The NHL's 25 Best Pure Goal Scorers of All Time
The greatest goal scorers in the history of the game all had something in common.
When they took the ice, people held their breath.
It might have been their coaches, it might have been their teammates and it was often their opponents.
It was always the fans in the stands. When players like Bobby Hull, Guy Lafleur and Maurice Richard took the ice, there was always the air of anticipation. Magic was about to happen.
When you are a pure goal scorer of great repute, you know how to score under the most difficult of circumstances.
All-time leading scorer Wayne Gretzky is on this list, but he is not at the top because he did so many other things so well. Gretzky controlled the game with his stickhandling, passing and intelligence. However, you can never overlook his ability to put the puck in the net.
Here are the 25 greatest pure goal scorers in NHL history.
No. 25 Yvan Cournoyer
Based simply on the numbers alone, Yvan Cournoyer does not deserve to be here. He had 428 goals during his career, and that puts him in a tie for 67th on the all-time goal-scoring list.
But if you had a chance to see "The Roadrunner" skate for the Canadiens, you would have no doubt that he belonged. His incredible speed on the ice was remarkable, but the way this explosive forward could fend off checkers and then fire his shot past an overmatched goalie was unmistakable.
His ability to change the game and tilt the ice in the Canadiens' favor so consistently was a key reason why he was such a big part of eight Stanley Cup championship teams.
No. 24 Jarome Iginla
Jarome Iginla enters the 2012-13 season with 516 goals in his career with the Calgary Flames.
He is a goal scorer who can go to the net and cause havoc for the goalie with his size and strength. He also has a vicious wrist shot and an accurate snap shot.
Iginla deserves a spot on this list for his consistency. He has 11 consecutive seasons with 30 goals or more, including two season where he eclipsed the 50-goal mark.
No. 23 Jean Beliveau
What Joe DiMaggio was to Major League Baseball, Jean Beliveau has been to the NHL.
Beliveau is probably the classiest hockey player to ever skate in the league. He has been a symbol of class and dignity throughout his career and in the many years that followed.
Beliveau could do many things on the ice. He was a master faceoff man, a brilliant passer and his patience created many scoring opportunities for his teammates on the Canadiens.
However, he could always score goals. In the video above, Beliveau's positioning and quick hands allowed him to score the opening goal in the 1965 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks. Beliveau scored 507 goals during his remarkable Hall of Fame career.
No. 22 Mats Sundin
Mats Sundin could always do a lot more than just put the puck in the net, but when goal scoring was required he was more than up to the task.
Sundin lit the lamp 564 times during his career, a figure that ties him for 21st with Joe Nieuwendyk on the NHL's all-time goal-scoring list. What made Sundin so special was his ability to find the corners with his superb hands. He connected on 14.0 percent of his shots on net, most often with his wicked wrist shot.
No. 21 Joe Sakic
Joe Sakic combined his tremendous hockey skills with the gift of timing.
He was always in the right place at the right time as far as the Quebec Nordiques and Colorado Avalanche were concerned. He scored 625 goals in his career, ranking 15th in NHL history.
Sakic had a hard and accurate shot that he could fire in an instant. He needed little time to prepare the rifle, and the surprise factor ruined many goaltenders.
No. 20 Mark Recchi
Mark Recchi was one of the most honest and hard working hockey players on this list.
He may also be the least talented of these top 25 pure scorers. However, his work ethic, desire and powerful wrist shot means that he clearly belongs.
Recchi scored 577 goals during his remarkable career that saw him win three Stanley Cups with three teams. He contributed mightily to all of them, including the 1991 Pittsburgh Penguins, 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and the 2011 Boston Bruins.
That he won a title in his last year with the Bruins speaks to his remarkable heart. However, his ability to fire his shots quickly and from all angles make him worthy and a future Hall of Famer.
No. 19 Frank Mahovlich
Frank Mahovlich is one of the classic goal scorers in NHL history.
Throughout his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens, the Big M scored 533 goals. The classic image of Mahovlich includes him taking a pass on the left wing, crossing the blue line, winding up and taking a blazing slap shot that would find its way to the long side past the goaltender's outstretched glove hand.
Mahovlich finished his career in the World Hockey Association and he scored 89 goals in that league.
No. 18 Luc Robitaille
As a 20-year-old player with the Los Angeles Kings in 1985-86, Luc Robitaille scored 45 goals as a rookie. That was a pretty decent opening act for a ninth-round draft choice, but it paled in comparison to what came next.
He followed with three 50-plus goal seasons in the next six years, including a 63-goal year in 1992-93. He finished his remarkable career with 668 goals, good for 10th place on the all-time list.
No. 17 Mike Gartner
When Mike Gartner got the puck in full flight, he had game-changing speed. Gartner's ability to turn on the jets gave him many opportunities to score, and he found the back of the net 708 times.
Gartner did much of his damage with the Washington Capitals, but he also played with the Minnesota North Stars, the New York Rangers, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Phoenix Coyotes.
While Gartner had quick moves around the net, his surprisingly powerful slap shot was a key part of his repertoire.
No. 16 Teemu Selanne
Teemu Selanne has been a brilliant goal scorer throughout his career. He's not finished yet. He will play at least one more year as long as a work stoppage does not force the cancellation of the 2012-13 season.
Selanne goes into the year with 663 goals, and he has been a true sniper since he entered the league as a rookie in 1992-93 with the Winnipeg Jets. He became the league's all-time rookie scorer when he potted 76 goals that year.
When he moved on to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, he regularly teamed with slick Paul Kariya to combine on some of the most beautiful goals (1:44 mark) in recent history.
No. 15 Jaromir Jagr
Jaromir Jagr has been a lot more than a goal scorer in his career, and that tells you what a great player he has been.
But make no mistake about it, he has always been able to put the puck in the net. He has scored 665 goals in his career, a figure that's all the more remarkable because he took three years off from the NHL (he played in the KHL) before returning last year.
Jagr's great strength has allowed him to fend off defenders with one arm and then move into the prime scoring areas before firing his deadly wrist shot or backhander. His slick moves around the net have been nothing short of dazzling.
No. 14 Brendan Shanahan
Brendan Shanahan made quite a bit of noise last year as the NHL's chief disciplinarian, regularly taking to YouTube to explain his decisions when he suspended players for illegal and violent hits.
But long before he wore a suit and spoke in front of a camera, Shanahan was one of the most dominant power forwards in the history of the game. Shanahan scored 656 goals in his career and had back-to-back 50-plus goal seasons for the St. Louis Blues in 1992-93 and 1993-94.
Shanahan ranks 13th on the NHL's all-time goal-scoring list.
No. 13 Steve Yzerman
Steve Yzerman had a brilliant career and was one of the game's dominant goal scorers during his stellar run with the Detroit Red Wings.
He finished with 692 goals, and he had all the weapons a goal scorer needed. He had great speed and balance as a skater, an array of moves that could easily fake defenders out of position and a blur of a shot that regularly handcuffed goalies.
If Bobby Orr's flying goal is the most famous in hockey history, Yzerman's seventh game double-overtime slap shot to the top corner against the St. Louis Blues in 1996 is probably second on the list. It was a brilliant goal that was Orr-worthy.
No. 12 Johnny Bucyk
Johnny Bucyk was one of the hardest working and most talented players in hockey when he was with the Boston Bruins.
However, few people knew about it because the Bruins struggled so badly until Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito came along. But once that happened, everyone realized that Bucyk was one of the best goal scorers in hockey.
Bucyk scored 556 goals in his career, and he did it with a really quick wrist shot. He had masterful hands around the net. He scored a career-high 51 goals as a 35-year-old player in 1970-71.
Hall of Fame defenseman Larry Robinson said Bucyk's skill at handling the puck and scoring off rebounds and deflections was the key to his success. "He scored probably 80 percent of his goals by being in the right place and knowing what to do when the puck was on his stick," Robinson told Legends of Hockey. "That's a very underrated skill."
No. 11 Marcel Dionne
Marcel Dionne was one of the best players in NHL history. He is fourth on the league's list of all-time leading scorers with 731 goals.
Dionne could do it all. He could outskate defenders and beat goalies with his fakes and dekes. He had a blazing slap shot, a quick wrist shot and the hands to score on rebounds and deflections.
Of course, he was much more than a scorer. He could set up his teammates with perfect tape-to-tape passes. Dionne remains one of the most exciting players ever to play for the Los Angeles Kings.
No. 10 Jari Kurri
Jari Kurri was a sensational goal scorer who reached the heights of greatness while playing with the Edmonton Oilers.
Kurri got a chance to play with Wayne Gretzky, and he took full advantage of his teammate's sensational ability to score 601 goals throughout his career.
His best season was 1984-85 when he scored 71 goals and connected on 27.2 percent of his shots on goal. The next season, he had 68 goals and scored on 28.8 percent of his shots.
No. 9 Mario Lemieux
When it comes to flat-out talent and having the physical gifts to play hockey, it's hard to put anybody ahead of Mario Lemieux. Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr are generally considered to be the best hockey players ever, and the only reason that Lemieux is not always on the list is his history of injuries and illness.
Despite those factors, Lemieux was simply brilliant while scoring 690 goals. He was a big man at 6'4" and 230 pounds, and he used that strength effectively. However, it was his quickness and cleverness with the puck that made him such a standout player.
He was able to embarrass and undress Hall of Fame players like Ray Bourque and Adam Oates (1:17 mark of video above) with his incredible moves and seemingly did it with ease. He had an 85-goal, 199-point season in 1984-85.
No. 8 Gordie Howe
Gordie Howe excelled in so many areas of the game that he cannot be called just a pure goal scorer. He finished his career with 801 NHL goals, and that's second to Wayne Gretzky in league history.
Howe also spent enough time to score 174 more goals in the WHA, and his career total in both leagues is 975 goals—35 more than Gretzky's combined NHL and WHA total.
Howe had incomparable strength and instincts. Former teammate Ted Lindsay said Howe's ability to outlast opponents gave him an edge late in the game when opponents might be starting to tire. Former Canadien Jean Beliveau (video above), Howe's longtime rival, said that it seemed like he was always on the ice and he never rested.
Howe could play the physical game as well as anyone, but it was his goal scoring that separated him from nearly everyone who played the game. The ambidextrous Howe never did it with the slap shot. He had a deadly wrist shot, an accurate backhander and he excelled at scoring on rebounds and plays around the net.
No. 7 Wayne Gretzky
Wayne Gretzky is widely recognized as the greatest offensive player in the history of the game and is the NHL's all-time leading goal scorer.
It's an amazing achievement because Gretzky never had the size and strength of the other great players, but his instincts were so finely developed and he understood the game so well that he was almost always playing at a level significantly higher than his opponents.
Gretzky scored a mind-boggling 894 goals in his NHL career, including a record 92 goals during the 1981-82 season as a 21-year-old player.
Gretzky topped the 50-goal mark nine times in his career, including eight years in a row between 1979-80 and 1986-87.
No. 6 Brett Hull
Your name is Brett Hull and you carry one of hockey's greatest legacies on your shoulders before you ever step on the ice.
Hull's father Bobby had perhaps the greatest slap shot the game has known, and much was expected when Hull started his career with the Calgary Flames in 1986-87. He was a solid player right away, but the Flames traded him during his rookie season to the St. Louis Blues.
Hull became one of the game's dominant scorers. He had a similar slap shot to his father's, but he also had a blazing wrister, excellent moves and a knack for getting to the net and scoring at big moments.
He had 741 goals in his career, and he had three consecutive seasons beginning in 1989-90 when he scored 72, 86 and 70 goals.
Pretty decent run for the Golden Brett.
No. 5 Guy Lafleur
One of the most sensational scorers in the history of the NHL. Guy Lafleur was the Canadiens' top scorer during their run of four straight Stanley Cups from 1976 through 1979.
Lafleur had great speed and a flair for the dramatic. He scored 560 goals throughout his Hall of Fame career.
Undoubtedly, his most impactful goal was the slap shot he scored on late in the third period of the 1979 semifinals in the seventh game of the Canadiens' playoff series with the Boston Bruins. Montreal had dominated the Bruins for decades, but they found themselves trailing 4-3 when they went on a power play. Lafleur took a drop pass from Jacques Lemaire and fired a blast just inside the far post to tie the game.
The Canadiens would score in overtime to defeat the heartbroken Bruins and then go on to win the Stanley Cup.
No. 4 Bobby Hull
There was a time when goaltenders did not wear masks in the National Hockey League.
Jacques Plante would be the first, but the rest of the goalies were slow to come around. Gradually, they did. One of the primary reasons that most goalies refused to go into battle without them was the slap shot of Bobby Hull.
While he did not invent the slap shot, few players ever fired that shot with more violence and power than Hull. The left wing from the Chicago Blackhawks skated with speed and quickness, and when he wound up to take a slap shot, few goalies were equal to the task.
The Golden Jet scored 610 goals in his NHL career and had another 303 markers during his tenure in the WHA.
No. 3 Phil Esposito
Phil Esposito was a solid and underrated player during the early part of his career with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Once he got traded to the Boston Bruins and had a chance to team with the incomparable Bobby Orr, he became one of the greatest goal scorers in history.
He also helped the Bruins become one of the most explosive and highest-scoring teams in hockey history.
Esposito scored 717 goals in his career and had a streak of five straight seasons beginning in 1970-71 in which he scored 50 goals or more. In that 1970-71 season, Esposito scored a record 76 goals (broken by Wayne Gretzky) and he added 76 assists.
Esposito's strength around the net allowed him to score dozens of goals on rebounds and deflections. He also had a wicked snap shot that he could fire to the corners of the net in the blink of an eye.
No. 2 Mike Bossy
Mike Bossy did not have the longest career of the many superstars on this list, but his goal-scoring credentials are impeccable.
He scored 570 goals throughout his career and scored 50 or more goals in each one of them except 1986-86, his 10th and final season in the NHL. Bossy had back problems that forced him to the sidelines, or else he might have been firing shots by goaltenders for another 10 seasons.
Bossy had it all, including a powerful slap shot and a devastating wrist shot. Few shooters have ever been the sniper that Bossy was. He scored 60 goals or more in five of his 10 seasons with the New York Islanders.
No. 1 Maurice "Rocket" Richard
The greatest of all the superlative Montreal Canadiens' superstars.
Maurice "The Rocket" Richard had a legendary name and was regularly described as the Babe Ruth of hockey.
He became the first 50-goal scorer in NHL history when he accomplished the feat in the 50-game season of 1944-45.
Richard was a dynamic competitor who could carry his teammates and score the biggest goals in the biggest games on a nearly every-night basis. Richard scored 544 goals in his career, was a first- or second-team All-Star 14 times and was a part of eight Stanley Cup championship teams.
Richard was an unstoppable force when he took the puck to the net and had an array of shots that made him one of the greatest players in hockey history.