Many hockey fans will remember the glory days of the Original Six, but few acknowledge some of the great players in the era prior to the Original Six era. Heck, it’s common to find that many fans don’t even know that the Original Six era only started in 1942. In an effort to highlight some of the greatest of the Pre-Original Six era, we’re going to go through the ten greatest NHL players from 1917-1942, the Pre-Original Six Era, starting with the first half at the bottom first:
Denneny was a huge part of the great success of the Ottawa Senators in the NHL’s first years. Denneny was just behind Joe Malone for goals in the NHL’s inaugural season with 36 and tied for the league lead with 10 assists, finishing just two points behind Malone. Denneny would lead the NHL in goals in the 1923-24 season with 22 in 22 games and tied the NHL record for assists by a forward in the 1924-25 season with 15. Denneny would win four Stanley Cups with the Senators and win one more with the Bruins in the last year of his career in 1929. Denneny took the all-time points record in the 1922-23 season and didn’t lose it until 1931.
- Tiny Thompson
Tiny Thompson stormed into the NHL by leading the league in wins for three straight seasons and winning the Vezina trophy in his sophomore season after winning the Stanley Cup with the Bruins as a rookie in 1929. His 38 wins in 44 games during the 1929-30 season give him one of the best single-season point percentages of all-time. Vezina would lead the NHL in wins again in the 1932-33 season and win his second Vezina with 11 shutouts, a category in which he also led the NHL. Thompson would go on to win two more Vezina trophies, giving him four, the most of any player in the Pre-Original Six Era.
Conacher was one third of the deadly Kid line that terrorized the NHL in the early and mid-30s from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Conacher led the NHL in goals in his 2nd NHL season at 21 years old with 31 goals and would do so four more times in the following five years, including a 36-goal season in 1934-35, the highest goal total of any player in the 30s. He also led the NHL in points twice including a 57-point season, another category in which he held the decade-record in the 30s. That season got him 2nd in Hart Voting, robbing Conacher of any individual awards during his career. Despite the lack of individual hardware, Conacher did manage to win a Stanley Cup with the Maple Leafs in 1932, making up for it.
Dit Clapper was one of the more versatile players in NHL history, and one of only a few to be very successful as a forward and a defenseman. Clapper began his career with Boston as a defenseman, but was quickly moved to the wing, where he thrived, scoring 41 goals in the 1929-30 season. Clapper was a successful winger, but saw even more success when he was moved back to his natural position on defense in the 1937-38 season. Clapper quickly became one of the NHL’s best defenders, finishing 2nd in Hart voting in the 1940-41 season. Clapper would also win three Stanley Cups, all with the Boston Bruins. Despite all that, Clapper is perhaps best known for being the NHL’s first 20-year man, playing in 20 different seasons in his NHL career, lasting from 1927-1947. The mandatory three-year waiting period was waived for Clapper in honour of his remarkable longevity.
The Ottawa Senators of the 1910s and 1920s were dominant, and Benedict was a big reason why. The Vezina trophy wasn’t around until his mid-30s, but he surely would have won a few of them had it been around in his prime. After a rough first season, Benedict led the NHL’s goaltenders in wins for six consecutive seasons and in GAA for five. His one shutout was enough to lead the NHL in the 1917-18 season, giving him a stretch of leading the league in shutouts for a stunning seven years. The only way Benedict could be toppled was by being traded from the Senators, which he was in the mid-1920s. In his first year on the much weaker Montreal Maroons, he was third in Hart voting, a testament to his value on that team. He would lead the NHL in GAA again with 1.42 in the 1926-27 team, despite being on an average team. Few netminders ever dominated as Benedict did.