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Melrose Minute: Best skaters in NHL history

by Barry Melrose
Former NHL head coach and player Barry Melrose starts a new gig this season: He will be blogging for throughout the 2011-2012 season.

I've got another list this week, and it is the five greatest skaters ever to play in the NHL. Here we go:

No. 5 Pavel Bure

When he was in Vancouver, he was so scary against. If he got a step on you, it was going to be a breakaway. The saying everyone used to use with Bure was, "if he's even, he's leaving" because if someone was side-by-side with him, no in the NHL had a chance of catching Pavel Bure. For about a five-year period there, I don't think anyone had as many breakaways in the NHL as Bure did.

Former Canucks forward Pavel Bure could beat everybody wide. (Getty Images)
He was just so fast, so slippery, so quick. He could beat everybody wide, so if you got aggressive and tried to cheat out wide, he'd jump to the middle and beat you. If you tried to stand up on him, he'd throw it through your legs and go around you. He was just a great, great offensive player and speed was his major weapon. He could make some great moves, but he beat everybody with his speed.

Bure had a tremendous second gear. You'd be going with him and think you had them, and then … bam. He was a lot like the roadrunner in that cartoon. It seemed like the coyote had him a bunch of times and the roadrunner would just kick it into another gear and the coyote would be left in the dust. Well, a lot of defensemen were left in the dust with Pavel.

No. 4 Sergei Fedorov

What a beautiful skater. I thought in the early 90s, Sergei was the best player in the NHL for a few years. He had a tremendous, tremendous stride – a bow-legged skater with great balance. Maybe he wasn't quite as fast as Pavel Bure, but just a strong, strong stride. A lot like Bure he could beat you in a number of different ways. He was more of a traditional skater than Bure – didn't look like he was going that fast or churning his legs at a million miles an hour, but nobody caught him.

He was a great carrier of the puck. Just a beautiful, beautiful skater and one of the most fluid skaters I think the NHL has ever seen.

No. 3 Mike Modano

I've known Mike since he was 18 years old. Just like Fedorov – a beautiful stride, a bow-legged skater. If you look at the great skaters, they are almost all bow-legged skaters. They look like they grew up riding horses. If you watch a hockey game and you see a great skater, nine times out of 10 the kid will be bow-legged.

Modano had just a great stride. I can still picture him flying up the ice, hair flowing behind him, the big slapshot – just a great skater. He was probably the prettiest skater the NHL has ever seen – just a beautiful, perfect stride. He just had the perfect look of a hockey player with that big shot – everyone about him was great to watch. He had the perfect hair for hockey, and he had the perfect stride too. If I had a draw a picture of the perfect skater, it would probably be Mike Modano.

No. 2 Paul Coffey

Paul Coffey might have been one of the fastest skaters ever to play in the NHL. (Getty Images)
Maybe not the prototypical stride like Fedorov, but Coffey may be the fastest guy to ever play in the NHL. I coached Paul, I coached against him, I played against him – he would be on the ice against of a bunch of great skaters and he would just leave everyone in the dust. He would fly up that wall with the puck. His first two steps would just be phenomenal – so quick.

If you watch the tape when Paul was on the ice, it was like there were two different games going on. One was at the speed Paul was playing at, and one was the speed that everyone else played at. I've never seen anyone ever catch Coffey. He was a lot like Bure in that if he got a step on you, he was gone. He put so much pressure on defense. How many times would Gretzky pull up and hit Coffey coming late just inside the blue line with that pass and he's just walk in and drill a slapper past the goaltender. There was just tremendous, tremendous speed and power in Coffey's stride. He had just magnificent acceleration.

No. 1 Bobby Orr

I think the greatest skater the NHL has ever seen is Bobby Orr. If you look at what he did, the way he could move sideways – a lot like Coffey people just couldn't catch Bobby Orr. He played the game at a different speed. He created the spin-o-rama – no one had ever done the spin-o-rama before Orr did it. The offense was spectacular – he was the first defenseman to win the scoring title.

He could hold the puck for a minute at a time. He could keep it for full shifts because he skated so much better than everyone else. He changed the game in so many ways, and he was able to do all of this because of his skating ability. He skated so low to the ice, and he was another bow-legged skater. He was very courageous and played with a ton of passion. Orr was over plus-100 one year – nowadays if a defense is over plus-30 people are ecstatic. When you watched him play, it was just two different speeds. When he had the puck people were either chasing him or they were scared of and backed in. They were petrified. He could make you look like an idiot, and he revolutionized the game with his skating ability.

That's why I think Bobby Orr is the greatest skater in the history of the game.
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