Ranking the 10 Smoothest Skaters in NHL History

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IAugust 19, 2013

Ranking the 10 Smoothest Skaters in NHL History

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    Skating is a huge part of the game of hockey. If you can't skate well, you can't get to the puck or the puck carrier, and any other skills you may have can be nullified. Today we will rank the 10 smoothest skaters in NHL history.

    The smoothest skaters are not always the fastest, although speed certainly does help. The players on this list could change the course of the game with their skating skills by eluding opponents with their fakes, their skill and/or their speed. They were able to control the puck and the game as a result of their smooth skating.

    Feel free to comment on the list, mentioning any player you feel should be higher or who I may have omitted altogether. The "next 10" are included in the honorable mention slide. As always, please mention why you feel your choice belongs on the list and who you would remove if he is added on.

Honorable Mention

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    These players are all among the smoothest skaters of all time but fell just outside the top 10.

    They include:

    20. Mario Lemieux

    19. Erik Karlsson

    18. Steve Yzerman

    17. Alex Delvecchio

    16. Marcel Dionne

    15. Yvan Cournoyer

    14. Henri Richard

    13. Dave Keon

    12. Sergei Fedorov

    11. Frank Mahovlich

10. Jari Kurri

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    Jari Kurri was fleet of foot and dangerous any time he got his stick on the puck.

    The Finnish-born star won five Stanley Cups during his NHL career. Although he was often overshadowed by Wayne Gretzky when with the Oilers, Kurri was a star in his own right. He scored 601 career goals and accumulated 1,398 points in 1,251 NHL games.

    Kurri led the NHL with 68 goals in 1985-86 and won the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play in 1985. He was also named to five postseason NHL All-Star Teams.

    Former teammate Kevin Lowe recalled, "He [Kurri] was so smooth." Lowe particularly admired Kurri's one-timer. "It was so fast, so smooth, so effortless that the puck was in and out of the net before anybody could bat an eye."

    In 2001, Kurri was the first Finn inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

9. Joe Sakic

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    Joe Sakic is one of the most respected players in NHL history. During his 21-season career with the Nordiques/Avalanche franchise, he won two Stanley Cups, a Hart Trophy as league MVP, the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and a Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play.

    Teammate Andrew Brunette called Sakic "smooth and steady and he had the ability to step up his game when it really counted."

    The smooth-skating Sakic finished his NHL career with 625 goals and 1,641 points in 1,378 games. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.

8. Mike Gartner

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    Few players were as quick on their skates as Mike Gartner. How fast was the Ottawa native? He won the NHL's fastest skater contest at the NHL All-Star event at the age of 37.

    Gartner used his superior skating ability and speed to score 708 goals and 1,335 points in his NHL career. He was remarkably consistent, scoring 30 or more goals in 15 straight seasons. The streak was only ended because of the 1994-95 lockout which cut the season in half.

    When the Capitals retired Gartner's number, former teammate Wes Jarvis told him, "You made us exhausted trying to keep up with you."

    Many opponents shared Jarvis' frustration.

    Gartner was induced into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001.

7. Pavel Bure

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    Pavel Bure was one of the fastest and most dangerous skaters of his era. In the 1990s, few people could match "The Russian Rocket" for his ability to create offense and it all began with his spectacular skating ability.

    Bure led the NHL in goals three different times and twice scored 60 goals in a season. He was a major reason why the Vancouver Canucks reached the 1994 Stanley Cup Final and nearly upset the heavily favored New York Rangers.

    Bure scored 437 goals and 779 points in 702 career NHL games before injuries cut his career short.

    Bruce Arthur of The National Post grew up in Vancouver and remembered watching Bure play. "That feeling of anticipation is what I remember. It was as if we all lifted up, the whole arena, tilting forward in our seats, levitating with anticipation."

    Bure was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.

6. Guy Lafleur

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    The Montreal Canadiens won four straight Stanley Cups from 1976-1979 and no player personified those dominant teams like winger Guy Lafleur.

    The image of Lafleur skating quickly down the wing—his blond hair blowing in the breeze he created—and then beating the goalie yet again is an enduring one for hockey fans who remember the late 1970s.

    "The Flower" scored 50-or-more goals and more than 100 points in six straight seasons. No player had accomplished that feat before.

    Montreal sports writer Red Fischer described what it was like watching Lafleur in a special column on NHL.com. "When Lafleur gathers his legs beneath him deep in his zone for the start of one of his rink-length rushes, he conjured up visions of the best and most exciting players in NHL history. Nobody handled the puck as well."

    Lafleur finished his NHL career with five Stanley Cup wins. He scored 560 goals and 1,353 points in 1,127 games. "The Flower" was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

5. Howie Morenz

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    Not many people who saw Howie Morenz play are still around to speak about it, but he was one of the most dominant players and smoothest skaters of all time. Even Morenz's nicknames give away his superior skating skill: "The Stratford Streak" and "The Mitchell Meteor" were the colorful monikers sports writers gave Morenz.

    Morenz won three Stanley Cups and finished in the top 10 in scoring 10 different times during his 14-year career. Three times Morenz was voted league MVP.

    ESPN's John Buccigross described Morenz as "dominant" and "the most electrifying player of the '20s and '30s."

    Morenz scored 271 goals and 472 points in 550 career NHL games. He died at the age of 34 a few months after breaking his leg during a game. He never left the hospital. At the time of his death, he was the NHL's all-time leader in points.

    When the Hockey Hall of Fame announced its inaugural class in 1945, Morenz was a charter member.

4. Paul Coffey

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    Few defensemen in NHL history have contributed as much offensively as Paul Coffey.

    The Weston, Ontario, native won four Stanley Cups during his career. He also won three Norris Trophies as the NHL's top defenseman.

    In 1985-86, Coffey set a record by scoring 46 goals in a season, the most ever by a defenseman. He topped 100 points five times during his NHL career.

    Skating was always one of Coffey's greatest strengths. Cynthia Lambert of The Detroit News called Coffey, "one of the most beautiful skaters the NHL has ever seen."

    In 1,409 career NHL games, Coffey scored 396 goals and 1,531 points. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004.

3. Gilbert Perreault

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    Gilbert Perreault was the first-ever draft choice in Buffalo Sabres history and remains the greatest player ever to play for the franchise.

    Perreault was fast, strong on his skates and smooth as silk. He was a threat to go end-to-end with the puck any time he picked it up behind the Buffalo goal, leaving a bunch of frustrated defenders in his wake.

    Perreault was the center of Buffalo's famed "French Connection Line" which also featured wingers Rene Robert and Richard Martin. That trio helped lead the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Final in 1975, just the 5th season of the club's existence.

    Mark Recchi was a big fan of Perreault and admired him when he was growing up. "Gilbert Perreault was more of a dynamic, smooth-skating guy," Recchi told ESPN. "I just really liked the way he skated and played."

    Perreault played 17 seasons in the NHL, all of them with Buffalo. He finished his career with 512 goals and 1,326 points in 1,191 games. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.

2. Jean Beliveau

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    Jean Beliveau has won more Stanley Cups than any individual in NHL history. "Le Gros Bill" won 10 titles as a player and another seven as an executive with the Montreal Canadiens.

    Beliveau played in 14 NHL All-Star Games during his career and was named to 10 postseason All-Star teams. He won two Hart Trophies as league MVP and won the very first Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1965.

    They key to Beliveau's game was his smooth skating style and playmaking ability.

    Jacques Lemaire, who played with Beliveau in Montreal, before becoming a Stanley Cup-winning coach with the Devils, always admired Beliveau. "Jean was smooth," Lemaire said. "At that size and with the type of size he had, he was faster than us without moving or pushing as hard as we were."

    Beliveau played in 1,125 NHL games during his career, scoring 507 goals and accumulating 1,219 points. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 after the Hall waived the traditional three-year waiting period for enshrinement.

1. Bobby Orr

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    There have been many exciting hockey players in the history of the game, but none were more exciting or smoother on their skates than Robert Gordon Orr.

    Orr redefined the position of defenseman and changed the way the game was played. The Parry Sound, Ontario, native played only nine full seasons in the NHL before bad knees prematurely ended his career. He won the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman eight straight times, won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie and twice led the NHL in scoring. Orr also won three straight Hart Trophies as league MVP and a pair of Conn Smythe Trophies as playoff MVP.

    In 1970-71, Orr set an NHL record that still stands, when he finished the season with a plus-124 rating in 78 games.

    You didn't need to know much about hockey to admire the grace and brilliance of Bobby Orr skating with the puck. Offensively, he was capable of stickhandling through an entire team of opponents on one play. On the penalty kill, it often looked as though Orr was playing keep away.

    Chris Richards of The Province waxed poetic about Orr's greatness on the ice. "The smooth-skating rearguard from Parry Sound was an offensive force from the back end the likes of which we haven't seen since and likely won't witness again."

    Orr scored 270 goals and 915 points in 657 NHL games. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.

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