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The NHL's best players from R to Z

Monday, 09.03.2012 / 9:00 AM / History

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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The NHL's best players from R to Z
NHL.com takes a look at the best players in League history, then and now, broken down by the first letter of their last names, from R to Z.

As is the case with uniform numbers, not all letters of the alphabet are equally gifted with hockey talent. A few are overflowing, others have only a smattering -- and one, the letter X, has none at all.

With a little inspiration from the three most important letters in hockey -- N-H-L -- here's a look at the best players, then and now, broken down by the first letter of their last names, from R to Z:

R

Best ever: Maurice Richard

No player in NHL history had a greater hunger for the net than The Rocket, who was the first man in League history to score 50 goals in a season -- he had 50 in 50 games in 1944-45 -- and retired in 1960 with the most goals in a career (544). More than 50 years after his retirement, Richard is still a hockey icon.

A legendary player, Maurice "Rocket" Richard played 18 NHL seasons and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1961 when the customary three-year waiting period was waived. (Photo: NHLI)

Runners-up: Patrick Roy, Henri Richard and Luc Robitaille

Roy retired with the records for wins and shutouts, and though Martin Brodeur has passed him on both lists, Roy still leads 4-3 in Stanley Cups. Richard, known as the "Pocket Rocket," actually finished his career with more points than big brother Maurice -- and more Stanley Cups than any player (11). Robitaille, a ninth-round draft choice, finished his Hall of Fame career with 668 goals, the most ever by a left wing.

Best current player: Pekka Rinne

The Nashville Predators took an eighth-round flyer on a skinny goaltender from Finland in 2004 and were rewarded with an All-Star. Rinne is coming off his best season -- 43-18-8 with five shutouts and a 2.39 goals-against average. He enters this season with a record of 138-72-26, a career GAA of 2.35 and a save percentage of .921.

S

Best ever: Terry Sawchuk

Sawchuk was the holder of the career marks for wins (447) and shutouts (103) until Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur came along, and is on the short list when the topic is greatest goaltenders. Sawchuk won four Cups (three with the Detroit Red Wings, one with the Toronto Maple Leafs) and along with Jacques Plante is arguably the greatest goaltender of the pre-expansion era.

Runners-up: Joe Sakic and Brendan Shanahan

Sakic piled up more than 600 goals and was the key to the Colorado Avalanche's Stanley Cup wins in 1996 and 2001. Shanahan was one of the great power forwards of his era, scoring 656 goals and amassing nearly 2,500 penalty minutes; he also helped the Detroit Red Wings to three Stanley Cups in a five-year stretch from 1997 through 2002.

Best current player: Henrik and Daniel Sedin

The greatest set of twins in NHL history is a major reason for the rise of the Vancouver Canucks. Henrik led the NHL in scoring in 2009-10; Daniel followed him the next season. Henrik is one of the great playmakers in League history and always seems to know where his twin is when it's time to shoot.

T

Best ever: Bryan Trottier

Another cornerstone of the New York Islanders' dynasty, Trottier was a tremendous two-way center who could win draws, check, pass and score. When his time with the Islanders was done, the Hall of Famer moved on to Pittsburgh and was a veteran presence on the Penguins' back-to-back championship teams of the early 1990s, giving him a total of six Stanley Cups.

Runners-up: Keith Tkachuk and Pierre Turgeon

"Walter" (a nickname given because his last name is pronounced like former New York Rangers player Walt Tkaczuk) was one of the top power forwards of the past two decades. He had back-to-back 50-goal seasons with the Winnipeg/Phoenix franchise and was a consistent producer for the St. Louis Blues on the way to 538 career goals. Turgeon, the first player picked in the 1987 NHL Draft, scored 515 goals and 1,327 points in 1,294 games.

Best current player: Jonathan Toews

The Chicago Blackhawks captain is just 24, but already has won a Stanley Cup (and the Conn Smythe Trophy) and an Olympic gold medal (in 2010, when he was named the tournament's best forward). Barring injury, there's no reason he shouldn't go on to a Hall of Fame career. Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas would be a close rival, but opted to sit out the upcoming season.

U

Best ever: Norm Ullman

The only Hall of Famer among the dozen players whose last name begins with "U," Ullman was one of the NHL's most consistent point producers during a 20-year career spent with the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. He finished with 490 goals and 1,229 points in 1,410 regular-season games. The only thing missing on his resume is a Stanley Cup -- he joined both the Red Wings and Maple Leafs in the season following their last Cup prior to a long drought.

Garry Unger played for the Maple Leafs, Red Wings, Blues, Flames, Kings and Oilers in a career that spanned 1,105 games over three decades.
(Photo: Getty Images/NHLI)

Runner-up: Garry Unger

Unger was the NHL's reigning ironman when he left the NHL in 1982-83, having played in 914 consecutive games (a mark later passed by Doug Jarvis). Unger also put the puck in the net; he scored 413 times and finished with 804 points in 1,105 games -- a stretch that included eight straight 30-goal seasons.

Best current player: RJ Umberger

The Pittsburgh-born, Ohio State-educated center has been a consistent producer for the Columbus Blue Jackets, putting up 20 or more goals in each of his four seasons, as well as 10 goals in 17 games for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

V

Best ever: Pat Verbeek

Few players worked harder than the "Little Ball of Hate," who piled up 522 goals and 1,063 points in his 20 NHL seasons and broke the 40-goal mark four times while doing his best to drive opponents to distraction. He's the only player in NHL history to score 500 or more goals and pile up more than 2,500 penalty minutes.

Runners-up: Mike Vernon, Rogie Vachon and Georges Vezina

Vernon won 385 regular-season games and led the Calgary Flames and Detroit Red Wings to championships. Vachon won two Cups early in his career with the Montreal Canadiens before excelling with the Los Angeles Kings on the way to 355 wins. Vezina's numbers don’t match up to today's goaltenders, but they're all trying to win the trophy that's named after him.

Best current player: Thomas Vanek

The best Austrian-born player in NHL history has scored at least 25 goals in each of his seven seasons with the Buffalo Sabres and has broken the 40-goal mark twice.

W

Best ever: Gump Worsley

The Gumper spent the first half of his career under siege, playing for the New York Rangers at a time when they generally were also-rans in the Original Six era. But they traded him to Montreal in 1963, and he led the Canadiens to four Stanley Cups in a five-year span -- including an 11-0 showing in the 1968 playoffs in which he posted a 1.88 GAA.

Runner-up: Doug Weight

A 1,000-point scorer during an era when goals were often hard to come by, Weight had his biggest offensive seasons with the Edmonton Oilers, who acquired him from the New York Rangers as a 22-year-old in 1993. He spent only a couple of months in Carolina, but was a valuable contributor to the Hurricanes' 2006 Stanley Cup champs.

Best current player: Shea Weber

Weber is arguably the best defenseman in the NHL right now -- he's been a First-Team All-Star in each of the past two seasons for the Nashville Predators. His size, speed strength and booming shot are the kind of combination coaches dream of for their D-men.

X

No player in NHL history has a last name that started with X.

Y

Best ever: Steve Yzerman

"Stevie Y" was one of the NHL's most feared scorers in his early seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, but learned that goals and assists weren't everything. He became one of the NHL's great two-way centers and leaders while leading Detroit to three Stanley Cups in a five-year period -- and added an Olympic gold medal.

The iconic former captain of the Red Wings, Steve Yzerman played 22 NHL seasons and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.
(Photo: Getty Images/NHLI)

Runner-up: Alexei Yashin

The first player ever drafted by the Ottawa Senators was one of those guys who always seemed to leave fans wanting more. But he scored 337 goals and finished with 781 points in 850 games during 12 NHL seasons -- and strung together five straight 30-goal seasons in the middle of his career.

Best current player: Keith Yandle

The Massachusetts native, a fourth-round pick by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2005, has turned into an All-Star defenseman who has 34 goals and 143 points in the past three seasons. He's also gone plus-28 in that span despite playing on a team that doesn't score much.

Z

Best ever: Sergei Zubov

Zubov was one of those defensemen who flies under the radar until you watched him and realized just how good he was. He was the leading regular-season scorer on the 1994 Stanley Cup champion New York Rangers, won a second Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999, and finished his career with 152 goals and 771 points in 1,068 games during an era when offense was growing scarce.

Runner-up: Henrik Zetterberg

The Swedish star could surpass Zubov as the best of the "Z's." He has 252 goals and 624 points in nine NHL seasons, won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP while leading the Detroit Red Wings to the Stanley Cup in 2008, and should have several more productive seasons left.

Best current player: Henrik Zetterberg

There's no one active today close to Zetterberg in career accomplishments, though Dainius Zubrus of the New Jersey Devils should be recognized for surpassing 1,000 games played, 200 goals and 500 points -- all in 2011-12.

Quote of the Day

It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players