Wow, you sure didn't ask for easy players to rank, did you? To me, there's only one easy choice: Beliveau at No. 1. IMO, the top six players in NHL history are virtually undebatable. (Orr, Howe, Gretzky, Lemieux, Richard, Beliveau). Until Mario Lemieux came along, Beliveau was the greatest combination of size and skill. His graceful skating was years ahead of it's time.
I've also said that outside of the top 10, the rankings become very challenging, as it's too close to call. Ask someone for a list of players 11-25, and you'll get at least 20 different names and hundreds of combinations. The rest of the players on this list fall outside of the top 10, and most are in the top 25.
IMO, from Esposito to Clarke, we're talking about seven players who could be slotted in the 11 to 25 range. Each had something special that they brought to the table. Dionne's place in the all-time scoring list is more a testament to his longevity. Not to take anything away from his career, he was a doozy of an offensive player, but I'd say he falls in the 30-40 range. (Trottier, Clarke and Mikita had the grit that Dionne lacked, and in the case of Trottier and Clarke, they had leadership and playoff performance that Dionne lacked). Perrault would fall somewhere between 40-50.
I thought it was kinda self explanitory. At the peak of their respective games, which order would you take them in a draft (taking all aspects of the game into account)?
At the peak of their games and what order I'm taking them in the draft (assuming my team gets them for the entirety of their career) are two different things.
When are we playing? The 60s? The 70s? The 80s? What style of hockey does my team play? For instance, if I have some big, physical wingers already for him to line up with, I might take Espo first or second. If not, I'm looking elsewhere.
But what the hell: Assuming my team is starting from scratch and we're playing the hockey of the post-expansion, pre-merger era (where most of these guys had their greatest success) here are my picks:
Easy choice as the first pick. The Mario of his day, although not quite as dominant, a supreme package of size and skill as well as superior leadership qualities to boot.
Another easy choice from my perspective. The most gifted offensive player of the rest. Made all who played with him a hell of a lot better.
Tough to choose between them. I think in a different system, Trottier would have scored a heck of a lot more (look what he did in the late '70s), although he wouldn't have been the offensive force that Mikita was year in and year out. It came down to Trottier's ability to adjust his game to his team's needs, increasing his defensive responsibility and taking a more complementary role in the offense. Stan also changed his game to become more effective, but I'm not convinced that he could have made the transition that Trottier did quite as easily.
All of these players provided the same thing. I rank them based on their versatility in providing that scoring. Hull could have scored anytime, anywhere, in any era. I rank him ahead of Bossy based on durability and grit, while Espo required physical linemates and a specific style of play to be as successful as he was. Granted, within that style of play, he was phenomenal. But coach MoneyP favors a more wide-open game, plus there's no guarantee that I get Bobby Orr to ride shotgun.
The rest of these are fairly easy. Like Espo, I think Clarke required a specific style of play to be effective, and it's not one that I typically favor, although there's no denying his impact within those parameters. Perreault is a discernable step below the rest of these players, and Dionne, as entertaining as he was to watch, could get swallowed up by a physical defense.
I'm probably punishing Mikita a little more than is fair, but I didn't see him for the first half of his career. 1-4 were complete players who had tremendous careers, 5-7 were one dimensional but terribly gifted in that one area, and Dionne plus Perreault are off the pace but very fine players in their own right.
Hardest player for me to slot is Mikita and if I thought more about it he'd likely zip by Esposito.
How THN ranks Trots, the best two way player ever IMO, so low is beyond me. Those old Islander players and that team in general always seem to get the shaft when the greats are being talked about. IMO Trottier, Potvin and Bossy all fall in the 10-18 range.