Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Maurice Richard, Bobby Orr, Terry Sawchuk and Patrick Roy round out some of the greatest names the National Hockey League has ever heard of.
But what about the many other thousands of players who have laced up skates to play in the world’s best hockey league? There are so many hockey legends that the world has forgotten about. And there are many reasons for that.
Some players were on teams that had far too many talents that no one else paid attention to them. Remember the Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the ’80s’?
Or the Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup Championships in 1991 and 1992? I bet the first players that come to mind are Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr.
News flash: Those teams had at least seven superstar players in their respective primes when they won championships.
Indeed, it’s just the reality for so many superstar players to play behind all-time greats that the shadows and spotlights are taken away from them. It’s the nature of the sport and part of the business.
Well, we at The Sportster don’t believe that’s fair and we’re going to ensure that some of the best players you forgot about deserve their recognition.
There will be no mentions of NHL players like Gretzky or Howe on this list. It just isn’t fair to the others that carved out marvelous careers but weren’t noticed because of playing with players that were on another level from the others.
With that aside, lets take a look at the 15 NHL players that you, your friends and family probably forgot were actually some of the very best to play the game.
15. Dale Hawerchuk
File him under one of the league’s best players who never won a Stanley Cup. When you’re as loyal as Hawerchuk was, you deserve a large amount of respect.
He spent nine seasons with the Winnipeg Jets, where he topped 40 goals on six occasions. Unfortunately, most clubs he played with were never really great until he joined the Philadelphia Flyers in 1996-97, where they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final.
Hawerchuk is 19th all-time on the NHL’s scoring list with 1,409 points. Not bad for an undersized center.
14. Mike Gartner
It’s an absolute shame that the New York Rangers dealt him to the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1993-94 season, when the Blueshirts won their first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
Aside from that, Gartner was one of the greatest right wingers of all time. Eight seasons of 40-plus goals, despite playing with very few competitive squads throughout his career.
Gartner ranks 30th-all time in points with 1,335 points, but he’s seventh on the NHL’s all-time goals list with 708.
Not bad at all.
13. Jean Ratelle
Once again, another great player who sadly never took home Lord Stanley’s mug.
Ratelle was a force throughout his career with the Rangers and Boston Bruins, with eight seasons in which he scored 30-plus goals.
He ranks 35th all-time in scoring with 1,267 points and 44th in goals with 491. Ratelle was one of the NHL’s premier players in the 70s and 80s, but a lack of good supporting casts would make it easy to forget that.
12. Glenn Anderson
When you think of the Edmonton Oilers dynasty that culminated in five Stanley Cup championships from 1984-1990, you’ll instantly think of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier, the top two scorers in NHL history.
You’ll remember Grant Fuhr as an excellent goalie, and arguably the best defenseman ever in Paul Coffey, as well as Jari Kurri
Anderson was one of the key cogs in helping Edmonton reach hockey immortality. In 11 seasons with the Oilers, he had two 50-goal seasons and hit 30-plus nine times.
He had three 100-point seasons and finished with six Stanley Cups in his career. Just make sure you remember how the Oilers would likely have not quite been a dominant squad without his world-class abilities to score goals.
11. Dino Ciccarelli
Think of a pure goal-scorer, and Ciccarelli will instantly fit the bill. Because quite frankly, that’s all he did.
Sadly, he left the Detroit Red Wings a year early before they won the Cup in 1997. The Hall of Famer scored 608 NHL goals, 17th best all-time.
Had he not spent the bulk of his career with the Minnesota North Stars and Washington Capitals, he could have added championships to his resume.
But he was one of the best goal-scorers ever. It’s important to not forget how big of a force he was.
10. Pierre Turgeon
Turgeon was consistently a dominant player through long stretches of his career, making him an admirable character.
It’s a shame he had to spend his career with teams that weren’t competitive; The Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens during the 80s’ and 90’s.
Turgeon is 31st in scoring with 1,327 points. From 1989-90 to 2001-01, Turgeon had scored 60-plus points in all but one year, when he only played 49 games.
His 132-point season in 1992-93 is one that no current NHL player will ever be able to accomplish in today’s game.
9. Billy Smith
A key piece in the New York Islanders 80s’ dynasty that saw them win four straight Stanley Cups, Smith is the most underrated goalie in NHL history.
The man was like Chris Osgood. He’d be so-and-so in the regular season, but he was absolute money in the playoffs.
Smith is just 27th all-time in wins for goaltenders with 305, but there is absolutely no doubt that few athletes shined under the brightest of lights the way he did.
8. Johnny Bucyk
Bucyk played 21 seasons with the Boston Bruins and was the definition of consistency. All but five seasons resulted in him scoring 60-plus points.
He was an integral part of the team that won Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972, though Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr are the two standout names from those squads.
One of the greatest Bruins players of all time, he ranks 24th all-time in total scoring with 1,369 points.
7. Butch Goring
Goring was that one player the Islanders’ dynasty needed to get over the hump to win the Stanley Cup. And boy, did he deliver as a playoff shining start.
A long-time Los Angeles King, he brought toughness and leadership to the Islanders. He scored double-digit goals in his first four seasons, all which culminated in Stanley Cup-winning seasons.
Goring has paved the way for teams to trade for tough grinders in order to win championships. A high impact player turned that franchise around quickly.
6. Larry Murphy
Murphy holds a fun record: The only player to win back-to-back Stanley Cups in the same decade with two teams.
That was with the Pittsburgh Penguins in both 1991 and 1992, and the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
Like Goring, Murphy was the missing piece for the Wings to win their first Cup in 42 years after the Toronto Maple Leafs were happy to get rid of him.
He scored double-digit goals in 16 seasons and ranks fifth all-time in points for defensemen with 1,216.
Bobby Orr, Doug Harvey, Nicklas Lidstrom, Paul Coffey, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger are among household names for defensemen that dominated and changed games with their tremendous play, but please don’t forget Murphy.
5. Rod Brind’Amour
The 48th all-time top scorer deserves all the credit for turning the Carolina Hurricanes franchise into a Stanley Cup champion in 2006.
He had five 30-goal seasons, his last one being the year where he won his only Stanley Cup.
Brind’Amour deserves plenty of credit as a tremendous leader for the Philadelphia Flyers and for Carolina.
I have not seen many captains lead their team so successfully the way I saw him do it. The man was just a legend in his own right.
4. Pat Verbeek
Verbeek set the standards for undersized players and defied all odds.
A member of the 1999 Dalls Stars that won the Stanley Cup, Verbeek had 13 seasons in which he scored 20 or more goals.
He was a safe bet to hit 50 points, having done so 11 times.
Verbeek doesn’t rank in the top 50 among all-time scoring leaders, which makes it easy to forget just how excellent a player of his size turned into one of the best goal scorers the league had ever seen.
3. Luc Robitaille
The highest-scoring left winger of all-time, Robitaille was also one of the biggest draft steals when the Kings got him 171st overall in 1984.
In his first eight seasons, Robitaille had reached at least 40 goals and had scored the 100-point plateau four times.
He added an additional four seasons of 30-plus goals and finally won his only Stanley Cup in 2002 with the Detroit Red Wings.
Robitaille was a stud throughout his career, but playing for so many non-competitive Kings teams and being an afterthought on a 2002 Red Wings team that featured Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Dominik Hasek and Nicklas Lidstrom allowed Robitaille to be a forgotten commodity.
No doubt he is one of the of the best; 21st in points and 12th all-time in goals.
2. Ron Francis
Go back to the introduction slide. Remember those dominant Penguins that won back-to-back Stanley Cups?
Lemieux, Jagr, Coffey, Murphy, Kevin Stevens and Tom Barrasso.
Is someone missing? Yes, his name is Ron Francis, the fifth highest scorer in NHL history with 1,798 points.
Francis had three 100-point seasons and scored 20-plus goals in 20 seasons. Yes, 20 seasons of 20-plus goals.
1. Howie Morenz
There’s a reason they called him The Babe Ruth of Hockey and The Stratford Streak. Morenz was the NHL’s first true superstar and like Ruth, was the player that attracted fans to buy tickets.
They wanted to experience greatness, and that’s what hockey’s first star player did. With 271 goals and 472 points, those were among the highest when goals weren’t common during the 1920s’ and 30’s.
Morenz won two scoring titles, three Hart Trophies and three Stanley Cups with Montreal. Tragically, a freak leg injury cost him his career and later his life. Morenz’s legacy was set though, as no one at the time forgot how important he was to hockey.
It’s important to remember how he set the stage of what a true superstar does in hockey: Wins, scores, puts people in seats and sets the standards for future star players. Morenz did all of it.
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