Hockey always starts with skating. Many of the greatest stars in the game like Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Howie "The Stratford Streak" Morenz, Paul Coffey, Guy Lafleur, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner, Bobby Orr, Gilbert Perreault and Petr Bondra were renowned for their skating ability.
Top-end speed on skates doesn't assure NHL stardom or even success. Just ask Rico Fata or Bobby Sheehan or Murray Wilson. They were among the fastest skaters ever to lace up skates, but won't be seen on any All-Star teams or Hall of Fame ballots.
Still the ability to accelerate quickly is one of the most coveted skills in hockey. Here is a list of the 25 players who I think are the fastest on the playoff teams in 2011. I've accumulated this list from personal observation and some fastest skater times (once around the rink) from All-Star and team skills competitions.
The top of my list features the four players from the top of the survey the CBC ran on who the players in the NHL thought were the fastest skaters in the league. When in doubt, defer to the guys actually playing the game.
The general consensus with athletes is that the legs go first. Scott Gomez at age 31 seems to be getting quicker. His other skills have diminished with time but he is as quick on his skates as ever.
The big 32-year-old Slovak is more deliberate than he was early in his career. He still has that burst of speed though that separates him from defenders and helps make him the dangerous player he is.
Jarret Stoll is best known for his heavy point shot and defensive skills. The center is only the checker he is because of his often-missed great skating ability.
The tiny sniper is a streak on skates. His shot, his puck-handling skills and his speed helped him be the leading scorer in the playoffs last year. Briere is always dangerous because he can come from anywhere and skate right by you.
Henrik Zetterberg is another multi-talented offensive force whose skating speed puts him on another level. He has been out with a knee injury so far in these playoffs. Luckily Detroit hasn't needed him yet.
The big center is deceptively fast and impossible to slow down when he gets going.
The Predators seem to feature an array of excellent skaters on defense and at forward. As a team they may just possess the most speed en masse in the league. Erat is one of the fastest of the Nashville skaters. The victim of a late hit by Anaheim's Jarkko Ruutu he has missed one game so far and is still questionable for Game 6 versus the Ducks on Sunday. If he can't play, the Predators will miss his explosive offensive ability.
Dan is the first of a group of fast-skating defensemen. His virtue is to out-skate you along any point of the compass. He can change direction and be moving at full speed in a blink. He rarely gears it up for an end-to-end rush anymore but he can still do it.
Duncan Keith is another deceptively fast defenseman. His play at the Olympics last year showed him to be capable of skating with anyone on earth.
Steven Stamkos has come into the league with that classic offensive combination, explosive speed and a booming shot.
Jeff Carter looks like a tank out on the ice but when he skates he's more like a Ferrari. It's his speed that allows him to check opposing centers as closely as he does and let's him be as offensively dangerous as he is.
Here is a third offensive defenseman on the list. Brian Campbell is another blur when he gets going. Campbell is a player whose skills get derided because of the money he makes. That doesn't stop him from being very good and very, very fast.
Little Tyler Ennis in his first full season with the Sabres is evolving into one of fastest, most dangerous players they have on the roster. He gets to the net in a hurry.
Mike Green is an incredible skating defenseman. He reminds me more of Paul Coffey than any defenseman I've seen in the last decade.
The 35-year-old star who came into the league undrafted and unheralded is still Tampa Bay's MVP and quite possibly their fastest skater.
Numerous claims have been made suggesting Ryan Kesler is the Vancouver Canucks' fastest skater. He is undeniably an incredibly fast skater. It's what helps make him such a dogged checker. Once he has you, you can't skate away from them. Throw in strength and offensive ability and you have a player who could be the Canucks MVP.
Torrey Mitchell is a blazingly fast skater whose other skills don't seem to quite echo his skating ability. He had a full season as a Shark back in 2007-08. He hasn't been able to stick with the big club on a permanent basis since then, but it's not because he can't skate fast enough. The speed means he's always dangerous.
Brian Gionta is another streak for the quick-skating Canadiens who doesn't seem to have been slowed by age. The tiny winger makes his speed work for him.
Mikkel Boedker is just an amazingly quick young skater. His team was eliminated in four games this year, which means he may be starring in Winnipeg in the near future.
Mason Raymond is another amazingly fast skater who has is trying to establish himself as a top-quality offensive star in the NHL. This season saw him step back from a breakout 25-goal season last year.
Raymond is the fastest skater in Vancouver. He has recorded a 13.623-second time while winning the Canucks superskills fastest skater competition.
It would be nice to see him and every NHL teams' fastest skater in the NHL's All-Star SuperSkills competition. That would make the whole exercise a little more meaningful.
Patrick Kane is another of the fastest young skaters in the game. His speed and the ability to make plays at speed make him one of the most dangerous scorers in the NHL.
The speedy checker is one of the fastest players in the game. His peers saw him as the fourth-fastest player in the league in the 2011 All-Star Game survey.
Darren Helm is another amazing skater picked up by the Detroit Red Wings. Primarily a checker, his speed makes him a constant threat to score and an offensive danger on the penalty kill.
Patrick Marleau is another 30-plus player whose legs have not deserted him. He's a sniper with speed and there's no more dangerous combination in the league.
Marion Gaborik is scary fast. He was the consensus pick by NHL players (37 percent) as the fastest player in the league. The Capitals seem to have kept a blanket over him for this playoff series, but they better not let him out.