Survey reveals sharp fan divide on NHL’s ‘must-see’ players

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Who are the must-see players in the NHL?

It really depends on who’s watching.

According to a Yahoo Sports/YouGov survey of hockey fans in the U.S., Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals ranks as the most “must-see” player in the NHL, with 26 percent of all respondents identifying him as a player they make time to watch on TV or pay to see play in an arena.

Although perhaps the NHL should be more concerned with the most popular answer among fans: “I don’t consider any players to be ‘must-see’ players,” which was marked by 31 percent of all respondents.

The survey listed 20 of the NHL’s biggest stars and asked respondents to identify up to four of them as “must-see” players. There was an “other” option that garnered 9 percent.

(FYI: We didn’t include goalies in the survey. Hey, if the NHL won’t market them as attractions, can they be considered “must-see” players?)

Here’s the breakdown of the total survey respondents:


As you can see, Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby (24 percent) lead the way, with Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks (19 percent) ranking third. Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews was named “must see” by 15 percent of respondents – an interesting total, given Edmonton Oilers superstar sophomore Connor McDavid was named “must see” by just nine percent.

Also getting 15 percent: Jaromir Jagr, the veteran legend with the Florida Panthers.

Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings were the only other two players to break 10 percent.

Among the 10 players, Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames received the smallest number of “must-see” votes, coming in at just three percent.

The full breakdown of players:


The Yahoo Sports/YouGov survey also broke down the percentages demographically.

Here’s the gender split on the “must-see” players in the NHL:


As you can see, there’s a rather large dip in support for Ovechkin, Crosby, Kane and Jagr from men to women. One big reason: 38 percent of women said there are no players in the NHL they consider “must see,” vs. 26 percent of male respondents.

(And yes, Patrick Kane is the most popular player among women hockey fans in the U.S. We’ll leave it to you to unpack that.)

Here is the demographic breakdown by age bracket:


Apparently, Auston Matthews has captivated the attention of millennial fans, as a quarter of them consider him “must-see” vs. just 10 percent for fans 35-54 and 55-plus.

Meanwhile, fans 55-and-older make slightly more time to appreciate the play of Sidney Crosby vs. that of Ovechkin, because he’s a young whippersnapper. But perhaps the biggest surprise is that only 17 percent of them see Jaromir Jagr as “must see,” clearly disrespecting their elder.

As far as the “must-see” breakdown, we see another clear demographic break: a whopping 42 percent of fans 55-and-old claim there are no “must see” players in the NHL today, compared to 26 percent of millennials. Well, when you came up watching Gretzky and Lemieux, it’s apparently hard to accept McDavid (7 percent of fans 55-and-older) and Matthews (5 percent of fans 55-and-older)

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,180 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16th – 17th November 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18-plus).

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Graphics by Paul Rosales/Graphics Editor, Yahoo Sports

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.