The Great One
Wayne Gretzky doesn't need another article extolling his virtues as the greatest offensive player in the history of hockey.
Gretzky eclipsed his hero Gordie Howe's record for goals, and by the time Gretzky hung up his skates after finishing his last NHL game in 1999, he had scored 894 goals and 1,963 assists for a total of 2,857 points. Gretzky finished his career at plus-518.
It has been pointed out before that, if you didn't include any of the goals he scored in his point total, he would still be the NHL's all-time leading scorer merely by counting assists.
His former teammate Mark Messier stands in second place, nearly 1,000 points behind with 1,887 points. The names that follow include Gordie Howe, Ron Francis, Marcel Dionne and Mario Lemieux.
Gretzky does not look like the greatest scorer in the game's history. He was 6'0" and 185 pounds, and he was not particularly strong.
While he was a magnificent skater with incredible balance, he was not the fastest player. He had a hard slap shot, but he did not rip the puck like Bobby Hull or Bobby Orr. But when Gretzky saw an opening, he could hit his spot like nobody before or since.
Just like Orr, the game will never see another player like Gretzky.
Here are six reasons why.
Bobby Fischer saw the chess board as no other grandmaster.
Wayne Gretzky was hockey's grandmaster.
He saw the ice as nobody else did. He did not simply pass to his teammates; he passed to where he knew they would be.
In his mind, he determined how fast a teammate would get to a spot on the ice, and he simply delivered the puck time after time. He knew where his teammates were going to be, and he put the puck in that spot whether they knew the play would work or not.
Hours of practice as a youngster had given him such a keen understanding of the game that he could execute the most difficult of passes with great ease.
Of course, he didn't just pass the puck. He would score his own goals by sensing when the defense and goaltender were most vulnerable. He would skate to those areas and take advantage of any defensive weakness.
Wayne Gretzky was not the fastest nor the most powerful skater. He was never going to skate over any opponents and dominate them in that manner.
However, he had no peers when it came to skating agility.
Gretzky could shift and turn in an instant without losing speed or breaking stride. His ability to maneuver behind the net—from his office—gave him a dramatic advantage over his opponents
Gretzky could create time and space with a head-and-shoulders fake that would leave opponents well out of the picture and leave him with superb scoring opportunities.
His ability to accelerate left many gifted players in the lurch and out of position.
No player has ever had hands that compared with Wayne Gretzky.
Whether is was passing or shooting, Gretzky could place the puck in the spot where he wanted it to go more than any other player who has ever laced up skates.
If he needed to pass from his own goal line to center ice, he could do it. If he needed to thread the puck through two sets of legs to get it to an open teammate, he did it.
When it came to shooting, he could bank the puck off the back of the goalie and into the net from an extreme angle, and he could wrist the puck into the top corner of the net in an instant.
Gretzky's shooting accuracy may best be demonstrated by his 1988 overtime goal vs. the Calgary Flames (video above).
Gretzky took a pass from teammate Jari Kurri at his own blue line and raced up left wing. As he stayed near the boards, he ripped a vicious slap shot over the glove of Flames goalie Mike Vernon that pinged off the post and into the net for the game winner.
Despite his non-muscular appearance, Gretzky played, perhaps, the most demanding of all the sports and did not suffer any major injuries during the prime of his career.
From his first NHL season in 1979-80 through his eighth season in 1986-87, Gretzky played 74 or more games in each of those seasons.
After being limited to 64 games in 1987-88, he played at least 73 games in the next four seasons.
His ability to stay healthy and remain in the lineup separated him from Mario Lemieux and Bobby Orr—the only two other stars who are in his category when it comes to overall physical talent.
Gretzky's career would be slowed by a back injury, but not until he played 13 NHL seasons.
Wayne Gretzky piled up numbers like no other player.
However, even though he is the game's all-time leading scorer—both goals and points—the last thing anyone could ever say about him was that he was a selfish player.
If he had wanted to score more goals, perhaps he could have reached 1,200 in his career.
Gretzky was a sensational team player who brought out the best in his teammates.
He was also never satisfied.
He may have scored 51 goals in his first NHL season, but it was not enough. He scored 55 the next year.
Then he scored 92 goals in his his third NHL season.
He scored 200 or more points four times in his career. He scored 150 or more points nine times in his career.
When he was slowing down dramatically at age 36, he scored 97 points for the New York Rangers. A year later, he scored 90 points.
Gretzky was a part of four Stanley Cup championship teams with the Edmonton Oilers, and he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player nine times.
No other player in North American professional sports has won as many MVP awards. Barry Bonds won seven baseball MVPs while playing in the National League for the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants, and he is second.
Nothing satisfied Gretzky's hunger. He always wanted more.
There were no distractions for Wayne Gretzky when he was on the ice.
He was where he wanted to be and where he was trained to be.
He was not thinking about what he would do after the game or in the next game; he was only thinking about what he would do to help his team win that game at that moment.
His concentration and confidence never wavered.
His superior focus took away any doubts about what he should do with the puck on his stick. He knew what to do, and he always executed (source: Feeling Success).