Simply the Best: Unveiling Ottawa’s Top 10 NHL Players of All Time
If you take a stroll around the city (maintaining physical distancing, of course), you’ll see Ottawa hockey monuments all around us: that driveway in Barrhaven with a garage door dimpled by flying pucks and frozen tennis balls; the asphalt slab where an outdoor rink once stood in Orleans; or the dimly-lit Kanata arena that smells of sweaty gear and french fry grease.
Long before the wealth and luxury of pro hockey came calling, these were the humble NHL training grounds where Ottawa’s stars were born. This city has a deep love affair with the sport and a robust history of elite players. Some of them made it to the show but only a handful found stardom there. Today, with the help of an all-local hockey panel, Faces Magazine selects Ottawa’s greatest all-time NHL players.
Chipping in on this hockey task force is Ottawa Senators radio colour analyst Gord Wilson, hockey historian and author Liam Maguire, former NHL scout and hockey author Grant McCagg, former OHL player Gary Theoret and TSN 1200 radio host Steve Lloyd. We nominated only players from the league’s modern era (after 1967 expansion). Players also need to have played a reasonable number of high-level minor hockey seasons in Ottawa, and based within 30 minutes (approximately) of downtown.
1. Denis Potvin
Potvin was just 14 when he began an incredible 5-year OHL career with the 67’s. In his final junior season, the star defenceman put up 123 points and 232 penalty minutes in 61 games. Like Robinson, Potvin was as tough as he was skilled. The New York Islanders had little choice but to draft the Vanier native first overall in 1973. He captained the Islanders to five straight Stanley Cup finals, winning four times. Potvin played in two Canada Cups, won three Norris Trophies and a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991.
2. Larry Robinson
Geographically speaking, Marvelville’s Larry Robinson was just close enough to make our list. But his incredible hockey resume speaks for itself. Robinson played 20 NHL seasons, 17 in Montreal, winning two Norris Trophies, two Canada Cups and six Stanley Cups. At 6 foot 4, 225 pounds, “Big Bird” was both physical and highly skilled, finishing with 958 points in 1384 NHL games. Robinson rarely fought and didn’t have to, calmy building a reputation – even among the day’s toughest players – as a guy you absolutely never mess with. In 1995, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
3. Steve Yzerman
Born in BC, Yzerman moved to Nepean age 9, playing one dominant season as a 15-year-old for his hometown Raiders. After two OHL seasons in Peterborough, he was drafted fourth overall by Detroit, where he played his entire 22 year NHL career. Yzerman still holds the record for longest-serving captain in any major North American sport. A five-time 50 goal scorer, “Stevie Y” put up 155 points in 1988-89, an NHL record for guys not named Gretzky or Lemieux. In 2002, despite a bad knee, Yzerman helped Canada win its first Olympic hockey gold medal in 50 years. He then rested a few months before returning to help Detroit win its third Cup in five years. Yzerman made the Hall of Fame in 2009.
4. Claude Giroux
Giroux moved to Orleans in 2002, playing bantam and midget hockey in Cumberland. Undrafted by the OHL, Giroux was a walk-on with Gatineau then led the team in scoring all three years he was there. In his final season, he set a club record with 51 points in 19 playoff games en route to a QMJHL title and league playoff MVP. Drafted 22nd overall in 2006, Giroux is now in his 13th season with the Philadelphia Flyers, serving as captain for the last seven. No Flyer captain has had a longer tenure. “G” currently has 815 points in 889 games and helped lead the Flyers to the 2010 NHL Eastern title. He’s won gold medals for Team Canada at the World Juniors, the World Championships and the World Cup of Hockey. Giroux still calls Ottawa home in the off-season.
5. Doug Wilson
Two years after Denis Potvin left town, the 67’s were blessed to secure Wilson, another defenceman ready to put up gaudy offensive numbers for his hometown junior team. In his final season in Ottawa, Wilson put up 79 points in 43 games en route to the 1977 Memorial Cup final. A few weeks later, Wilson was drafted 6th overall by Chicago, where he’d play the next 14 years and where he still holds the club record as highest scoring defenceman. Wilson won gold at the 1984 Canada Cup and finished his NHL career with 827 points in 1024 NHL games.
6. Bobby Smith
Smith was a star for the Ottawa 67’s and in 1977-78, famously held off some kid named Gretzky to win the OHL scoring race, setting the league’s single-season record with 192 points. Minnesota made him the first overall selection in the 1978 NHL draft and Smith disappoint, winning NHL rookie of the year with 74 points. He played 16 years in the league; 9 in Minnesota, 7 with Montreal. Smith was one of the game’s most consistent point producers with 1036 points in 1077 games. He made Cup final appearances with the North Stars in 1981 and 1991.
7. Dan Boyle
The former Gloucester Rangers defenceman was never drafted, yet forged out a 17 year NHL career with Florida, Tampa, San Jose, and the New York Rangers. After 4 years at Miami University (Ohio), he signed as a free agent in Florida where the pro journey began. From 2003-2012, Boyle emerged as one of the game’s top offensive defencemen. Boyle’s highlights include a 2004 Stanley Cup victory with Tampa Bay, a Team Canada selection in 2010 and an Olympic gold medal in Vancouver. Boyle retired in 2016 with 605 points in 1093 NHL games.
8. Marc Savard
After an absurdly productive year with the Metcalfe Jets (99 points in 36 games), Savard left for Oshawa where he became the Generals’ all-time scoring leader (413 points). At the 1995 NHL draft, Savard was a steal at 91st overall (New York Rangers). the New York Rangers grabbed him 91st overall. By 2006, Savard had emerged as a star; first in Atlanta then Boston. He was consistently among the NHL’s top 10 scorers over the next 4 years until concussions cut short his career. Savard was hurt through most of Boston’s Stanley Cup campaign in 2010-11 but the Bruins successfully petitioned to get their fallen star’s name on the Cup. Savard still had an outstanding career with 706 points in 807 games.
9. Luke Richardson
The former Ottawa West Golden Knight gets a top ten nod by virtue of sheer longevity. You don’t last 1417 games in the NHL without doing something right. Impressed by his size and shut down ability with the Peterborough Petes, Toronto selected Richardson 7th overall in 1987. His pro career wound through Toronto, Philadelphia, Columbus, Tampa Bay before closing out with his hometown Senators. Richardson also represented Canada at the 1987 World Junior Hockey Championships and the 1994 (gold) and 1999 World Championships.
10. Jeff Brown
In 1981, Brown jumped into the CJHL as a 15-year-old and didn’t just survive; the young defenceman lit it up with 59 points in 49 games for Hawkesbury. Brown then had a standout four-year OHL career up north with the Sudbury Wolves, logging 237 points over 4 seasons. He was selected by the Quebec Nordiques 36th overall in 1984. As one of the game’s top play-making defencemen, Brown thrived in the NHL, particularly in his early days in Quebec (68 points in 1988-89) then in St. Louis (78 points in 1992-93). Due to various injuries, Brown began to bounce around the league and only played about 61 games after his 30th birthday. Brown closed out a fine NHL career with 585 points in 747 games.
Narrowing down the field to just ten names was no easy task. In the end, no one in our hockey task force fully got their way. We considered closing here with honorable mentions but that’s a list could go on forever. Ottawa’s hockey roots run too deep and too strong.
By Steve Warne