Last week, we put together a collection of the most polarizing players in the NHL. Those guys are both loved and hated by various sectors of fans.
Today we’ll look at the most beloved NHLers. Some of them will still have detractors, but for the most part, these players transcend loyalties and are appreciated around the NHL. It takes a long time to earn this praise, which is probably why only one is younger than 33 – and why this list was more difficult to piece together than a most polarizing or most hated list.
10. Brooks Laich
The youngest name on this list at 30, Laich has never been a superstar or household name, but he appealed to Average Joe when he helped a mother and daughter fix their flat tire on Washington’s Roosevelt Bridge on the same night his Caps were eliminated from the post-season in 2010. He’ll get brownie points for that for years to come.
9. Shane Doan
He’s had run-ins with certain fans before – namely, Kings fans – but you have to respect this long-time captain for his loyalty and commitment to the community. The 37-year-old is the last remaining NHLer who played for the original Winnipeg Jets. He’s been through thick and thin with the franchise ever since, and re-upped with the Phoenix Coyotes even when their future in the state was still up in the air.
8. Dan Boyle
Undrafted players always make for good stories when they make and stick in the NHL. Boyle was even dumped by his first NHL team (Florida, of course) before he broke out as a producing puck-moving defenseman with the Tampa Bay Lightning. You had to feel for him some when, during Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final as a member of Tampa Bay, an electrical fire broke out in his house. In the 2010 playoffs with San Jose, he also inadvertently put a puck into his own net in overtime. A respected leader, Boyle has carved out a nice, long career for himself.
7. Henrik Zetterberg
A seventh round pick in 1999, Zetterberg was one of those Red Wing diamonds in the rough. He’s only ever posted more than 40 PIM in a season twice and quietly plays his role within a system that has kept Detroit a powerhouse for more than two decades. He puts up points, he plays defense, he’s a respectful player and a Conn Smythe winner.
6. Jaromir Jagr
Years ago, Jagr may have appeared on a most polarizing list, but today he is a league-wide fan favorite. Maybe it’s one of those “you don’t know what you have until its gone” scenarios, because the appreciation for Jagr hit a fever pitch after he returned to the NHL in 2012-13, after spending three years playing in Russia. An all-time great and lock for the Hall of Fame, Jagr excites fans wherever he goes. We just want to enjoy him before he leaves the NHL for good this time.
5. Patrik Elias
One of two current and career-long Devils on this list, Elias has been a steady performer for so long. His quiet longevity is a testament to his modesty and he’s still fully capable of hitting 25 goals and 70 points in a season at 37 years old.
4. Martin St-Louis
Undersized, undrafted player makes it big. Few match St-Louis’ drive and commitment and this has made him a fan favorite over his 14-year NHL career. His first Art Ross came in 2003-04 and his second came in 2012-13 as a 37-year-old. St-Louis has won two Lady Byngs and a Lester Pearson as well, which shows how players around the league respect what he does.
3. Pavel Datsyuk
The man with the magic hands was a sixth-rounder in 1998. At that time, he was an undersized afterthought who had a great head for the game and could do amazing things with the puck. Since arriving in the NHL, he’s slowly built his celebrity through highlight reel goals and a self-deprecating sense of humor. The four-time Lady Byng winner and three-time Selke winner is a wizard with the puck and has earned the respect of every player in the NHL.
2. Teemu Selanne
The Finnish Flash was last a member of the Winnipeg Jets in 1996, but the fans there still wildly appreciate his place in the game and what he did in front of their eyes years ago. Just listen to this fantastic reception from last week:
Selanne scored 76 goals as a rookie and early last decade looked to be winding down his NHL career after a disastrous season with Colorado. But here he is, at 43 years old, with three points in his first four games.
1. Martin Brodeur
The all-time leader in wins and shutouts has a mystique around him. Maybe it’s because of all the historic names he’s eclipsed and maybe it’s because he’s an active Hall of Famer, but there’s a soft spot within every fan’s heart for Brodeur. At 41, he’s in the last year of his contract and could retire with the same team he started his career with after this season.