It takes a lot to become an NHL great; scores and assists are only the tip of the iceberg. The NHL’s best captains may also be some of the league’s most accomplished athletes, but where they really shine? As leaders, capable of motivating their team and making the tough decisions needed to score trophies. While the NHL boasts a long history of impressive captains, the following are particularly memorable:
Quebec native Jean Beliveau captained the greatest hockey dynasty of all time. Between 1952 and 1971, Beliveau and the Montreal Canadiens ran roughshod over the rest of the NHL, winning ten Stanley Cup titles and cementing their legacy as the most successful franchise in NHL history. Beliveau won the very first Conn Smythe Trophy, granted to the MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Throughout the league, he was known for his composed, yet competitive leadership style.
No list of NHL greats is complete without the most memorable hockey name of all time: Wayne Gretzky. He wasn’t just an amazing center; he excelled as captain. Under Gretzky’s leadership, the Edmonton Oilers dynasty won four Stanley Cups. Perhaps the most stunning example of Gretzky’s leadership? He tallied more assists in his NHL career than any player in league history — by an astounding 714.
Mark Messier accomplished one of the greatest feats in hockey history: bringing the Stanley Cup to the Big Apple. Messier led the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup victory in 1994. Coach Mike Keenan referred to Messier as “fundamentally a very good team-builder.” Today, the sport recognizes up-and-coming leaders with the appropriately-named Mark Messier Leadership Award.
Super Mario played his entire career in the shadow of Wayne Gretzky. Despite this, hockey enthusiasts continue to argue whether Lemieux — and not Gretzky — may actually be the greatest hockey player of all time. There’s no doubt, however, that he was a magnificent leader. He spent 17 years with the Pittsburgh Penguins, leading them to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in ’91 and ’92. He inspired his teammates by emerging from retirement after winning a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
A Detroit icon who spent his entire 22-year career in the Motor City, Steve Yzerman became captain of the Red Wings at just 21 years of age. The 7th leading scorer in NHL history, Yzerman and his Red Wings dominated the NHL in the late 90s and early 2000s, winning three Stanley Cups and killing off the “Dead Wings” reputation for good. In a remarkable show of team-first mentality, Yzerman gave up his scoring role for the good of his team.
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