think back and wish he had been too fast for his own good.
2 Pavel Bure
With a nickname like "The Russian Rocket," there's not much else that needs to be said. Bure was the original "speed demon," moving up and down the wings at what seemed like the speed of light. He could beat defenders along the walls or right down the middle - he was too fast for practically everyone he went up against. Knee injuries ruined what otherwise would have been a truly legendary career, but those who witnessed him in his prime know that Bure was one of the best talents the NHL had ever seen.
1 Bobby Orr
No surprise here, right?
If you've ever seen the video of Bobby Orr keeping the puck during an entire Bruins penalty kill, then you know why Orr is at the top of this list. Orr is without a doubt the most talented skater the league has ever seen - and that was before you saw him dangle around would-be defenders with ease despite being at top-speed. Like Bure, knee problems slowed Orr down, but there are few arguments can be made against Orr's unparalleled talent.
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