Making the NHL takes hard work, determination, and at least some skill and ability. Now, some guys lack the latter quality but are able to make up for it with oodles of the former two qualities, but pretty well every NHL player ever has had a combination of all of those qualities.
One thing that helps a ton is if you have good genetics. Some families just tend to be more athletic than others, thus having a better chance of becoming a professional athlete. Sure, it could be nurture just as much as it is nature, but generally speaking it’s safe to say that both play key roles.
One thing always seems true when you look at NHL siblings of the past, and that’s that there is usually one who is far superior to the other. It’s hard not to feel a little bad for the lesser sibling, but I manage to get over it when I realize most of them have made more money than I ever will in my life by playing a game that they love.
Today’s list salutes those players who were simply nowhere near as good as their brothers, but still played in the NHL nonetheless. Here are the top-15 all-time NHL players who live(d) in the shadows of their brothers:
15 Rob Niedermayer
Rob Niedermayer is arguably the best player to show up on our list, and the only reason he’s here is because of how damn good his older brother Scott was at hockey. I mean, Rob played 1,153 NHL games in his career and scored 469 points before calling it quits in 2011, but he still no doubt never escaped the shadow cast by Scott throughout his Hall-of-Fame career.
The Niedermayers did play on the same team for a few years near the tail end of their careers in Anaheim, and they actually won the Stanley Cup together in 2007 with the Ducks. However, that pretty much completes the list of awards earned by Rob during his career, whereas Scott earned a Norris Trophy, a Conn Smythe Trophy, three more Stanley Cups, and two Olympic Gold Medals in addition to the championship with the Ducks in ’07.
14 Jordie Benn
Jordie Benn is no slouch, as he’s already played in over 300 NHL games to this point. One of the newest members of the Montreal Canadiens will likely never escape the shadow cast by younger brother Jamie, who has already won an Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s highest point-getter, and has consistently been at or near the top of the NHL scoring race every season since 2013-14.
When you’re a stay-at-home defenseman and your bro is an elite-level scorer in the NHL, it’s pretty tough to avoid the shadow. Perhaps now that Jordie has found a new home in Montreal, in a different conference than his baby bro, he will have a better chance of escaping the shadow cast by Jamie, but realistically it might be best for Jordie to get used to the shade.
13 Malcolm Subban
P.K. Subban is one of the most decorated players in the NHL. He plays with swagger and attitude, and apologizes for none of it (nor should he have to). He’s already won a Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman, and his arrival in Music City last offseason signified the start of a more entertaining era in Nashville. His younger brother Malcolm is a goaltending prospect for the Boston Bruins, and he’s definitely living in P.K.’s shadow so far.
Malcolm has been unable to establish himself as an NHL goalie since getting drafted by the Bruins in 2012. He has only appeared in two NHL games to date (one in 2014-15 and the other earlier this season), and they’ve both been relief appearances. In that small sample size, he’s posted an abysmal .727 save percentage and a 5.81 GAA. He’s going to have to do a lot better than that if he wants to live up to the expectations set by his older brother.
12 Yan Stastny
The Stastny name is a recognizable one in hockey. The first generation saw three brothers, Peter, Marian, and Anton, all play in the NHL together during the 1980s. It could be argued that Anton and Marian lived in the shadow cast by brother Peter, but we went with the more modern version of the “Stastny shadow” and named Yan Stastny as the one who’s had the most trouble escaping his brother’s shadow.
Yan’s younger brother Paul is of course playing a key role on the St. Louis Blues these days as his club battles for playoff positioning. Paul is quickly approaching the 600-point milestone, and could very well reach it before the end of the season. Yan, on the other hand, had been spit out the bottom of the NHL by the time the calendar turned to 2010. He’s playing out his career in Europe.
11 Jared Staal
Most of the guys who appear on this list have just one shadow to live in, but poor Jared Staal has to navigate the collective shadow of his three older brothers, Eric, Marc, and Jordan. Those three have combined for over 1,400 points and have played over 2,400 games. Jared was drafted by the Coyotes in the 2nd round of the 2008 NHL Draft, and so far he’s played just two NHL games.
That total doesn’t look poised to climb any higher than it has already, either. His last NHL game came during the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, and since then he’s played 113 games in the AHL and is currently toiling away in the EIHL, which is the top professional hockey league in the UK, a nation not really known for its ice hockey prowess.
10 Stephen Gionta
Stephen Gionta’s older brother Brian is currently the captain of the Buffalo Sabres, and at 38 years old is putting the final touches on an impressive NHL career. He won a Stanley Cup with the Devils in just his second pro season in 2003, and will play his 1,000th NHL game before the season ends, barring an injury of course.
His younger brother Stephen was looking to be a career minor-leaguer until making his NHL debut as a 28-year-old in 2011. Even though Stephen has largely managed to stick in the NHL since then, he’s certainly living in the shadow of his older brother, who is rapidly approaching both the 300 goal and 300 assist marks. His career was highlighted by a 48 goal campaign with the Devils in 2005-06.
9 Sylvain Turgeon
If you were a hockey fan in the 1990s, Pierre Turgeon was a household name. Unless you were a pretty close follower of the game, however, you probably never heard of his brother Sylvain. This is perhaps unfair to Sylvain, who recorded 495 points in 669 NHL games before deciding to move to Europe in 1996 to complete his career.
Pierre was four years younger than Sylvain, yet probably holds bragging rights at the Thanksgiving dinner table thanks to his far superior NHL career. Pierre finished up with 1,327 points in 1,294 games, accomplishing the rare feat of recording more than a point per game in over 1,000 games. Neither of the Turgeons were able to capture a Stanley Cup however, which is likely especially frustrating for five-time all-star Pierre.
8 Steve Kariya
Paul Kariya was a fan favorite when he broke out in the mid-1990s playing for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Together with Teemu Selanne they made up what was one of the most entertaining duos of the decade, as all they seemed to do together was score goals. What many don’t know is that Paul’s younger brother Steve also played in the NHL, but obviously with much less success.
Steve was undrafted but made his NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks in 1999-00. Older brother Paul was already an NHL star at that point, so the shadow had already been cast. Needless to say, Steve was never able to shake it loose, and in the end he defected to Europe to play out his pro career after 65 NHL games, all with the Canucks.
7 Marcel Hossa
Marian Hossa is already an NHL legend and he’s still playing in the league, getting ready to battle for a fourth championship with the Chicago Blackhawks. His younger brother Marcel was hoping to follow in his older brother’s footsteps when he made his NHL debut in 2001-02, but that didn’t happen. Marian had recently established himself as an NHLer, and Marcel was determined to do the same.
Unlike some of these other scenarios, where one brother was clearly inferior to the other from the start, that wasn’t so much the case with the Hossas. Marian was drafted in the 1st round (12th overall) in 1997, and Marcel was drafted in the 1st round (16th overall) in 2000. While they were drafted in similar positions, the NHL career points race sits at 1,128 to 61. Take a guess at who has the edge.
6 Rocky Trottier
Rocky Trottier is eight years younger than brother Bryan, so the shadow had already been cast for Rocky before his junior career was even underway. He played his last year in the WHL in 1983-84; the Islanders had already finished winning four straight Stanley Cups (and were about to appear in a fifth consecutive Stanley Cup Final), and Bryan already had 960 points in the bank.
There’s no doubt that Rocky got the more interesting name of the two brothers, but that’s really where the advantages end. Rocky was a higher draft pick than Bryan, as he was a 1st rounder in 1982 and Bryan was a 1974 2nd rounder. It’s tough to say if Bryan’s success in the NHL helped boost Rocky’s draft pedigree at the time, but if I were a betting man I’d say it played a significant role.
5 Valeri Bure
Pavel Bure was easily one of the more electric players who graced the ice in the 1990s. With his bullet-fast speed and soft-as-baby-poo hands, the Russian Rocket brought fans around the league out of their seats, no matter who they cheered for. Pavel’s younger brother Valeri was selected by the Canadiens in the 2nd round of the 1992 draft, four rounds prior to when his older brother was selected in the 1989 draft.
Again, it’s hard to say if the family name boosted his pedigree at the draft table, but 6th round pick Pavel had definitely cast a large shadow for Valeri by the time he made his debut in 1994-95. In fairness, Valeri had a fairly impressive NHL career, scoring 400 points in 621 games. He actually played in only 81 fewer games than Pavel overall, but stacked beside each other there’s really no comparison.
4 Frank Bathgate
We’re going way back to the 1950s-era for this entry. Andy Bathgate was recently named as one of the 100 greatest players of all time by the NHL as part of its centennial celebration. Frank Bathgate, Andy’s older brother, missed out on that distinction by a long shot, playing in only two NHL games and forever living in his brother’s giant shadow.
Andy played over 1,000 NHL games and recorded 973 points in the process, and he sits fourth on the all-time Rangers points list with 729 in 721 games, just ahead of Mark Messier. Frank, on the other hand, played in just two NHL games (both with the Rangers in 1952-53), but spent most of his professional career playing in the Ontario Hockey Association Senior A League.
3 Dennis Hull
Much like the Valeri/Pavel Bure and Pierre/Sylvain Turgeon situations, Dennis Hull only appears on this list because of how good his brother was, and not so much because he was a poor NHL player (he wasn't). The younger brother of NHL legend Bobby Hull, Dennis played 959 games in the NHL, mostly with the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring a respectable 654 points along the way.
Those are solid numbers for anyone, except when your older bro is the Golden Jet, the bar is a little higher. Dennis’ career high in goals was 40, a number that Bobby surpassed eight times as a member of the Blackhawks before deciding to move to the WHA and play a good chunk of the rest of his career with the Jets in Winnipeg.
2 Brett Lindros
Both the Lindros brothers had their careers cut short thanks to debilitating head injuries, which is a tragic story for another day. Brett Lindros only played in 51 games throughout his NHL career before calling it a career, and he spent that entire time living in the large shadow cast by his older brother Eric.
Brett was a top prospect in his own right, but when your older brother has been dubbed “The Next One,” that’s a tough place to start from. Things got a little worse when Eric refused to play for the Quebec Nordiques and played an extra year in junior simply because he refused to sign a deal with the franchise, casting a shadow over the Lindros name. The year Brett made his NHL debut (the lockout-shortened 1994-95) just happened to be Eric’s best season, as he took home the Hart Trophy as league MVP.
1 Brent Gretzky
Brent Gretzky is of course one half of the highest scoring pair of brothers in NHL history. Together with older brother Wayne, the pair scored a total of 2,861 points in the NHL, a number that will likely never be eclipsed by any pair of brothers. One thing of note is that just four of the points came from Brent, who only played 13 games in his NHL career.
Brent is 11 years younger than Wayne, so obviously Wayne had already established himself as the best hockey player in the world by the time Brent laced them up in any pro league. Look, even if Brent scored 1,000 points in the NHL, he’d still occupy the first spot on this list. You simply cannot live up to the expectations set by your older bro when your older bro is Wayne Gretzky.