Speed. Everybody knows what it does. It kills.
It disrupts game plans. It thwarts otherwise solid defensive execution. With time and space, speed can’t be properly defended. It can’t be stopped. It kills.
With the NHL having fully buried the grind and torment of the left-wing lock era, speed remains essential to staying competitive. The Pittsburgh Penguins utilized an aggressive strategy last June and showed a path of future franchise success. Based on team speed, the Penguins blazed past the San Jose Sharks and captured the 2016 Stanley Cup.
No matter how eras change and coaches initiate inventive ways to create traps, eventually speed will make your head spin. Like they say, it kills.
Below are 12 of the fastest skaters in the NHL’s long history.
Sergei Fedorov, Center
A top two-way talent, Fedorov’s speed helped the Detroit Red Wings capture three Stanley Cups (1997, 1998 and 2002). He also earned the 1994 Hart Memorial Trophy. A center who often played the point on power plays, Fedorov was able to quickly drive from one end of the rink to the other and cover plays.
On offense, Fedorov’s quick stride consistently created space between the puck and defenders. The 2015 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee collected 483 goals and 696 assists in 1,248 career games with the Wings, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals.
Fedorov endured a cloak-and-dagger beginning to his NHL career. In 1990, he escaped the Iron Curtain and was smuggled out of Russia by Red Wings officials. Fedorov’s speed was so enticing, the Red Wings dared to execute the Cold War mission and pioneered the wave of Europeans currently competing in the NHL.
Dylan Larkin, Forward
As a link to the new-wave of speedy forwards, Larkin holds the claim of being the fastest skater in league history.
Aided by a skating start, Larkin turned in a record lap of 13.172 seconds during the 2016 NHL Fastest Skater competition. Larkin broke the long-standing mark of 13.386 seconds established by then-Toronto Maple Leafs speedster Mike Gartner.
Larkin exploded onto the scene last season. The 19-year-old rookie became the first Red Wings’ teenager to collect a four-game goal-scoring streak since 1984-85 when Steve Yzerman managed to do it twice, according to the Detroit Free Press. Larkin struggled over the first half of his sophomore season but rebounded and used his speed more effectively during the second half. Over his first two NHL seasons, Larkin has 40 combined goals.
Marian Gaborik, Right Wing
When it came to pure straight-line speed, Gaborik could skate with anyone. Well, he generally skated ahead of everyone.
When Gaborik entered the offensive zone with speed, the only thing opponents could do was hook, grab or tackle the 2000 third overall draft selection. In open space, there was simply no legal way to slow him down. During his 16-year career, Gaborik collected 396 goals and 398 assists for then-Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and Blue Jackets.
Gaborik’s production immediately increased when the ice started opening up after the player lockout ended. With his speed and new-found room to roam, Gaborik enjoyed four seasons of scoring at least 38 goals from 2005-12.
Yvan Cournoyer, Forward
Considered by many to be the fastest of the “Flying Frenchmen,” Cournoyer ignited a Montreal Canadiens attack featuring more than one speed burner. The “Road Runner” just couldn’t be caught.
Cournoyer was small (5’7), agile and quick from the first step. He capped his hall-of-fame career with 428 goals and helped propel the Canadiens to 10 Stanley Cup championships during his 15-year career, which ended in 1979.
Named one of the “100 Greatest NHL Players,” Cournoyer often credited the longer blades he used on his skates for his additional boost.
Scott Niedermayer, Defenseman
When one thinks about graceful skaters, Niedermayer instantly comes to mind. A two-time winner of the NHL’s Fastest Skater competition (1998 and 2004), Niedermayer’s speed fueled four Stanley Cup championship drives with the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
When one thinks of Niedermayer’s style, fluid is often utilized to describe the 2004 James Norris Memorial Trophy winner. The precision of the plays he executed while at top speed prevented opponents from keeping pace. Pinching in to make an offensive play as he often did, Niedermayer had enough speed to blaze his way back to defend a play at the other end of the ice.
Voted in January as a member of the “100 Greatest NHL Players,” Niedermayer played in 1,263 career games. Now serving as an assistant coach with the Ducks, one wonders how many youngsters have challenged the 2007 Conn Smythe Trophy recipient to a post-practice race around the rink?
Steven Stamkos, Center
If Stamkos has a step on a defender … he’s gone. Few head-down and cranking opponents will ever catch Stamkos in a race to corral a look puck or on breakaways. Before sitting out most of this season with an injury, Stamkos’ speed made him an intimidating factor for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Co-ordinating a deft one-time slapshot with smarts and agility, Stamkos has an ability to skate swiftly to open areas. He twice captured the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy after scoring 60 goals during 2011-12 and 51 during 2009-10.
While not all speedy skaters can play a gritty game, Stamkos has earned a reputation for being one the team’s hardest workers on both ends of the ice. With his speed, it doesn’t take long for the 2008 first overall draft pick to travel 200 feet and create a play.
Bobby Hull, Left Wing
Some players are fast skaters. Some players have a hard shot. Few, if any, possess the combined talents at such elite levels, like Hull. It’s little wonder opposing coaches often assigned two defenders to guard the “Golden Jet.”
One of the NHL’s most polarizing personalities, Hull tested league and team boundaries with his off-ice antics. He even jumped to the WHA in 1972 over a salary spat and became a $1 million (plus) man. During his 23-year professional career, Hull claimed the Hart Memorial Trophy twice and Art Ross Trophy three times.
Hull led the Blackhawks to the 1961 Stanley Cup and the WHA’s Winnipeg Jets to three Avco Cup titles (1976, 1978 and 1979). He scored 610 NHL goals and 303 WHA goals, including a 77-goal season in 1974-75. Hull led the league in goals seven times. He is the only player to accomplish the feat.
Pavel Bure, Right Wing
If only Pavel Bure had experienced the offensive overindulgence of the 1980s or the paroled freedom of the game’s modern form. A virtual prisoner during an era known for natural-zone traps, Bure still earned the nickname “Russian Rocket.”
Like a muscle car stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, Bure did his best to skate through the defensive muck. He added a bit of grace to what was a stagnant style across the league.
Three times Bure led the NHL in goals and twice topped the 60-goal milestone. Bure was at his best racing with the Vancouver Canucks all the way to Game 7 of the 1994 Stanley Cup finals.
Despite injuries and left-wing locks, Bure managed to register 437 goals among 779 points. He was enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2012.
Maurice Richard, Right Wing
Early in his career, Richard was known as “The Comet.” Later, teammate Ray Getliffe joked Richard “went in like a rocket” when he charged the net for scoring opportunities. Local media members heard the quip and ran with “The Rocket.” A legend was born.
Honored as one of the “100 Greatest NHL Players,” Richard’s speed and tenacity drove him to become the first skater to score 50 goals in a season (1944-45) and reach the 500-goal milestone. Over his 18-year career, all with the Canadiens, Richard scored 544 goals and played a role in eight Stanley Cup championships.
Richard’s swiftness allowed him to bolt around defenders and his agility prevented them from pausing his progression toward the net. Named to 14 NHL All-Star Teams, Richard earned the 1947 Hart Trophy after scoring 45 goals in just 60 games.
Paul Coffey, Defenseman
There was Bobby Orr and then there was Coffey, two of the best skating defensemen to ever patrol a blue line.
A member of the speed-dominated Edmonton Oilers’ teams of the 1980s, Coffey skated at full bore by his second step. His top-end speed was evident during the Oilers’ dynasty years when he often commanded offensive charges. He holds the mark for most goals in a season by a defenseman (48 in 1985-86) and ranks second in career goals (396), assists (1,135) and points (1,531).
A four-time Stanley Cup champion, Coffey played roles in three titles with the Oilers (1984, 1985 and 1987) and one with the Penguins (1991). Able to outrace forwards, Coffey often collected loose pucks and pinched in the offensive zone to challenge the reflexes of opposing goalies.
Mike Gartner, Right Wing
Mike Gartner was generally known as the fastest skater in the NHL while he played. Gartner was exhausting. Just ask any defender who attempted to match stride-for-stride with him. Heck, in his mid-30s, Gartner captured his second Fastest Skater competition in 1996, establishing an event record. The mark stood for 20 years.
Gartner’s speed helped separate himself from defenders, gaining enough space to collect 708 goals among 1,335 points in 1,432 games. He maintained his elusive speed throughout his career, scoring 30-plus goals for 15 consecutive seasons.
If Gartner exhausted opponents, imagine how difficult it was for his line-mates to match strides with the 2001 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee? Talk about exhausting.
Bobby Orr, Defenseman
When Orr entered the NHL in 1966, he was a blur. From Point A to Point B, no one could get there quicker. Orr’s skating ability is legendary. He revolutionized his position and modernized the sport with each smooth glide. He was true athletic poetry in motion.
Orr was the first true offensive defenseman. He often led Boston Bruins forwards down the ice for scoring chances. He compiled a record 139 points in 1974-75, the season before suffering a major knee injury.
In his prime, Orr earned the popular vote for being the fastest skater ever. It’s a true shame he retired at 30 because of recurring knee issues and couldn’t play on. Just recall the buzz-haired wonder zipping around the ice. His speed couldn’t be matched or duplicated. It was such a thing of beauty.
Honorable Mentions on the Faster Skaters in the NHL List:
Syl Apps, Peter Bondra, Bob Bourne, Andrew Cogliano, Guy Lafleur, Sami Kapanen, Erik Karlsson, Frank Mahovlich, Connor McDavid, Gilbert Perreault.