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A look at some of the greatest scorers in NHL history

by John Kreiser

He's the guy who always seems to have the puck on his tape when the game is on the line. He's the guy who keeps goaltenders awake at night with his lightning-quick release and corner-picking accuracy -- the puck is barely on his stick before it's on the way to (and into) the net.

He's the kind of scorer who gives goaltenders nightmares.

Not every big scorer fits this description. Gordie Howe, No. 2 on the all-time goal-scoring list, was a power forward whose combination of skill and strength was unique. Wayne Gretzky, the NHL's all-time leader in goals, is a category unto himself, since he scored goals in just about any way imaginable but was even better at setting up teammates than at turning on the red light himself.

NHL sharpshooters generally need some assistance -- they're the kind of guys who finish a play, not the ones who start it. But in an era when every goal is precious, they're a must-have.

Here's a look at seven of the sharpest shooters in NHL history:
Dimitri Altarev
Goals: 573 | Assists: 553 | Pts: 1126

Mike Bossy (573 goals in 10 seasons)

Legend has it that when the New York Islanders were considering Bossy with their first-round pick in the 1977 NHL Draft, GM Bill Torrey was concerned about his defensive skills -- only to be told by coach Al Arbour that "I can teach him to play defense. I can't teach hands like that." Bossy scored 53 goals as a rookie and had 50 or more in each of his first nine seasons before a back injury ended his career at age 30.

Bossy was the prototypical sharpshooter -- a player who can get himself open and zip a shot into the net before the goaltender is able to react. He seemed to have a way of getting lost in the defense, only to reappear just in time to take a pass (often from center and running mate Bryan Trottier) and fire in the same instant. Bossy was the prototype sharpshooter -- and still arguably the best. His average of 57.3 goals per season will be hard to beat, and he scored an astounding .762 goals per game.

Brett Hull (741 goals in 20 seasons)

The son of Hall of Famer Bobby Hull scored even more goals than his dad, but he used a completely different approach. Whereas Bobby Hull was known for rushing the puck up left wing and blasting slap shots with his curved stick. Brett was the successor to Bossy -- a player with incredibly quick hands who could find openings in the defense, take a pass and get the puck on net before anyone could react.

Brett Hull was at his most dangerous in the late 1980s and early '90s when he was teamed with Adam Oates in St. Louis. With Oates, one of the NHL's greatest playmakers, able to get him the puck in just the right spot, Hull put up seasons of 72, 86 and 70 goals -- levels he never reached again after Oates was traded late in 1991-92. Still, he had 54 and 57 goals in his next two seasons and was one of the NHL's most feared scorers for another decade while helping Dallas (1999) and Detroit (2002) win championships.

Jari Kurri (601 goals in 17 seasons)

Kurri, whose career largely overlapped Bossy's, was the quintessential sharpshooter, a speedy guy with great hands and the ability to get open, playing with the greatest playmaker the NHL has ever seen. With Gretzky in the middle and an assortment of left wings, Kurri tormented goaltenders to become the first Finnish-born player to score 600 goals. Gretzky assisted on more than 60 percent of those goals, and the two were keys to Edmonton's dynasty in the late 1980s.

Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin
Left Wing - WSH
GOALS: 339 | ASST: 340 | PTS: 679

Alex Ovechkin (339 goals in seven seasons)

Talk about breaking in with a bang: Ovechkin entered the NHL in 2005-06 and lit up the scoreboard by scoring 52 goals for the Washington Capitals. He "slumped" to 46 in his second season, but pumped home 65 goals in 2007-08, the most by an NHL player in more than a decade, and followed that with 56- and 50-goal seasons.

Ovechkin has the gift of being able to get open and get his shot away in a flash, before the defense can react. He's been helped by spending a lot of time on a line with center Nicklas Backstrom -- in fact, injuries to Backstrom are one reason he's been limited to 32 and 38 goals in the last two seasons. He's also superb at taking a pass and using a defenseman as a screen before firing -- and his combination of size and quickness make him hard to defend.

Steven Stamkos (179 goals in four seasons)

No NHL player in the past three seasons has put the puck in the net like Stamkos, whose 156 goals in that span is by far the most of anyone.

Tampa Bay made Stamkos the first player chosen in the 2008 NHL Draft, and after a 23-goal rookie season, he came out firing in 2009-10, earning a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy with 51 goals -- many of them scored from his favorite spot (below the faceoff dot in the circle) and a lot of them set up by linemate Martin St. Louis.

Stamkos scored 45 times in 2010-11, then took another step forward this past season by becoming only the second player in the 21st century to reach the 60-goal mark. In a game where getting off a quick, hard one-timer has become a scoring staple, no one does it better than Stamkos.

Phil Esposito (717 goals in 18 seasons)

For decades, the center's role was to get the puck to his wingers, who were usually the big goal-scorers. The Boston Bruins flipped things around after Esposito came from the Chicago Blackhawks in a 1967 trade that ranks as one of the most lopsided deals in NHL history.

Esposito wasn't fast, but his strength allowed him to get position in the slot, and his quick hands allowed him to fire feeds from wingers like Wayne Cashman and Ken Hodge into the net before goaltenders could react. He was one of the first to use the snap shot, which enabled him to get the puck on goal quickly and turn rebounds into goals.

Espo averaged 42 goals in his first three seasons with Boston, then erupted for a record 76 in 1970-71, beginning a five-year stretch in which he averaged 65 goals. When he retired, he trailed only Gordie Howe in goals and he's still fifth on the all-time list.

Olivier Archambault
Goals: 544 | Assists: 421 | Pts: 965

Maurice Richard (544 goals in 18 seasons)

"The Rocket" was the NHL's all-time leading goal-scorer when he hung up his skates in 1960. He's not in the top 25 today, but he's still one of only three players (Bossy and Mario Lemieux are the others) to score 500 or more goals in fewer than 1,000 games.

After battling injuries for two years, Richard broke out with 32 goals for Montreal in 1943-44, then became the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season, firing home No. 50 late in the third period of the Canadiens' 50th and final game of the season. He never reached 50 again, but was the NHL's most feared scorer for more than a decade, using his strength, stickhandling and versatility (he was equally dangerous with his forehand and backhand) to make up for any lack of velocity on his shot. He excelled at getting the puck on net quickly, before the defense and goaltender could react.

Richard retired following the Canadiens' fifth straight Cup in 1960. Gordie Howe and many others have passed him in the record books, but there will never be another "Rocket."

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