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Ranking the 10 Best Snipers in NHL History

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistOctober 17, 2013

Ranking the 10 Best Snipers in NHL History

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    There is an air of anticipation when a great goal scorer steps on the ice.

    It has been that way for decades, whether his name was Richard and skated for the dynastic Montreal Canadiens of the late 1950s, or whether it was Mike Bossy manning the right wing position for the New York Islanders in the 1980s. The minute they stepped on the ice, teammates, coaches and fans expected something dramatic to happen. It usually did.

    Richard and Bossy are among the greatest snipers to have played the game. Here's our look at the 10 best in the history of the NHL.

    We welcome your opinion and encourage you to give us your nominees as well.

    (This is no slight to Marcel Dionne, Steve Yzerman, Steve Shutt or Mark Recchi, but we limited this piece to the 10 best.)

10. C Joe Sakic

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    Career: 1,378 games played; 625 goals; 1,016 assists; 0.45 goals per game

    Analysis: Joe Sakic may have been a center who was superb at all aspects of the game, but his all-around skill should not eliminate him from the sniper category.

    Sakic could do anything with the puck, and that included creating his own shot. Sakic was famous for skating with the puck in the offensive zone and holding onto it if none of his teammates were open. Then he would circle behind the net, and come out the other side before stopping on a dime and firing his wrist shot just inside the top corner for a sudden goal.

    If Sakic wanted to take his slap shot, he was able to read the defense and the goaltender and often avoid the block and put it in the smallest of openings. He played a huge role in Colorado's Stanley Cup triumphs in 1996 and 2001.

    Sakic's reputation as a clutch player is underscored by his record eight playoff overtime goals.

9. LW Bobby Hull

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    Career: NHL: 1,063 games; 610 goals, 560 assists

    WHA: 411 games; 303 goals; 335 assists

    Analysis: Bobby Hull was one of the game's greatest scorers when he took the ice for the Chicago Blackhawks in the late 1950s. From the time he first donned his Blackhawks jersey, there have been few sights that have been more dramatic than Hull taking the puck behind his own net and carrying the puck up the ice with power and speed and letting his rocket slap shot go.

    Hull dominated for the Blackhawks from 1957 through 1972, and he topped the 50-goal mark four times in his career. When the fledgling WHA made him an overwhelming financial offer, Hull helped get the new league started with a bang. He scored 50 or more goals four times, including a 77-goal season in 1974-75.

     

8. RW Teemu Selanne

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    Career: 1,392 games played; 676 goals; 758 assists; 0.49 goals per game*

    *—Still active

    Analysis: Few players have ever set the tone for a remarkable career the way Teemu Selanne did when he broke in with the Winnipeg Jets in the 1992-93 season. The 22-year-old Finnish sensation scored 76 goals that year, and he added 56 assists.

    Selanne is as classic a sniper as you can find, because his shot has always been deadly. Whether he was curling in a wrister off the crossbar, blasting home a slap shot or snapping off a quick snap shot from the slot, Selanne has been effective. 

    He also had a slew of moves that he used in one-on-one situations to break down opposing goalies. Selanne has performed his magic with the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks, and he tasted glory when the Ducks won the 2007 Stanley Cup by defeating the Ottawa Senators.

    The 43-year-old Selanne decided to give it one more try in 2013-14 to see if he could close out his career by hoisting the Cup for the second time in his career.

7. RW Jari Kurri

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    Career: 1,251 games played; 601 goals; 797 assists; 0.48 goals per game

    Analysis: Jari Kurri did a lot more than ride shotgun for Wayne Gretzky. He was a remarkable goal scorer who could create his own shot and set up his talented teammates on the Edmonton Oilers. However, when he was on the finishing end of one of Gretzky's passes, Kurri almost never missed.

    Kurri had a streak of seven straight seasons with 40 or more goals, and included in that was an even more brilliant run of four straight years with 50 or more goals. His best season came in 1984-85, when he scored 71 goals and 64 assists and finished the season with a jarring plus-76 rating.

6. RW Guy Lafleur

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    Career: 1,126 games played; 560 goals; 793 assists; 0.50 goals per game

    Analysis: Guy Lafleur was to the Montreal Canadiens dynasty from 1976 through '79 what Maurice Richard was to the Canadiens dynasty from 1956 through '60.

    Lafleur was a remarkably talented player and gifted skater who stood out on a team full of all-stars. In an era when the NHL was dominated by teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins that wanted to beat their opponents in the back alley, Lafleur was simply about skill and deadly execution.

    His brilliant shot was overpowering and deadly accurate. He would often wait to pounce at the most opportune moment, to rifle home a shot that took the heart out of his opponents.

5. RW Maurice Richard

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    Career: 978 games played; 544 goals; 421 assists; 0.56 goals per game

    Analysis: When it comes to a player who made things happen by the sheer force of his will, it's hard to find a better example than Maurice Richard. The Rocket was a tour de force of power and determination. That often manifested itself as he would drive the net with the puck on his stick, using one arm to fend off his opponent, and the other arm to create a scoring opportunity.

    Richard had a blazing and accurate shot, and he was often most dangerous during overtime in playoff games. Richard scored six playoff overtime goals in his career.

4. C Mario Lemieux

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    Career: 915 games played; 690 goals; 1,033 assists; 0.75 goals per game

    Analysis: None of the centers on this list is a classic sniper because they had so many other talents besides putting the puck in the net.

    Mario Lemieux was such a remarkable talent, and he used every bit of his height, strength and overwhelming hockey instincts to give the Pittsburgh Penguins an edge every time he stepped onto the ice.

    One of his greatest talents was his goal scoring. He had dozens of moves that regularly used to embarrass defensemen and goalies. However, if he was in the offensive zone with the puck, he could fire off a deft wrister or snap shot that would be in the back of the net before the opposing goaltender knew the puck was on the way.

    Lemieux had remarkable numbers, including an 85-goal, 114-assist season in 1988-89 that allowed him to dominate the game. There's no telling how great Lemieux's numbers would be if he had been able to avoid the injuries and illness that dogged his career.

3. RW Mike Bossy

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    Career: 752 games played; 573 goals; 553 assists; 0.76 goals per game

    Analysis: Mike Bossy did not look like a brilliant athlete. When he walked into Nassau Coliseum for any home game, it looked like he might be a fan.  

    His looks were deceiving. He was a classic goal scorer who scored 53 goals as a rookie and had 50 or more in every season of his career except his 10th and final year, when back pain limited him to 38 goals.

    Bossy was a brilliant shooter who had a blazing wrist shot, a deadly accurate slapper and a quick-as-a-hiccup snap shot. He may have looked unassuming, but he had a huge impact on his sport and was a key member of a team that won four consecutive Stanley Cup titles in the early 1980s.

2. C Wayne Gretzky

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    Career: NHL: 1,487 games played; 894 goals; 1,963 assists; 0.60 goals per game

    WHA: 80 games played; 46 goals; 64 assists; 0.58 goals per game

    Analysis: Wayne Gretzky was the greatest scorer professional hockey has ever seen. He is not always mentioned with the game's great snipers because he was such an instinctive skater and passer. He would still be the game's all-time leading scorer if you counted just his assists and none of his goals.

    But his goals do count, and many of them were absolute beauties. Gretzky was not the big, strong physical specimen that men like Bobby Hull and Mario Lemieux were, but when he got into one of his slap shots, it had blazing velocity and deadly accuracy. This shot against the Calgary Flames in the 1988 playoffs came in overtime and was a perfect example of how The Great One could put the puck exactly where he wanted to when he had a bit of time and space.

    Gretzky's quick hands, remarkable agility and shooting accuracy allowed him to become the dominant scorer in the game's history.

1. RW Brett Hull

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    Career: 1,269 games played; 741 goals; 650 assists; 0.58 goals per game

    Analysis: Brett Hull came into the league wearing the leaden coat of unlimited expectations. After all, he was the son of The Golden Jet, Bobby Hull.

    Surely nothing he could do would top what his father did on the ice, and there was no way Hull could do anything but fall short of expectations. Hull did little to help himself in the first two-plus years of his career with the Calgary Flames and the St. Louis Blues, but his career took off like a rocket in 1988-89 when he scored 41 goals for the Blues.

    That season lit the fuse on a brilliant run in which he scored 72, 86 and 70 goals in three consecutive seasons. Hull scored 50 or more goals five times in his career.

    He had every shooting weapon a hockey player could possess. While he may not have had the same flair as his famous father, and his slap shot might have been a tad slower, nobody ever had a better wrist shot than The Golden Brett.

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