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Ken Campbell ranks the Top 100 NHL players of all time

Ken Campbell
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Ken Campbell ranks the Top 100 NHL players of all time

Johnny Bucyk, David Keon, Red Kelly, and Glenn Hall have already been named to the NHL's list of Top 100 players. Image by: Dave Sandford/Getty Images

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Ken Campbell ranks the Top 100 NHL players of all time

Ken Campbell
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The NHL is releasing its list of Top 100 players on Friday night, but won't actually rank them in order. So THN's Ken Campbell did.

LOS ANGELES - According to HockeyDB.com, a total of 7,436 players have played at least one NHL game. So coming up with a list of the Top 100 isn’t an easy task, but that’s why we get paid the medium-sized bucks.

The NHL is unveiling its Top 100 players at the all-star festivities Friday night, but it’s not ranking the players in order. That’s the NHL for you, so afraid of hurting anyone’s feelings. If you want to start a barstool debate, you have to rank them.

So debate away. Here is one man’s list of the Top 100 players of all-time. I’ve seen many of them play in person, many of them I’ve only read about or heard about from hockey historians. Not everyone will agree with this list – come to think of it, there’s a good chance no one will based on where Bobby Orr is ranked – but that’s the beauty of the exercise. It’s incredibly subjective.

I was not asked to be part of the NHL’s panel to pick the Top 100 players, but if I had a ballot here is how it would have looked:

1. Wayne Gretzky: He doesn’t score a single goal in his career and he’s still the NHL’s all-time leading scorer.

2. Jaromir Jagr: A symbol of enduring excellence and a freak of nature.

3. Jean Beliveau: The greatest all-time player on the league’s most decorated and history-steeped franchise.

4. Dominik Hasek: The best ever to play the position. Back-to-back MVPs clinches his status.

5. Bobby Orr: Brilliant and a trailblazer, but career limited by injuries.

6. Gordie Howe: When you’re this great, they call you Mr. Hockey. Scored at least 20 goals for 23 straight seasons and scored 15 as a 52-year-old.

7. Mario Lemieux: One of the greatest physical talents the game has ever seen or will ever see.

8. Sidney Crosby: The best player in the world at a time in history when players have never been better.

9. Maurice Richard: When he retired, the Rocket held 17 NHL records and was one of the most fiery and talented players to ever play the game.

10. Nicklas Lidstrom: No panic threshold and was the ultimate defenseman. Could still be playing and starring in the NHL if he chose.

11. Mark Messier: Could play the game any way you wanted and excelled in every one. Underrated for his defensive play.

12. Patrick Roy: Arguably the greatest money goaltender of all-time, virtually won two Cups for the Canadiens singlehandedly.

13. Doug Harvey: Smooth skater, one of the greatest passers of his generation, lived life on his terms both on and off the ice.

14. Martin Brodeur: The NHL’s all-time wins leader had ice in his veins and handled the puck better than any goaltender in history.

15. Guy Lafleur: Exuded grace, speed and passion. Was the centerpiece of what might have been the greatest team of all-time.

16. Bobby Hull: He was the first player to score 50 goals more than once and nobody in his era skated faster or shot harder.

17. Terry Sawchuk: The NHL’s ultimate tragic figure, Sawchuk is regarded by many as the greatest goaltender to ever play the game.

18. Steve Yzerman: One of the few players in history who spent part of his career as one of the greatest offensive players in the game, then one of the greatest two-way players in the game.

19. Scott Niedermayer: He won everything there was to win and, more importantly, was an instrumental part of all those winning teams.

20. Jacques Plante: One of the most imaginative and innovative players ever to play the game, Plante was a master of the position.

21. Phil Esposito: Was a power forward before the term was even used in hockey, was an absolute master of time and space.

22. Alex Ovechkin: The greatest goalscorer of his generation. The only thing missing from his resume is championships. As Ovechkin himself once said: “Cups is Cups.”

23. Eddie Shore: Few players in NHL history have combined sheer talent with lethal skullduggery more than Shore did.

24. Howie Morenz: The NHL’s first superstar, Morenz controlled the pace of the game and constantly had the puck on his stick.

25. Denis Potvin: The lynchpin of one of the NHL’s greatest dynasties, Potvin was one of the most complete defensemen ever to play the game.

26. Ray Bourque: Would have been the greatest defenseman of all-time for almost any other franchise. In Boston, he’s No. 3 on the list.

27. Glenn Hall: His record of 502 straight games will never, ever be broken. And when you think about it, that’s a lot of vomit.

28. Paul Coffey: The greatest-skating defenseman to ever play the game, Coffey has scored more goals in a season than any blueliner in history.

29. Larry Robinson: Big, physical and supremely talented, Robinson could skate into a melee and stop it with a simple stare.

30. Bobby Clarke: Average size, average skills, but had the heart of a lion and a sense of determination and grit that is unrivalled in NHL history.

31. Bryan Trottier: Watch Connor McDavid play today and that gives you a pretty good idea of what kind of player Trottier was.

32. Newsy Lalonde: An early hockey mercenary, Lalonde was a swift-skating playmaker who played the game with reckless abandon.

33. Stan Mikita: Made a remarkable transformation from brute to gentleman after his daughter asked him why he was always sitting in the penalty box.

34. Mike Bossy: His coach Al Arbour once said, “When he shoots, it doesn’t even look like he touches the puck.”

35. Red Kelly: A Norris Trophy-winning defenseman with the Red Wings and an elite two-way center with the Maple Leafs, he has won more Cups than any other non-Canadien.

36. Milt Schmidt: Considered the top two-way player of the 1940s, he missed three years in his prime to serve in World War II.

37. Chris Chelios: The ultimate junkyard dog, Chelios played at an elite level for longer than any other defenseman in the history of the game.

38. Marcel Dionne: How differently would history have viewed Dionne if the Canadiens had picked him instead of Guy Lafleur first overall in 1971?

39. Dickie Moore: One of the greatest two-way wingers of all-time, Moore was stubborn and unwavering both on and off the ice.

40. Charlie Conacher: If there had been a Rocket Richard Trophy when he played, Conacher would have won five of them.

41. Ted Lindsay: One of the all-time greatest blunders in Maple Leafs history was letting ‘Terrible Ted’ slip through their fingers.

42. Gilbert Perreault: Vision, skating, shooting and stickhandling were the main weapons in Perreault’s arsenal and he exploited all of them.

43. Ken Dryden: Yes, he played behind a powerhouse team, but the Canadiens do not come close to winning the Stanley Cup in 1971 without him.

44. Bill Durnan: Seven seasons, six first-team all-stars and six Vezinas. Durnan was an ambidextrous wonder.

45. Johnny Bucyk: The Bruins all-time leader in games played until Ray Bourque came along, Bucyk still has the all-time goals record for the franchise.

46. Brad Park: One of the great injustices in the game was that a player of Park’s level of excellence never won a Stanley Cup.

47. Joe Malone: He was one of the 60-minute players of the game’s early days and a scoring wizard. Once said, “We’d hustle when opportunities presented themselves, but the rest of the time, we’d loaf. At least I did.”

48. Jari Kurri: Perhaps the greatest compliment to Kurri came from his linemate. “We see the game the same way,” Wayne Gretzky once said.

49. Nels Stewart: The league’s all-time scoring leader for 30 years until he was passed by Rocket Richard, Stewart also had almost 1,000 penalty minutes.

50. Brett Hull: One of the greatest pure snipers of all-time, Hull was also a far better two-way player than he’s credited for being.

51. Frank Mahovlich: The closest player the Leafs have ever had to a true superstar, he’s an all-time great for three of the Original Six franchises.

52. Henri Richard: No player won more Stanley Cups than ‘The Pocket Rocket’ and few were as determined.

53. Joe Sakic: Owner of one of the greatest wrist shots of all-time, Sakic remains the greatest player in the history of the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise.

54. Peter Forsberg: The only thing that could stop Forsberg were injuries. And, unfortunately, there were a lot of them.

55. Pavel Bure: Few in the history of the league could do as much with the puck at as high a speed as Bure did.

56. Grant Fuhr: The backbone of the Oilers’ dynasty, Fuhr allowed the Oilers to play the run-and-gun style and covered for their defensive mistakes.

57. Ron Francis: It’s completely fitting that Francis is so quietly the fifth-highest scoring player in NHL history. He went about his business without fanfare, but was outstanding in all facets of the game.

58. Sergei Fedorov: He still the only player in NHL history to win both the Hart Trophy and the Selke Trophy in the same year, which is mind-blowing when you take a moment to think about it.

59: Dale Hawerchuk: He played in an era that was dominated by generational centermen and held his own in every way.

60. Syl Apps: Never a superstar, Apps might have been the greatest team player of all-time.

61. Dit Clapper: The league’s first 20-year player, he was first a star on right wing, then moved to defense. He’s the only player named an all-star at both forward and defense.

62. George Hainsworth: Once described as a short, dumpy guy who looked more like a bus driver than a hockey player, all Hainsworth did was win.

63. Tim Horton: He was only 5-foot-8, but pound-for-pound was one of the toughest players to ever play the game.

64. Bernie Geoffrion: A pure scorer who was hugely overshadowed by Rocket Richard, Geoffrion never seemed to get his due.

65. Eric Lindros: The Hall of Fame finally came calling in 2016, recognizing one of the physically most dominant talented players in history.

66. Bill Cowley: One of the game’s early pure playmakers, Cowley led the Bruins to two Stanley Cups and was league MVP twice.

67. Turk Broda: Often second banana to Bill Durnan during the regular season, Broda bettered his rival in the playoffs as one of the great money goalies of all-time.

68. Cy Denneny: Scored better than a goal a game four seasons and never finished lower than fourth in NHL scoring in his first 10 years.

69. Toe Blake: One of the only men in NHL history who would have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as either a player or a coach.

70. Brian Leetch: Beautiful skater, brilliant passer, he is among the greatest American-born players of all-time.

71. Ted Kennedy: There are some who insist that Kennedy is the all-time greatest Maple Leaf, a player who was a triumph of substance over style.

72. Peter Stastny: He endured enormous on-ice abuse early in his career and thrived. He was supremely talented, with hugely underrated mental and physical toughness.

73. Max Bentley: People say Bentley was always so sickly that he looked like a ghost. He was also as difficult to catch on the ice as a ghost.

74. Bill Cook: A gifted goalscorer, Cook matched his talent with grit and toughness and had a Mark Messier level of leadership.

75. Pavel Datsyuk: The Magic Man could score highlight reel goals and would have scored a lot more of them if not for his diligence in all areas of the ice.

76. Joe Thornton: One of the greatest playmakers of all-time, Thornton is still chasing the elusive Stanley Cup. And he might get it.

77. Jarome Iginla: Could go down as one of the greatest players in league history never to win a Stanley Cup.

78. Teemu Selanne: The Finnish Flash was a scoring machine whose late-career revitalization was one of the most dramatic ever seen in the game.

79. Chris Pronger: Had Sprague Cleghorn-type nastiness and it could be argued no player ever had the ability to put the puck on the net better.

80. Elmer Lach: The playmaker and defensive conscience of the Canadiens, Lach rebounded from serious injuries like few other players in the history of the game.

81. Aurel Joliat: He was much more than Howie Morenz’s left winger, a great two-way player who scored as many career goals as his celebrated linemate.

82. Bernie Parent: The backbone of the Broad Street Bullies, Parent was actually the playoff MVP of both the Flyers Stanley Cup-winning teams.

83. Dave Keon: One of the greatest faceoff men and penalty killers in Maple Leafs history, he won four Stanley Cups with the Leafs.

84. Charlie Gardiner: Howie Morenz once called Gardiner the toughest goaltender he ever faced. Had he not died of a brain tumor at 29, he would have piled up more accolades.

85. Tony Esposito: Never won a Cup with the Blackhawks – he did win one as a backup with the Canadiens – but had 15 shutouts as a rookie. A butterfly master.

86. Billy Smith: Had Islanders coach Al Arbour played him more in the regular season, Smith would have been higher on the list.

87. Brendan Shanahan: Not many players in history combined toughness and talent better than Shanahan.

88. Jonathan Toews: Regarded as one of the premier two-way players in the game today, Toews gets high marks for leadership qualities.

89. Doug Bentley: Small in stature, but large in gumption and determination, Bentley found his game when his brother, Max, was dealt to the Blackhawks.

90. Evgeni Malkin: Two scoring titles, MVP, Calder, Conn Smythe. How the hell did he do all that so quietly?

91. Clint Benedict: Many hockey historians claim Benedict was a better goaltender than contemporary Georges Vezina. He led the league in goals-against average five straight seasons.

92. Patrick Kane: His breathtaking puck skills and ability to control the play make Kane one of the most dangerous players in the game today.

93. Yvan Cournoyer: The MVP of the playoffs in 1973, Cournoyer had a game that was based on blazing speed. He scored 25-plus goals 12 consecutive seasons.

94. Scott Stevens: One of the most devastating open-ice hitters in the history of the game had a lot of talent to go with that toughness.

95. Denis Savard: A wizard with the puck, Savard made as many breathtaking offensive players as anyone in the history of the game.

96. Al MacInnis: Owners of one of the hardest shots in the history of the game, he won a Conn Smythe and is the oldest first-time Norris winner ever.

97. King Clancy: One of the great offensive defensemen of his era, he put the Maple Leafs over the top during the 1930s.

98. Adam Oates: One of the game’s all-time great playmakers, Oates was the pivot for both Brett Hull and Cam Neely.

99. Georges Vezina: His career goals-against average of 3.28 is remarkable considering goalies in his era could not drop to their knees.

100. Andy Bathgate: A great skater, shooter and stickhandler, Bathgate led the league in assists twice and won the Hart Trophy in 1959.

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Ken Campbell ranks the Top 100 NHL players of all time