fastest skater

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You don’t make the highest level of professional hockey without being a high-end skater. It’s generally well accepted that it’s skating the separates the minor leagues from the bigs, and the players that fans tend to think aren’t good skaters – Douglas Murray, Ryan Smyth, Hal Gill, and Colton Orr come to mind – are better skaters than your average hockey player by miles (the biggest difference tends to be balance). The current speed of the game throws context all out of whack.

So to be able watch NHL games and notice players that are quite clearly faster than others is a real compliment to those exceptional few.

With the 2013-14 NHL season taking shape it seemed like the right time to pay homage to the 10 most exceptional skaters in the NHL today, from household names to burgeoning stars. In the interest of narrowing down the list, we went with straight-up speed as our focus.

From the top:

#10 Mason Raymond

Mason Raymond

Mason Raymond might be the most pure north-south skater on this list. It’s not that he’s not great at the east-west stuff, he’s just a machine built for a drag race, not NASCAR. Which is to say, if the 10 players on this list were to hop on a frozen river and race for 500 feet or so, there’s a good chance his nose is in the mix at the finish line.

That means that every time Raymond blocks a shot or ends up in a flat out footrace, he’s going to be the guy getting first touch on the puck, and in situations like the one below, those extras strides are all he needs to get his also-quite-good shot off.


#9 Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby

This ranking upsets just about every hockey fan on Earth. The more Penguins-inclined can’t fathom some of the names that are on this list ahead of The Greatest Hockey Player on Planet Earth (wait ’til you see who’s ahead of him!), while those who believe Crosby gets too much love think he’s just receiving another token nod.

The fact is, Crosby is an absolute terror coming through the neutral zone, and he has his feet to thank (among other things).

I often say that Pavel Datsyuk is one of the few players in the league with the ability to straight-up strafe left and right like he’s in a video game. Crosby, along with one other person on this list, is probably tied for second-best in that regard. To go with that he’s got underrated top speed, so when he does decide to just drop the throttle and pin it (instead of using the aforementioned strafe button), you’ll see plays that catch d-men off guard like the one below.


#8 Colin Greening

Colin Greening

Colin Greening is probably the least known player on this list, but he’s more than deserving.

In the 2012 All-Star Skills Competition Greening was one of the players chosen to participate in the fastest skater competition, and it wasn’t a mistake. In a group with many of the names you’ll find below, Greening recorded the quickest lap of anyone in the group, clocking in at 12.963. He then went on to the finals for another lap, where his time of 13.303 was a mere tenth of a second from taking the title home. Oh, and he does this at 6’3″ 211, meaning he’s definitely a ton of fun for defensemen to play.

The Senators’ speedy forward was near 40 points in 2011-12 and was on a similar pace last year, thanks in large part to the havoc he creates with his speed.

(Granted, this is against Derek Engellend, but a lot of people look flat-footed when Greening gets moving.)



#7 Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson

Erik Karlsson is the other guy I was referring to when we were talking Crosby – he possesses the ability to move laterally as much as he does north and south. And again, the advantage that gives you is that when you do decide to just put the pedal down, defenders are often caught off guard. Just keep him in front of me, just keep him in front of me, why is he behind me.

If you really think about it, the only impressive thing Karlsson does in the clip below is read the play, step in and break up a potential Panthers fast break, let the play get onside, burst to the net without getting caught, and bury a shot in the perfect place. I mean, whatever.


#6 Duncan Keith

Duncan Keith

Some people in the hockey community refer to Keith as “Bambi” because of the graceful, deer-like manner with which he skips across the top of the ice. The first time I ever saw him play I couldn’t help but think it looked like he was full of helium. Some long-legged lumbering skaters seem greatly affected by gravity as they carve deep swaths of ice beneath their blades in hopes to get some speed going. When Keith skates, it seems remarkable that he’s able to generate any speed at all given how light on his feet he looks.

Keith is a one-man breakout machine with hockey sense and the ability to make the first pass. Essentially, he’s been designed in a factory to get the puck moving the right way when he’s on the ice.

Ignore the fact that this is a terrible goal to let in, and focus on his footwork in transition. I’d call the dude Fred Astaire if that title didn’t rightfully belong to the players below this.


#5 Matt Duchene

Matt Duchene

Just last week I was so floored by Matt Duchene’s skating ability that I more or less wrote it a love letter. I was focusing on his dynamic ability to change direction, but it’s the same first few strides that make him a killer on straightaways. Have you ever got in a fancy car (like say, maybe a Lexus?), stepped on the gas and been like “I’m going how fast right now? But it’s so smooth.” That’s how this guy skates. He’s looks like he’s built to do what he’s doing.

The best part for guys like Duchene is that once they get their reputation built up enough, d-men back in to avoid getting roasted wide, and the room to make lateral plays starts to open up inside the blueline. Speed kills, because if it doesn’t get you in the raw form, it can mess up your mental game and cause bad gaps.

Here’s Duchene looking bored roasting an NHL defenseman. Nahbad.


#4 Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel

Phil Kessel reminds me of a pinball off the initial shot when he’s moving through the neutral zone, especially when he jumps from a flat-footed start in his own end. He’s just a ball of potential energy poised to spring past what suddenly appears to be a bunch of stationary objects.

The scary part with Kessel is that his shot can be described in a similar manner, meaning the Leafs’ forward is a constant threat to turn an average moment into a goal with little help from anyone else. I chose the goal below because I love Seidenberg reaching with his stick to literally just touch him. Like catching him is so hopeless maybe showing that he was only a stick-length back is better than not trying at all.


#3 Darren Helm

Darren Helm

Darren Helm generally looks like he’s doing the same thing everyone else is doing, only suddenly he’s a step ahead of the guy beside him, then two, then the guy is swinging at him with his stick hoping he’s even close enough to take a penalty on.

He’s been hurt so far this season, but when the Red Wings do get him back they’re going to find themselves with a nice mix of burners and thinkers, making them extremely hard to deal with.

He’s an expert at using his wheels to eat up the clock on the penalty kill too. It’s no wonder the Wings love him so much.


#2 Michael Grabner

Michael Grabner

I don’t even think what I’m about to write is an unreasonable statement: Michael Grabner might get twice the breakaways of whoever gets the second most in the league. Now, having feet made of lightning doesn’t preclude one from having hands made of granite, so I think there are probably players in the league who score on more breakaways than him, but man, does he get a ridiculous amount. I’m talking an average of one a night. Some games the guy uses his speed to generate a handful.

I think the picture above beautifully describes what you’re dealing with in Grabner. His mindset is pure GO. His three gears are red, yellow and green, and like most engines, he’d prefer to be operating in green.

I found a compilation of top five Grabner goals (as an Islanders) that includes four breakaways, and a shout-out to my Dad, so I didn’t hesitate on picking a video for this guy.


#1 Carl Hagelin

Carl Hagelin

Hagelin gets the oh-so-narrow bump above Grabner because when he won his skills competition, his times were considerably better. I know that’s total garbage and unfounded and ice speed is a real thing and conditions were different and ENOUGH – arguing that one of these guys is faster is like arguing over which identical twin is better looking. There’s not really a right answer.

Hagelin is on the IR for the Rangers so far this year, and I’m guessing that at 1-4 with a -16 goal differential they’re fairly eager to get Hagelin’s wheels back in the lineup.

How do you like the first few strides here once the puck bounces the d-man’s stick? His legs look like Sonic the Hedgehog in full spin about to blast through a wall.

Much like the players listed here, the new GS from Lexus – with its rear-biased all-wheel-drive control – is the best on ice. Check it out as drivers put the 306-hp GS 350 AWD F SPORT through extreme winter driving challenges at the Mecaglisse Test Track, an hour North of Montreal.

Comments (38)

  1. Check out how pre-injury Karlsson used to skate . Hurts my heart to watch him constantly getting beat in footraces now. Fuck Matt Cooke.

  2. No Mackinnon?! He might already be one of the top 5 skaters in the NHL.

  3. I was wondering if you were going to include Helm, a large chunk of the Red Wing fanbase doubts he’s going to play this year and some think he may never play again.

    • …and right after I post this I see he’s headed to the AHL for conditioning and may be back with Detroit by the end of the month.

  4. Those girls behind Kessel.

  5. That’s a solid list. I would argue that Taylor Hall and Gaborik (in his prime) would be candidates, also.

    Taylor Hall’s stride reminds me of Mike Gartner.

  6. In terms of pure speed I think Tomas Pleckanec has to be up there.

  7. How is Nick Leddy not on this list? Leddy over Keith.

  8. Since the Blues aquired Jay Boumeester, I’ve never actually called a hockey player a Gazelle, but sure enough it happened, guy can flat out skate through the neutral zone with the puck with 4 opposing players behind him, it happens almost every game..

  9. Wrong. Helm is #1. I’ve seen the top 5 and Helm blows them all away and it’s not even close. Fastest player I’ve seen in 40 years of watching this game.

  10. As much as he lacked finish on the Blackhawks, I have to add Viktor Stalberg to this list. The guy has jet-propelled skates, as far as I can tell.

  11. BTW you didn’t even pick good highlights bud. The #1 highlight was a leisurely skate for Helm. And Helm’s highlight was at the end of a long shift and he still burnt everyone around him. Go find clips of the guy fresh on the ice. He’s faster than Bure.

  12. What’s with the blatant over-the-top advertising here? From the caption of the picture at the top to the oh-so-subtle of working them into the text, are you guys selling placement in your editorials now?

    • They’ve gotta pay the bills somehow. I’d much rather see this than an obnoxious video popping up that I have to click out of before being able to read the article.

      • The rest of the web seems to work ok with ads along the top and sides of the article. Actually selling content in the article itself seems a bit much. For example, here’s an article idea: how do skates affect different players’ speed/turning ability? Does somebody like Datsyuk favour shorter blades with a bigger rocker than Duchene with his all out speed? I’d hate to read that article wondering the entire time if the content hadn’t been bought by Bauer/Reebok/whoever.

        • at the very least, this article was upfront enough about it that you didn’t have to worry about thinking whether or not it was a sponsored post.

          to me, it’s a non-issue. it’s like the “coors light six pack of questions” on sportscenter or something similar. gotta pay the bills somehow.

  13. Bourne, great post – obviously I’m not alone in loving this sort of thing. I’d be curious to know whether you think these guys have any traits in common that give them that edge. Is it just natural skating ability or do they have some physiological traits in common? That may be two ways of saying the same thing. Is it the mechanics of their strides, transitions, etc.?

    While we’re casually employing fuzzy phrases, I’ll submit a vote for the next list being “silkiest skaters.” Of course, there would be some overlap.

  14. This is more of a “fastest guy” list with Keith occupying the spot Taylor Hall’s supposed to go than a “best skater” list.

    Darren Helm, to just use one example, has a set of afterburners on him, but if you asked him to do some of the complex foot/edgework and changes of direction that, say, Jeff Skinner does absent-mindedly every game, he’d probably fall over.

    A true best skater list probably has Karlsson, Duchene, Crosby, Skinner as the top 4 with a handful of D vying for #5 (Letang, Keith, possibly Subban or Fowler).

    • “Darren Helm, to just use one example, has a set of afterburners on him, but if you asked him to do some of the complex foot/edgework and changes of direction that, say, Jeff Skinner does absent-mindedly every game, he’d probably fall over.”

      Agreed. I’m interested to see the difference in blade profile/rocker between the players on this list. Then again, I geek out about that kind of stuff.

  15. I think Jason Chimera would beat Mason Raymond in a straight North-South race.

  16. While I defer to your superior hockey knowledge, I have to wonder how it is statistically possible that only 2 out of 10 players are from the Western Conference. And two are from the Leafs! I would hazard a guess that Raymond would not have been on the list if he were still playing for the Canucks.
    Maybe it’s time to move from the centre of the universe back to Phoenix. Or get an even bigger cable package.

  17. Great list and analysis.

    Curious why Marleau was left out. His skating always impresses me, even in his 30′s he looks great. Player polls always have him ranked at the top of the skating category too. Also surpised by no Hall, Seguin and less surprised by no Boedeker.

  18. Yay this list includes two Canucks given away by our team.

    Um. Not yay.

  19. I disavow any top 10 skaters list that doesn’t include Patrick Marleau.

  20. I wonder where PK Subban would rank. I’ve always thought he was a fantastic skater, not just straight speed but also manoeuvrability and agility. Not trying to say he’s better (or worse) than any of the above top 10, just saying he should probably be up around there.

  21. Talking of awesome speed with rock like hands, Erik Cole.

  22. Evander Kane deserves some consideration. North-south he is top shelf.

  23. Good top 10 list. A case could be made for any of those guys.

    I also like that you included guys like Duncan Keith, who usually don’t turn on the afterburners like some of those forwards, but they make skating look so simple, so easy.

    In the honorable mention department, I would include PK Subban (that east-west skating allows him to deliver those hip-checks) and Evander and Patrick Kane.

  24. Grabner has got to be the fastest in the NHL. The man seems to get like 2-3 breakaways a game!

    • He’s so fast, his top-five goal compilation only took as long as single-goal highlights from other guys. #grabsisfast

  25. Is it just me or does Matt Duchene’s skating style look similar Modano’s? That smooth as silk effortless while blowing the doors off of everybody style.

    Great list! I also agree that Boumeester is also an amazing skater.

    I’m a fan of great skating D-men and Chicago’s got 3 top notch skaters in Keith, Oduya, and Leddy. I’d argue that Leddy may be the fasted D-man in the league.

  26. jannik hansen..

  27. Hope Yzerman read this column. Skating with the puck, skating without the puck, taking a pass and dishing a pass, are four skills with heightened importance on international ice dimensions. Canada always selects playoff grinders instead.
    A guys like Sakic and Modano are fastest with the puck due to their stickhandling.
    Weird the National Post had Bernier in a tie for 9th as team Canada goalie. I got him about 30th. I like plaing at least two goalies with the compressed schedule, but I still got the idea of training the kids like M.Subban by bringing one as a third, much better than an above avg #2 goalie like Bernier.
    If Marleau is still fast he is a lock. Adds to the odds for selecting Duchense and MacKinnon. I like MacKinnon on the roster, but not actually playing him against a big 7 power. With someone like Karlsson, speed without the puck is more important as you have to get back after joining the rush. Endurance and aptitude at taking short shifts are as important as speed with the puck. Coffey had Gretz. Karlsson needs a younger version of Spezza to get chemistry with.

  28. Kreider is the fastest in the NHL now. His team mates say he is faster than Hagelin.

  29. Good list! I definitely notice the speed of Helm and Grabner when watching games. Sobotka looks like a good skater from what I’ve seen of him.

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