Speed has always been one of the most important attributes for a hockey player. (See 1960s Chicago speedster Kenny Wharram on the right in action against Bill Gadsby and the Red Wings. Wharram was part of the famed Chicago "Scooter Line".) If you don’t have it, you can still make it to the professional ranks. That said, those that don’t have speed as part of their game generally need to possess or develop a number of other attributes that compensate for that missing part of their repertoire. It could be grit, determination, vision, smarts.
And, there have been any number of players over the years who could really fly, but they didn’t “make it”, for a variety of reasons. They couldn’t finish, couldn’t check, lacked the will needed to compete night after night at the highest levels.
On balance, though, speed is a huge asset. Nowadays, we see it in someone like Ovechkin. Oh, he brings many other qualities to the rink most nights, including a passion for the game. But he can skate well—and fast, very fast.
Yes, it usually makes a difference.
Of course, the guy who was likely the fastest thing on skates was Bobby Orr, who jumped to the NHL at the age of 18 in 1966. Despite an assortment of knee ailments, he could fly and had that “extra gear” that everyone likes to talk about. (Orr wasn't just fast; the way he moved on the ice, his quick stops and starts made him virtually impossible to defend.)
The game was changing in the ‘70s, and more guys could really skate. Orr aside, I thought
’s phenomenal Gilbert Perreault was in a class by himself, in terms of speed and skating ability. Buffalo
, Bob Gainey came aboard in 1973, and while he was not a big goal scorer, he sure could move. Of course, Montreal always had plenty of guys who could skate— and skate fast. Murray Wilson could flat-out fly in the ‘70s for the Habs, too. Mark Napier played for Montreal for a while, too, after his time with the WHA (Toronto Toros?), and he was in the upper echelon of skaters. Montreal
I thought Freddie Stanfield with
in the early ‘70s could skate, but I don’t know if he was quite in the class of some other guys. Johnny McKenzie was fast, but again, maybe not a “top ten” in the league speedster. Boston
In the modern era, a number of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers (Messier, Anderson, Coffey, etc.) were explosive, for sure. Was anyone ever faster than Vancouver's Pavel Bure in his prime?
I’m sure I’m missing guys, including some Leaf players. Who do you remember from those decades, and also the 1980s and '90s, as the “fastest guys on ice”?