Who Did Gretzky Play For – Wayne Gretzky’s Career in Depth

Posted on February 24, 2024 by Dan Kent
Wayne Gretzky

Wayne Gretzky, known as "The Great One," is legendary in ice hockey. He is one of the greatest hockey players of all time, if not the greatest, and holds numerous records, too many to count. His points record in the NHL is unlikely ever to be bested.

Born in Brantford, Canada, Gretzky started playing ice hockey early on a backyard rink made by his father, paving his way to become one of the most iconic NHL players of all time.

In this article, we will talk about the teams that Gretzky has played on at a pro level, in his junior career, and go over some of his most notable accomplishments.

Who did Gretzky play for?

If we include pro career only, Gretzky played for five teams, one in the WHA and four in the NHL.

  • Indianapolis Racers (WHA)
  • Edmonton Oilers (NHL)
  • Los Angeles Kings (NHL)
  • St Louis Blues (NHL)
  • New York Rangers (NHL)

Indianapolis Racers

Gretzky's time with the Racers was short. He wouldn't even go on to play ten games. Because of the National Hockey League's restrictions in terms of age required to be eligible for the NHL Entry Draft, the Racers could swoop in and sign him to a 7-year personal services contract.

However, financial difficulties with the Racers would force them to sell Gretzky to the Edmonton Oilers. It has often been said Gretzky was won during a game of poker between Racers owner Nelson Skalbania and Oilers owner Peter Pocklington.

However, this has been refuted by both owners, stating the transaction was straightforward and simply involved players and cash.

The World Hockey Association would fold shortly after this, and the Edmonton Oilers would merge into the National Hockey League.

Edmonton Oilers

For the most part, Gretzky will be known for his tenure with a Canadian team, the Edmonton Oilers. It not only resulted in one of the greatest NHL dynasties of all time but arguably the best NHL team of all time, the 1984-1985 Edmonton Oilers.

Gretzky would play his first season with the Oilers in the World Hockey Association before playing in the National Hockey League in the 1979-1980 season. He would accumulate 137 points in that season, and by the 1981-1982 season, he would produce an NHL record 92 goals.

In his first NHL season, he would also go on to win the Lady Byng Trophy, awarded to the player who exemplifies leadership and sportsmanship qualities in the game, accumulating only 21 PIMs over the entire season.

It would be the 1985-1986 season where Gretzky would set the all-time points in a single season record with 215. This time, it didn't come on the back of a 92-goal season. Instead, he would score 52 goals and collect a whopping 163 assists, averaging more than 2 per game.

He led the team to four Stanley Cup Championships during his time with the Oilers. His incredible performance in the league earned him countless records and awards.

He would go on to win the Art Ross Trophy, the league's leading scorer, every season with the Oilers, and he would also go on to win the Hart Trophy, the league MVP, for eight consecutive seasons.

It is doubtful we ever see an NHL player break the 200-point mark in a season again. Gretzky astonishingly did it four times with the Oilers. His point streak with the Oilers is likely to be an NHL record that never gets broken, as he went 51 straight games collecting a point.

Much like the Racers, the Oilers would run into financial trouble. They would be forced to trade Gretzky in arguably one of the most shocking trades in NHL history.

Los Angeles Kings

Gretzky's next adventure took him to the Los Angeles Kings, where he helped revitalize the franchise and popularize hockey in southern California. The Oilers traded Gretzky, along with teammates Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski, to Los Angeles in exchange for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas, three first-round draft picks, and $15M, which the Oilers desperately needed.

At first, Gretzky did not want the trade to happen. However, after discussing options with the Oilers, his father Walter Gretzky, his soon-to-be wife actress Janet Jones, and Kings owner Bruce McNall, he finally agreed to a trade. This devastated Canadian hockey fans, particularly Oiler fans, as Gretzky was considered a Canadian icon.

As a King, he continued to break records, including surpassing Gordie Howe's all-time NHL points record. He led the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1993, ultimately falling short in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Montreal Canadiens.

Although he never won a cup with the Kings, his performance did not slow down. He won the scoring title 3 of 4 seasons with the Kings, and the Hart Trophy his first season.

Although the trade was devastating for the Edmonton Oilers and, in fact, all Canadians, it was arguably the most pivotal moment in the National Hockey League's growth, as the league would gain popularity during his time there, resulting in numerous expansion teams not only in California (Anaheim and San Jose) but around the United States in states that were not necessarily hockey hotbeds, like Florida.

The Kings would move Gretzky to the St. Louis Blues in his final year with the team. He was set to become a free agent, and with the Kings not making the playoffs, they felt it would be wise to get assets for him rather than letting him walk.

St Louis Blues

Though Gretzky's time with the team was brief, lasting only 18 games in the regular season and 13 in the playoffs, Gretzky made his mark by notching 21 points in 18 regular-season games and 16 points during the postseason run.

The Kings acquired Craig Johnson, Patrice Tardif, Roman Vopat, a 1st round pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft (which became Matt Zultek, though he never played in the NHL), and a 5th-round pick in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft (Peter Hogan) for Gretzky. It was a hefty price for the Blues and didn't work out.

The team would be eliminated in the second round of the NHL playoffs, and Gretzky would end up signing a contract with the New York Rangers.

New York Rangers

Finally, Gretzky spent his last years in the NHL with the New York Rangers. There were rumors Gretzky would return home to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, he would join his old Edmonton Oilers teammate Mark Messier and would finish his career out with the Rangers.

He demonstrated incredible skill and vision on the ice, even in the latter part of his career, notching 249 points over his three seasons with the team. Sure, it wasn't as good as you've come to expect from Gretzky, but we do have to understand he was in his mid to late 30s at this point and still putting up outstanding numbers.

He would take the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first season before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers.

In his final game, a 2-1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, he registered an assist, making it his 2,857th point. This record still stands today in NHL history and will unlikely be broken.

The league would retire Gretzky's number 99, ensuring no other player would ever wear it again.

Junior Career

Gretzky's junior career began with the Toronto Nationals of the MJBHL. After a brief stint with the Seneca Nationals and Peterborough Petes, Gretzky joined the Soo Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

He would put up a mind-boggling 182 points in 63 games, working out to be just under 2.9 points per game. In recent times, some of the most outstanding junior performances we've witnessed in Junior hockey were from Connor McDavid and Connor Bedard. They would come in at only 2.5 points per game, nothing compared to Gretzky's dominance.

As a Greyhound, Gretzky solidified his reputation as one of the most promising young hockey players in the OHL, regularly displaying his prowess by scoring goals, an aggressive forecheck, and accumulating many assists.

His performance in the OHL earned him a spot on the Canadian national team competing in the World Junior Championships. This incredible opportunity allowed him to showcase his talent internationally and gain even more recognition in hockey.

It was clear during Gretzky's junior career that he would be one of the best players on the planet for the foreseeable future.

Record-breaking performances

You'll find his numerous record-breaking performances while researching who Wayne Gretzky played for. Gretzky amassed extraordinary career statistics in goals, assists, and points as a professional ice hockey player.

As mentioned, Gretzky played for four teams: 

  • Edmonton Oilers (1979-1988) 
  • Los Angeles Kings (1988-1996)
  • St. Louis Blues (1996)
  • New York Rangers (1996-1999)

He set numerous records and milestones while playing for all of these teams. While most of his records were set with the Edmonton Oilers, he would become the all-time leading point scorer in the NHL while with the Kings. He would score his 1000th professional goal (NHL and WHA combined) with the Rangers.

Points

Gretzky is the all-time leading scorer in the NHL with 2,857 career points, a record that remains unchallenged and is unlikely to be challenged for some time. 

It is important to note that Mario Lemieux, his nearest competitor, is more than 900 points behind him. However, it would have been much closer if Lemieux had not undergone significant injuries and a cancer diagnosis. 

He also holds the record for the most points in a single season, accomplishing this with 215 points during the 1985-1986 season.

Goals

Scoring was one of Gretzky's attributes, and he scored 894 career goals during his time in the NHL. In the 1981-1982 season, he set the record for the most goals in a single season, finding the net 92 times.

At least at the time of writing, it seems likely that Alexander Ovechkin will surpass Gretzky's all-time goal record. Ovechkin likely has at least 4-5 seasons of quality NHL play left, and he only needs 73 goals as of the end of the 2022-2023 season to pass him.

However, please make no mistake: Gretzky's 894 career goals are still astounding.

Assists

Most will be drawn to Gretzky's exceptional playmaking abilities, as he holds the record for career assists with 1,963. He could still be the all-time points leader even if all his goals were removed. 

Furthermore, he holds the single-season assist record, registering 163 assists during the 1985-1986 season.

Other Records

Wayne Gretzky's career achievements are too numerous to list them all here, but a few more notable ones include:

  • Most goals in a calendar year: 100 (in 1981)
  • Most consecutive 40-goal seasons: 12
  • Most 60-goal seasons: 5
  • Most consecutive 100-point seasons: 13

Gretzky's astounding achievements and records have earned him the nickname "The Great One." If you look at his accomplishments, it's pretty clear that the name is well-deserved.

Awards and achievements

Gretzky's dominant performance earned him the Hart Trophy, awarded to the NHL's Most Valuable Player (MVP) ten times during his career. His dominance also helped him secure the Art Ross Trophy ten times, given to the league's leading points-scorer.

In terms of Stanley Cups, however, he would win them all with a single team during arguably the most dominant phase of his career during the 80s with the Edmonton Oilers.

He would win the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the player proven to be the most valuable to their team in the playoffs, a total of 2 times, both with the Oilers.

Throughout his time in the NHL, Gretzky appeared in numerous All-Star games, allowing fans to witness his spectacular play firsthand. He participated in 18 NHL All-Star Games, consistently proving his status as one of the league's top players.

Here are some of the key awards and achievements that Gretzky received in his illustrious career:

  • 10 Hart Trophies
  • 10 Art Ross Trophies
  • 4 Stanley Cups
  • 2 Conn Smythe Trophies
  • 18 NHL All-Star Game appearances

His name is on numerous pages of the NHL record book with an astonishing amount of records, such as the most career goals, assists, and points in the NHL, among many others.

The Hockey Hall of Fame typically requires a three-year waiting period before inducting a player into the HHOF. They voided that waiting period and inducted him right away.

Post-retirement contributions

Following his last game with the New York Rangers in April 1999, Gretzky became an ambassador for the National Hockey League (NHL) to help promote the sport.

One of your most significant post-retirement contributions to hockey has been his involvement in executive and coaching positions. In 2000, he became a minority owner and Executive Director for the Phoenix Coyotes.

Later, in 2005, he decided to make a direct impact as head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. His coaching career would last four seasons, all with the Coyotes. The team would miss the playoffs every season. After his fourth season finished with the Coyotes, he would never coach another NHL game again.

Overall, Gretzky is a hockey legend. Stanley Cups, individual records, and a reputation for being the best player ever to play the game will stick with him for as long as he is remembered. Although his resume doesn't include an Olympic gold medal, this is primarily because NHL players could not play in the Olympics then.

However, his status as an international hero remains intact, as he led Canada to victory in the 1984 and 1987 Canada Cup.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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