Speed kills. Practically every sports fan has heard this before and it makes sense because it's true for virtually any sport you look at. Hockey, meanwhile, has laid it's claim as the “fastest game on Earth.” Put the two together and it's fair to assume that most NHL teams would kill to pick up one of the league's fastest skaters. Speed can be an NHL player's most valuable asset or their worst enemy. There's no greater embarrassment in hockey than not being able to get your skates moving fast enough to keep up with the other team. Needless to say, you HAVE to be fast to play hockey.
Having said that, as far as I know, there's no plans in the works to sign Usain Bolt to an NHL deal any time soon. NHL speedsters need good acceleration, agility, balance, endurance and some quality hockey sense in order to put their wheels to good use, so simply skating fast isn't going to cut it.
The following NHL players, on top of having different skills and weaknesses outside of their speed, are different kinds of “fast.” Players with elite acceleration are more likely to create plays on the drop of a hat by finding open ice in the offensive zone, while players with a high top speed frighten defenseman and goalies alike with their breakaway ability. Regardless, if you're faster than the guy on the other team you're probably going to find success in the NHL and these players are some of the best at getting where they need to go in a hurry.
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15 Michael Grabner
An article in Men's Fitness magazine this past October boldly claimed that Michael Grabner was the “fastest man on ice” and he's doing everything he can to live up to the title. Grabner is an Austria native who made a big splash in his first season with the Islanders back in 2010-11, potting 34 goals in his first full NHL season. Grabner uses his high top-end speed to pull away from the defense and he generates a lot of breakaways.
Grabner hasn't been able to recreate the success he found during his first season with the Islanders; one of the biggest knocks against him is that he doesn't have great finishing ability to complement his speed. Still, Grabner creates so many opportunities with his speed that he can focus on quantity rather than quality scoring chances. Grabner starts 2016 as a member of the Rangers. He seems to be taking a simpler approach playing for the Blueshirts and it's resulted in a strong start to his season.
14 Andrew Cogliano
On an Anaheim team that seems to emphasize size and skill with the likes of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, Andrew Cogliano serves as a breath of fresh air for Ducks fans. Entering his fifth season with the club, the 5'10" speedster has found his niche playing the wing on the Ducks' second line. Cogliano can pull away from the league's quickest defenseman with ease and adds a dangerous speed element to Anaheim's offense.
On top of his scoring ability, Cogliano exhibits passing and play-making ability that is often absent from the league's lesser-known fast players. Some might consider this a side effect of playing alongside the likes of Getzlaf and Perry in Anaheim but “Cogs” has consistently posted assist totals on par with his goal-scoring. Cogliano should serve as a critical role player down the road for an Anaheim team looking to play into the summer. If Cogliano can sustain his speed come playoff time, he'll continue to be a very valuable weapon for the Ducks.
13 Duncan Keith
One of only a couple defenseman on this list, Duncan Keith is one of the NHL's best pure skaters. Not only is the Blackhawks star one of the NHL's fastest defenseman, his skating often looks effortless as he moves up and down the ice. Keith uses quick, short strides to get up to speed and is one of the best transition players in all of hockey because of it. Keith can single-handedly sustain pressure in the offensive zone, then turn around and play shutdown defense on some of the NHL's best, and quickest, forwards.
Keith is often expected to log upwards of 20 or 25 minutes per game for the Blackhawks, so it's important that Keith keeps a close eye on his conditioning and endurance. He does and it's why he finds so much success for Chicago in the playoffs. Keith maintains his elite speed all season long and it was a major factor in his selection for the Conn Smythe trophy back during the 2015 playoffs.
12 Phil Kessel
Believe it or not, there's a reason why they call him Phil “The Thrill” Kessel. Kessel is easily one of the NHL's most explosive offensive players and couples fantastic speed with one of the NHL's quickest shot releases. Kessel doesn't get his reputation as one of the league's best sharpshooters without space to shoot and he's able to find that space with sensational acceleration and agility in the offensive zone.
Kessel is right at home as he begins his second season with the Penguins and his speed is even more dangerous taking into consideration that for the bulk of last season he was only the second fastest player on his line. Kessel found plenty of success playing alongside Carl Hagelin over the past season as a member of the famed "HBK" line, and the two are fantastic at generating mismatches together for the other team with their speed. Don't worry, we'll talk more about Hagelin later.
11 Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin is without a doubt one of the NHL's best scorers and it's difficult to dispute that Ovi's shot is his greatest strength. However, anyone who has ever seen him play has likely seen how much open ice Ovechkin generates before ripping a one-timer or taking a snap shot. This is in no doubt due to his most underrated asset: his speed.
According to research conducted by PowerScout Hockey back in 2015, Ovechkin is far and away the quickest accelerating player in all of hockey. Ovechkin has great top-end speed but his ability to take off in his first few strides is unparalleled in hockey. Combined with his size and stick-handling skills, Ovechkin can handle the puck almost at will once he gets it on his stick. You have to have elite speed to lead the NHL in goal scoring six times over the course of your career and that's just what Ovi has.
10 Patrick Kane
With some of the smoothest hands and one of the quickest shots in the NHL, it's surprisingly easy to forget how fast Patrick Kane can move around the ice. The Blackhawks winger weighs in at only 177 pounds and he employs his smaller frame as a means to get to exactly where he needs to be on the ice, fast. Kane has no issues keeping up in Chicago's cycle-heavy offense, but he really shines on odd-man rushes, where he can use his tremendous quickness and hands to blow by anyone unfortunate enough to be covering him.
Patrick Kane won the Hart Trophy last season as the NHL's Most Valuable Player in 2016, an award usually reserved for players who can offer a complete package. Kane is so good at everything it's tough identifying his speed as his greatest strength, but nine times out of ten Kane will be the fastest player any time he steps out on the ice.
9 Mike Hoffman
The Senators' speedster has quietly developed into one of the NHL's fastest players and it's about time people started taking notice. Mike Hoffman is one of the league's most underrated scoring threats and his game heavily relies on his skating ability. He has top-of-the-line acceleration and he uses it to get to the front of the net and generate high-quality scoring chances, which come at a premium in the NHL.
Hoffman was only a fifth-round draft pick in 2009 so it's safe to say that he wasn't expected to be all that much of an NHL player. Hoffman has suggested otherwise and posted 56 goals in his first two seasons in the league. At only 26, the ceiling is high for Hoffman's development and it will be interesting to see if he can keep up with some of the NHL's premiere forwards, both with his skates and on the score sheet.
8 Darren Helm
Darren Helm has been a key supporting player on the Red Wings since his first full season in the NHL during the 2009-10 season. Helm isn't the world's most skilled player, but on Detroit's lower lines Helm plays an important role as a pure speed threat. Helm combines fantastic agility with some of the NHL's most powerful legs. His ability to get off to a flying start allows him to win puck battles and create scoring chances that otherwise wouldn't be there. Simply put, Helm is annoying to play against mostly because of his speed and you can't ask much more from a bottom six forward.
Helm has never put up more than 15 goals in a season during his NHL career, but he's gotten off to a strong start in 2016 and will look to assume more responsibility in a Detroit offense that's looking for playmakers. He's signed through 2021 and assuming he can maintain his explosiveness, Helm looks to factor in on the retooling Red Wings for many seasons to come.
7 Nathan MacKinnon
At only 21 years of age, Nate MacKinnon has already become one of the NHL's fastest skaters. MacKinnon's speed was one of his biggest calling cards coming out of juniors and it didn't take long for that to translate at the NHL level. MacKinnon's speed has been causing mismatches defensively since he entered the league and everything suggests he's only going to get faster. MacKinnon is quick off the block in addition to being up there with any other skater in the NHL at full speed.
The endorsements came early for MacKinnon. He shot a CCM commercial back in 2014 where they made him run a race...against an Olympic speed skater. Racing blue line to blue line, he actually won. MacKinnon was a Calder winner as the league's best rookie a few years back and that's no surprise considering how much fun it has been to watch MacKinnon early in his career. Do everything you can to keep an eye on the young Colorado star; he's a blur on the ice so he might be easy to miss.
6 Matt Duchene
Analysis can only take you so far when trying to break down intangibles like a player's quickness. Often times you'll find an example like Matt Duchene. Duchene centers up Colorado's first line in most situations and his “speed” is his most valuable asset. You see, Duchene is fast in every sense of the word. He has a very quick first stride and can get his skates moving with the NHL's best. He's agile and can skate circles around cumbersome defensemen. And, most notably, when Duchene gets up to full speed, he's able to split the defense better than almost any other player in the league.
Duchene's pace on offense generates a ton of scoring chances for the Avalanche and playing on the same team as Nathan MacKinnon can only make shadowing Duchene more of a nightmare for opposing defenses. As long as Duchene and MacKinnon are playing for the Avalanche, Colorado will be one of most difficult teams to skate with in the NHL, especially over a full 60 minutes.
5 Taylor Hall
Edmonton lost one of the NHL's best game-breaking forwards when Taylor Hall was dealt to New Jersey this past off-season. When he's on the ice, Hall is an offensive juggernaut who uses his speed to find open space and utilize one of the best wrist shots in the NHL. Hall's not just fast, he can deke with the best players in the NHL as well; with his speed and creativity it's a wonder that Hall doesn't end up on the scoring sheet every time he touches ice.
Connor McDavid had nothing but nice things to say about Hall's speed when asked last year while Hall was on Edmonton, saying that Hall's speed could only be fully appreciated in person. That's a pretty fantastic compliment coming from McDavid, who is already turning some heads with his own skates...
4 Connor McDavid
Only a few games into his second season, 19-year-old Connor McDavid has ALREADY cemented his status as one of the NHL's fastest players. People have compared McDavid's talent to that of Sidney Crosby and when you ask them why McDavid's got so much potential, they'll often point to his skating. At center, McDavid puts it all together as the NHL's prototype speedster of the future; he's nimble enough to contain top-end speed, agility, and acceleration, while he's strong enough with the puck to maintain balance and puck control in even the trickiest situations.
The Oilers center holds the four spot on this list but McDavid's potential doesn't have a ceiling and he could easily be the NHL's best skater and player in only a year or two. It will be interesting to see if McDavid gets an opportunity in the Fastest Skater competition at this year's NHL All-Star Game; he has the potential to win the contest on his very first attempt if he's given the chance.
3 Erik Karlsson
In order to be an effective offensive defenseman in the NHL, you need to be fast, fast enough to play in transition with the forwards and get back on defense. Enter Erik Karlsson, considered by most the league's best offensive defenseman. Karlsson accelerates quicker than any forward he's tasked to cover and can often join in any offensive rush in only a few strides. He's able to play the full 200 feet because of his speed and his agility so it's no wonder Karlsson has averaged almost a point a game during his time in the NHL.
The Senators have a dangerous weapon in Karlsson and at only 26 years old it could be over a decade before we see a defenseman as potent as Karlsson is. He's already won the Norris Trophy twice as the NHL's best defenseman and it's not unreasonable to expect more in the future. He's always in the play, and as long as Karlsson's speed allows him to stay involved at both ends of the ice he'll be one of the league's best for a long time.
2 Dylan Larkin
Dylan Larkin started off the 2016 NHL All-Star festivities with a bang, or rather, a sonic boom. Larkin, as a rookie for the Detroit Red Wings, took part in the Fastest Skater competition representing the East and shocked everyone by not only winning the competition, but shattering the record Mike Gartner set in the event over two decades prior. Larkin circled the ice in under 12.9 seconds, half a second quicker than the previous record. If that's not hard evidence Larkin is fast, I don't know what is.
Races aside, Larkin's motor is certainly a critical part of his play style. Larkin reaches a sensationally high top speed and he does it quickly, making him very difficult to defend. Larkin put up 45 points in his rookie season and he can only become more dangerous as his game develops. Speed can't be taught, so let's hope Larkin continues to get better elsewhere and we get a chance to see the Michigan native put his natural-born skills to good use.
1 Carl Hagelin
According to research by PowerScout Hockey back in 2015, Penguins winger Carl Hagelin is the NHL's fastest skater at top speed...by almost a mile per hour. That might seem like a small difference on the surface, but hockey is a battle of inches and the Penguins' winger has the potential to beat even some of the NHL's fastest players to the puck by feet. Hagelin's calling card has been his speed his entire career and at just under six feet and 185 pounds, he is built to fly the length of the ice.
His agility and speed is the manifestation of a nightmare for bigger, tougher teams that can't keep up, while quicker squads still have trouble keeping up with Hagelin's blazing speed. He isn't the most gifted player in terms of offensive touch, but that hasn't been an issue for him since arriving in Pittsburgh. Hagelin plays very well in a supporting role for more talented forwards and is more than willing to play alongside some of the stars of the game in Pittsburgh. After winning a Stanley Cup ring, I don't think Hagelin cares how his speed is being used as long as the puck keeps ending up in the back of the net.
We put this list together as fast as these players, so who did we miss? Who do you think is the fastest skater in the NHL? Leave a comment and let us know who you think got the snub!
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