Throughout the history of the NHL, there have been players who just have a special something about them. When you head to the rink, that guy's number is on everybody's back. He hits the ice and the entire crowd goes nuts and can't take its eyes off of him. Everything he does is the right thing to do in the eyes of his fans.
He is the fan favorite.
Every team has one and some have become favorites of the entire league. Whether it be through gentlemanly conduct, outstanding play, charismatic interviews or the ability to drop the mitts, fans gravitate towards certain players.
Wayne Gretzky swept fans off their feet with his dazzling play and even temper. Mario Lemieux's resilience during his career had fans gushing over him. P.J. Stock could rock the old Fleet Center with a drop of the gloves and wave to the crowd.
Each guy on this list simply had what it takes to drive the crowd crazy in their own way.
I would like to especially encourage feedback on this piece. I was not around way back in the day to see some of the old greats play and get a feel for how they were perceived throughout the league. I did my best to include as many of them as I felt knowledgeable enough on to justify, but feel free to let me know who I left out or shouldn't have included. Enjoy!
Who doesn't love to root for the undersized players?
At just 5'8'' tall, Dionne was a star in the NHL and showed tremendous loyalty to the Los Angeles Kings organization, which never really had a tremendous amount going for it in an average hockey market with a lackluster team.
Still, despite his size and situation, Dionne quietly went about his business, piling up over 1,700 career points, working his way into the good graces of the fans.
There are few more gracious and humble personalities in the entire history of the league than Hal Gill.
Playing for his hometown Bruins early in his career, Gill showed a true admiration for the community that raised him, and the fans returned his good nature with a spot among the fan favorites.
He has since moved on to play for two of Boston's biggest rivals, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there is no doubt that he would still be well received in Beantown.
Back in the late 1980s when Alexander Mogilny made the trip to the states to start playing in the NHL rather than Russia, it was not a popular decision amongst his native Soviets to say the very least.
That didn't stop Mogilny though, as he broke the barrier and became the first-ever Soviet-born player to head west. In addition, he eased fellow countrymen Alexei Zhitnik and Yuri Khmylev into the uncharted waters as well.
His decision paid off. Not only was Mogilny an incredibly productive player in his NHL career, he was as well received as anyone in each stop he made during his career.
Chris Chelios played seven seasons with three different teams, first with the Montreal Canadiens followed by the Blackhawks and Red Wings. That kind of loyalty is what made Chris Chelios a fan favorite.
Despite playing on both ends of the Hawks and Wings rivalry, Chelios was always well received wherever he went, due at large to his terrific play in the Olympics.
The best Russian-born player to ever lace up the skates in the NHL, Sergei Fedorov was a magician on the ice. His skating ability and creativity with the puck meant all eyes were on him whenever he was on the ice.
Federov's accolades alone are enough to make him beloved, but his attitude was second to none, and he played his best when it mattered most for the Red Wings.
Few players have displayed the passion for the game of hockey that Doug Gilmour did throughout his prolific NHL career.
Gilmour was undoubtedly rewarded for his passion with the undying adoration of the Toronto Maple Leafs fans.
Despite his gaudy statistics that make him the most productive left winger in the history of the NHL, it was the manner in which Luc Robitaille went about his business that won over the hearts of fans everywhere.
Robitaille was an outstanding player and has tremendous respect for the game and each and every one of his fans.
His colorful personality still makes him a favorite, even after retirement.
It may only be because of his creativity with his mask, but Gerry Cheevers's name will continue to be well known for years and years to come.
Brian Leetch brought the Stanley Cup to Madison Square Garden. You think he got some love for that?
His Conn Smythe campaign was just the icing on the cake of an excellent career for both team USA and the New York Rangers. Leetch will always be one of the most beloved American born players to ever throw on a sweater.
Some may be surprised to find Chris Osgood's name on this list, but his performance in the postseason throughout his career has been monumental, to say the least.
He has a career 2.09 GAA in the playoffs and has won three Stanley Cups.
Osgood is also the only goalie since Terry Sawchuck to win two Stanley Cups as a starting goaltender 10 years apart, winning in '98 and '08.
One has to think he'll always have a place amongst the greats to ever don red and white.
Wendel Clark is a classic example of earning the love of the fans strictly through his style of play.
Nicknamed "Captain Crunch," the three-year Maple Leafs captain was a physical player who brought tons of energy on the ice, which certainly carried over to the fans.
Bobby Clarke embodies Philadelphia hockey.
His tough, physical, two-way play was characteristic of the Broad Street Bullies of the '70s.
Clarke played in 136 playoff games, tallying 119 points and over 150 penalty minutes. He played in more games and collected more points during the playoffs than any other player in Flyers history.
Clarke was also a part of the only two Stanley Cups in Philadelphia Flyers history.
The only player in NHL history with over 600 goals along with over 2,000 penalty minutes, Brendan Shanahan was the ideal physical presence on a team with Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman.
Shanahan muscled his way to three Stanley Cups during his NHL career. He also won the World Championships and Olympic Gold, making him a member of the Triple Gold Club.
Two-way players who deliver results always get the love.
Aside from being considered one of the greatest to ever play the game, Stan Mikita, along with Bobby Hull, led the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup back in the early '60s.
It was only his second full season in the league, but Mikita managed to lead the team in goals en route to a championship.
Adding to the Cup, Mikita is the only player ever to win the Hart, Art Ross and Lady Byng Trophies in the same season, doing so twice.
He put his stamp on Chicago hockey and will never be forgotten because of it.
Scott Stevens was an essential piece to the postseason dominance the New Jersey Devils had throughout the '90s and early 2000s.
In the trap system, having a shutdown defender capable of flattening opponents all over the ice was beyond valuable.
The Devils could sit back and let other teams attack them, because nobody was going to get by Scott Stevens. He has rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy to show for it.
Not to mention, Stevens could always get the building rocking with a bone-jarring hit.
Peter Forsberg's career may have been short-lived, but it was illustrious while he was in his prime.
The Swedish superstar won two Stanley Cups and scored well over a point per game during his postseason career.
Factor in his two Olympic gold medals, and it's hard to imagine why anyone wouldn't respect this guy.
With his constant antics and incredibly entertaining interviews, Marty Turco has continued to be a fan favorite despite being less of an impact player at this stage in his career.
Turco is going to make one hell of an analyst in the near future.
Pavel Bure was one of the most captivating figures in the league during his career because despite netting an insane amount of goals, the guy hardly ever spoke.
Anyone who didn't love watching this guy lace up the skates must not have been watching the same Pavel Bure as the rest of the hockey world.
Ken Dryden was a rare leader at the goaltending position for the Montreal Canadiens throughout the 1970s.
Furthermore, Dryden gave fans a unique look inside the life of an NHL team with his book The Game. He's easily one of the most respected players to hit the ice.
The Boston Bruins faithful love themselves a big, tough and physical player, and that's exactly what they got in power forward Cam Neely.
Neely may never have won a Cup as a player for the Bruins, but he helped bring home the hardware this season as the team president of the 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
Lanny McDonald was everything the fans look for in their favorite player. He was a tremendous all-around talent, he worked hard, displayed tremendous leadership and most importantly, had a sweet mustache.
Oh, the fact that he brought the Cup to Calgary didn't hurt either.
Early in his career, Martin Brodeur may have topped this list. However, he has taken a slide a bit because of some of the ice funny business and a decrease in play.
That being said, Brodeur is still one of the most beloved players in all of hockey history for all he has done in New Jersey and as a member of the Canadian Olympic team.
Roy is unquestionably the greatest goaltender of all time in my mind. His 151 playoff victories are the most by any goaltender in league history. His 23 postseason shutouts are tied for the most ever, and he has the most Conn Smythe Trophies (three) of any player in the history of the game.
A goalie like Patrick Roy allows a team to play a run-and-gun type of offense such as the system Colorado ran for much of Roy's time there.
However, Roy's success was not limited to just one team. He won a pair of Stanley Cups with both the Montreal Canadiens and the Colorado Avalanche.
Having a presence like Patrick Roy between the pipes is more valuable to a team than any goal scorer could ever be.
For that reason alone, Roy was beyond admired by fans across the continent.
A member of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, John LeClair brought a ton to the table for the Philadelphia Flyers throughout his lengthy tenure with the club.
His charity work off the ice and gentlemanly conduct on it make him one of the most likable players in Flyers history.
Perhaps it was his majestic head of hair, or his bone-crunching style of play, or maybe his tremendous leadership—but whatever it was, Derian Hatcher seemed to be loved wherever he played.
Even in his brief stint with the Detroit Red Wings, Hatcher wasted no time working his way into their good graces.
Hatcher was a terrific player and an even better personality.
At the ripe age of 40, Teemu Selanne was able to accumulate his seventh 80-point season for the Anaheim Ducks. One of the league's all-time greatest players was a driving force for Anaheim's run to the postseason.
Selanne may be finished in the NHL after having surgery this offseason, but he will forever live on in the heart and soul of the Anaheim Ducks.
Bobby Hull simply had that superstar persona about him. He loved the game of hockey and relished the spotlight. Best of all, Hull never disappointed when the lights were shining brighest.
Along with Stan Mikita, Hull helped bring the Stanley Cup to the city of Chicago, for which the city is forever grateful.
"The Golden Jet" is a name that won't soon be forgotten in Chi-Town.
Mike Bossy could arguably be much higher on this list, but his career ended early due to injuries.
However, during all of the Islanders' Stanley Cup runs, Bossy dominated the postseason, tallying a total of 61 goals and 111 points during that four-year stretch.
Islanders fans are quick to defend Bossy in any conversation regarding the game's all-time greats.
Al MacInnis is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, has his number retired by the St. Louis Blues and won a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Award with the Calgary Flames—and he did it all while flying under the radar.
MacInnis was never one to complain or draw attention to himself. He just sat at the point and ripped slap shots year after year.
While many would say that the argument for the best goaltender of all time comes down to Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur, I would say that the discussion comes down to Dominik Hasek and Patrick Roy.
Hasek put up jaw-dropping numbers and had the ability to carry even the most mediocre of teams through the playoffs.
His career 2.02 GAA in the playoffs is astounding, and some of the single-season performances he put together were staggering.
Hasek deserves more credit than he tends to get.
Meanwhile, his style of play was so entertaining to watch for the fans.
Tomas Holmstrom's name is not going to come up in many discussions concerning the all-time great NHL players, but his style of play was a perfect fit for the Detroit Red Wings and made him a fan favorite in Hockey Town.
Holmstrom has four Stanley Cup rings and will continue to screen goalies until the day he dies.
No fan wants an arrogant player on his or her NHL team. Thus, Dave Andreychuk, who was the antithesis of self-absorbed and arrogant, made fans happy at each stop in his NHL career.
Most importantly, Andreychuk was able to swallow his pride and adjust his role later in his career to win a Stanley Cup.
As previously mentioned in this article, loyalty is a big determining factor when it comes to becoming a fan favorite, and Olaf Kolzig has certainly displayed unquestioned loyalty to the Washington Capitals organization.
Kolzig often carried Washington and had to suffer through some rough seasons, but nobody heard a complaint out of the guy, as he just went about his business each and every day.
For years, Ray Bourque has had his place among the legends of Boston but it has always been just a notch below guys like Bobby Orr and Tom Brady. Why? Bourque never won a championship for the city of Boston.
Despite his glowing resume and gaudy statistics, Bourque never won with Boston (he later won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in his final season). If he had, he'd be in the top 10 of this list for sure.
Since being drafted first overall in 1988, Mike Modano has been the poster child for American hockey and he has not disappointed in the slightest.
You know a player is pretty popular when he can get a city like Dallas excited about hockey.
Seeing him in a Detroit Red Wings uniform was quite strange.
After giving everything he had to the Dallas Stars organization as a player, earning a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the process, Joe Nieuwendyk is now attempting to bring the franchise back to glory as the general manager.
As we've seen with other former players, Nieuwendyk has a chance to really earn a special place in the heart of fans if he's successful in the front office.
Rob Blake used to truly punish people with his body checks and bring the entire stadium to its feet.
There is no doubt Blake will be a Hall of Famer when his time comes after his contributions to the Stanley Cup win with the Colorado Avalanche.
The league needs another Rob Blake or Scott Stevens.
Nicklas Lidstrom has proven to be a phenomenal captain for the Detroit Red Wings.
The Swedish defenseman has played in an obscene amount of playoff games. Lidstrom has won the Stanley Cup four times, brought home a gold medal for his country and won the Conn Smythe award.
There is no doubt that he is one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history.
Honestly, who could dislike this man?
It really doesn't matter where Mark Recchi played or how effective he was when he was there, the gutsy goal scorer was always a fan favorite.
His presence in the Bruins' Stanley Cup run was monumental, and the fans certainly took notice. He's one of those guys that you can't help but root for on the ice.
There was just never a moment where Recchi wasn't giving it everything he had.
Some guys make this list due to their built-up loyalty, while others, like Curtis Joseph, make the list based on their ability to win over any fanbase they come in contact with.
The most telling example of this with CuJo was in Detroit, where he got off to a bit of a rocky start but managed to right the ship and win over a solid chunk of the fanbase.
Add to that his leadership abilities and the work he does in the community, and Curtis Joseph is an all-around admirable figure.
Some may be taken aback by how high I have Ed Belfour on this list, but is there a more relatable guy in sports? I mean, the guy still plays in a beer league for crying out loud.
Not only was he an absolute stud between the pipes, he was entertaining as hell of the ice and by all accounts a terrific guy to have in the locker room.
Ron Francis was the model of consistency throughout his NHL career. He consistently managed over 50 points during the regular season, occasionally breaking out with over 80 or even 100 points.
Francis also took home the game's ultimate prize twice with the Penguins in '91 and '92.
Fans love consistency.
Joe Sakic constantly had ice water running through his veins, leading his team with clutch play and gutsy effort.
Sakic is tied for fourth all-time with 17 career game-winning goals in the postseason and won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Colorado Avalanche. Perhaps more amazing is the fact that eight of his game-winning goals came in the overtime frame. This guy was immune to pressure.
What fan doesn't love a pressure player?
Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky made one great duo in Edmonton.
However, Messier proved he did not need Gretzky to be a winner by capturing the Stanley Cup with the Rangers later in his career. Messier won a Conn Smythe Trophy in addition to being the only player in all of sports to captain two different teams to championships.
That's two towns that are forever in debt to Mark Messier.
As far as gentlemen go, you're not going to find many better than Mats Sundin.
Sundin was a perfect blend of sportsmanship and physical ability while playing the game with a bit of an edge.
He was truly someone for Toronto fans to be very proud of.
When a team has a leader that is so unquestioned that he captains the team for over 1,300 games, that squad will usually find some degree of success. That is especially true if that player is Steve Yzerman.
In addition to his leadership, Yzerman provided unmatched offensive prowess. He has four Stanley Cups to his name including three as a player.
Mario Lemieux is arguably the greatest player ever. Unfortunately, his career was abbreviated due to his battle with cancer.
However, that did not stop Lemieux from being one of just five players to win multiple Conn Smythe awards.
Lemieux carried the Penguins to a pair of Stanley Cups in the early '90s. He was especially impressive in '92 when he had five game-winning goals throughout the course of the postseason.
Now, Lemieux is still a huge part of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization and has a special place in the heart of every Penguins fan.
The photo says it all, doesn't it?
Bobby Orr is the best defenseman to ever play the game and is one of just five players to win multiple Conn Smythe awards during his tenure in the NHL.
Orr is the only defenseman to ever lead the league in points, doing so twice during his career. He also won eight consecutive Norris Trophies and was a career plus-597.
Orr waving the flag as the honorary captain this postseason for the Bruins was enough to give any hockey fan goosebumps.
Gordie Howe is known as "Mr. Hockey" for a reason. He was adored by all of hockey throughout his career.
Playoff hockey is not for the faint of heart or the feeble-minded. Perhaps, that's why Howe fared so well in the postseason.
In addition to his gritty two-way play and leadership, Howe racked up 160 points in the playoffs and won three Stanley Cups.
Howe is one of the toughest players to ever lace up the skates, and a guy any team would love to have on their side in the postseason.
Not only is Wayne Gretzky the greatest player to ever lace up the skates in the NHL, he is undoubtedly the most beloved player in the history of the game as well.
Gretzky was the most iconic figure the game has ever seen and he was able to truly put the game on the map in a lot of ways.
He has the utmost respect for the game, is a humble figure and is an ambassador for the game of hockey.
Wayne Gretzky is truly the "Great One" in a number of ways.