Generational, Elite, Star Players

By JD Lagrange – There seems to be a huge disparity amongst hockey fans when it comes to cataloguing players into categories, particularly when referring to some of the best players. A power forward means one thing to some, and something else to others. Every so often, we see debates on what constitutes a “generational” talent, or players being tagged as “elite”, and a debate ensues.

But can we really blame fans for being unclear about such fluid topics when the Professional Hockey Writers Association (PHWA) can’t make the distinctions and read the definitions when voting for NHL Awards such as the Selke and Norris Trophies? They too seem confused and they are supposed to be pros. Nowhere in the Selke definition does it mention offensive output. The Norris speaks about the best all round defenseman yet, most times, nominations in both cases are based on players’ offensive output.

“OK I had a bit of a debate today (spread the joy lol). I understand what a generational talent is and I said that Patrice Bergeron was one. Is he a generational talent in your opinion?” ~ Maxim Lapierre

Three categories

So let’s look at three major categories of players and what they constitute, in my opinion of course:

  1. Generational
  2. Elite
  3. Star


The definition is rather clear. A generational player is basically a player that you see once in a generation. They are players that are a full length above anyone else in the league in their era, players who literally dominate the game. They are few and far between. Often, they are the ones breaking or challenging for the toughest attainable records.


  • Bobby Orr: he changed the game of hockey, winning the NHL scoring title
  • Wayne Gretzky: does he really need an introduction or worse, justifications?
  • Mario Lemieux: darn injuries I tell you. We were lucky to see both he and Gretzky in the same era.
  • Sidney Crosby: While a notch below the other ones mentioned above, I still consider him generational. Dominant in his prime.
  • Connor McDavid: I usually like to wait a bit longer in a player’s career to catalogue them, but he dominates the NHL. The Toronto media trying to compare Auston Matthews to him is laughable at best.

Keen an eye on Connor Bedard as he has every tool to become the next generational talent in the NHL. But beware of sensationalist journalism. Some are already trying to claim that Cale Makar is better than Bobby Orr. It’s that need to feel like we’re living history, I guess. A society of entitlement and sensationalism.


The elite category is where people get confused by placing some of them into the generational one. To better understand, let’s start with the definition:




a select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.

In terms of the NHL, they are the very best players at each position in their era. And unlike the generational players, there are several of them. Most – but not necessarily all – teams have one, some can have as many as two or even three, but that’s pushing it. Elite usually means Hockey Hall of Fame candidates or inductees of course. While all elite players are or will be in the HHOF, not all inductees were elite.

Think of the old armed forces, and their elite snipers. They hit their targets from longer distances and rarely miss. All other soldiers have guns, some are very good at shooting, but very few are elite snipers.


  • Jean Beliveau
  • Maurice Richard
  • Gordie Howe
  • Ken Dryden
  • Larry Robinson
  • Phil Esposito
  • Guy Lafleur
  • Denis Potvin
  • Raymond Bourque
  • Pavel Bure
  • Nicklas Lidstrom
  • Patrick Roy
  • Carey Price
  • Alex Ovechkin
  • Patrice Bergeron
  • Auston Matthews
  • Cale Makar
  • Nathan MacKinnon
  • etc…


A star player is a very good player, who in any given season, is having a star-like type of season. It can be a one-of, or the player can put together a few “start-like” seasons. They are often considered for the NHL All-Star game, or even for a NHL Award. Star players are not a shoe-in to enter the HHOF but many will be, if they string multiple star-like seasons in their career.


  • Steve Shutt
  • Bobby Clarke
  • Gilbert Perreault
  • Mike Gartner
  • Nikita Kucherov
  • Erik Karlsson
  • Steven Stamkos
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy
  • Steven Stamkos
  • John Tavares
  • Brad Marchand
  • Aleksander Barkov
  • etc…

I’m hoping that this clarifies things a bit for a few people. Of course, the debate will always remain as to which category any given player ranks. But at least, the definitions should be clearer if we followed a simple model like this one. However, the confusion – or grey area – should be more between who if a player is “elite” or a “star” player, as generational is so rare.

More reading…

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