Like any sport, nicknames are given to teammates on a regular basis. Some nicknames reference a player’s sublime skills, others are less complimentary in reference to a players’ physique or lack of playing skills. There have been some classic nicknames as we explored in our All-Time Greatest Hockey Nicknames piece from 2014. With names like “The Hammer”, “Grapes”, “Gump” or “Punch” you get a sense that nicknames represent the tough-guy aspect of the game of hockey, but more recently there are some really great hockey nicknames that speak more to the person than just the player.
Teammates have given other teammates nicknames forever. As Johnathan Toews stated “when a new player joins the team, you almost feel uncomfortable calling him by his real name. You need to find something for him quick, so you can kind of initiate him and have him be one of the boys.”
Top 20 NHL Player Nicknames (2023)
There are some outstanding nicknames in the NHL today. So much so that it was hard to narrow it down to just twenty. Here is a look at which nicknames were rated the best by The Hockey Fanatic.
#20. Patrick Kane “Little Peekaboo” – we believe that it was Johnathan Toews that gave Patrick Kane the nickname “Little Peekaboo. Due in part to Kane’s height but more specific to his initials “PK” as in peekaboo.
#19. Auston Matthews “Papi” – Auston’s nickname is “Papi,” which stems from former Major League player David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, who was Matthews’ favourite baseball player growing up and the inspiration for wearing No. 34.
#18. Jonathan “Taser” Toews – while many call him ‘Captain Serious’ (another good one) when Toews arrived in Chicago they just started calling him “Taser” (Tazer) obviously based on the pronunciation of his last name. The Blackhawks have always had some great nicknames over the years.
#17. Lars “Tiger” Eller – this one was a nickname that we were not aware of. As the story goes, Eller states that he got this nickname as a result of the “spiritual animal” he had to choose while on stage with motivational speaker Tony Robbins. When asked which “spirit animal” he would describe himself, Eller proclaimed that “tiger” seemed to be a good fit.
#16. Pierre “Seabiscuit” Engvall – this is a good one. The current Toronto Maple Leafs player is nicknames Seabiscuit after the legendary racehorse as he has a longer-than-usual neck and a taller-than-normal head. He is listed as 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds but due to his body size often seems shorter.
#15. Quinn “Huggy Bear” Hughes. Not the meanest nickname on our list as thisnickname born from both the defenseman’s last name and the fact that, according to Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko, “he’s cute and you just want to cuddle him.”
#14. William “Wild Bill” Karlsson. One of the best nicknames in the NHL, that was given not because Karlsson likes to party it up in Las Vegas as a member of the Golden Knights, but it was given to Karlsson during his time in Anaheim because he was … so quiet and reserved.
#13. Evgeni “Gino” Malkin – Evgeni is Russian for Eugene, many Italians shorten Eugene to Gino, and Pittsburgh has a big Italian population. Also for those who understand hockey slang, “Gino” or “Geno” is also in reference to sniping a nice goal.
#12. Marc-Andre Fleury “The Flower” – the guys’s big bright white teethy smile just lights up a room.. like a flower. Truth be told, the nickname “Flower” is derived from the English translation of his last name Fluery (fleuri is “in bloom”, or “in flower”, in French).
#11. Alex Ovechkin “The Great Eight” – an obvious one here in reference to the number that Ovechkin wears on his jersey. While Wayne Gretzky is “the Great One”, the NHL’s second all-time leading goal scorer is “The Great 8”
Top Ten Hockey Nicknames in the NHL
#10. Joe Sakic “Burnaby Joe” – while no longer a player in the NHL, Colorado Avalanche President of Hockey Operations still has one of the coolest nicknames around in “Burnaby Joe” which references the fact that joe Sakic is from Burnaby, British Columbia.
#9. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – The Nuge – this one just sounds cool doesn’t it? With a hyphenated name like Nugent-Hopkins, this is another classic example of where the name was condensed to be easy to say. Rocker Ted Nugent was also referred to as “the Nuge” so it’s all about the name with this one.
#8. Charlie McAvoy “Chucky Bright lights” – sometimes the best nicknames stem from being the more spontaneous ones. Given the nickname in reference to his strong work ethic and hard playing, McAvoy, analysts such as Kevin Weekes were big fans of Chucky (Charlie) Bright lights (big game player).
#7. Ryan Lomberg “Lomberghini” – we were watching a Florida Panthers game the other night and noticed that he wore #94 which is the same number that my son wears in Spring hockey and then one of the announcer’s referred to him as “Lomberghini” which we got a kick of. Obviously, a play on his last name as opposed to the speed of his skating.
#6. Dave “Pasta” Pasternak – well this nickname is an obvious one as “Pasta” is short for Pasternak. Pasternak has even created his own pasta (based on his nickname) that is based on one of his favorite meals pasta in Bolognese sauce.
#5. Shayne Gostisbehere The “Ghost Bear” – sometimes nicknames stem from the simplest of places. With a last name like Gostisbehere teammates condensed the last name as it looked and sounded like “Ghost Bear”. It was difficult to spell and even harder to pronounce, hence “Ghost Bear”. Simple enough hey?
#4. Pat “Big Rig” Maroon – the three time Stanley Cup champion was given the nickname “Big Rig” by Andrew Cogliano while playing in Anaheim with the Ducks. The nickname obviously stems from the size of Maroon on the ice where he stands 6’3’’ weighing in at around 235 – 240lbs. Pat Maroon has some pretty good hands and has worked hard during the off-seasons on this conditioning. Did you know that Patrick Maroon became the first United States player to represent his country at both an inline and ice hockey world championship. It’s still amazing to me that the Edmonton Oilers traded Patrick Maroon in 2018. He was a good fit there and “Big Rig” was a fan favourite amongst Oilers fans. More on Patrick Maroon.
#3. Artemi Panarin “The Bread Man” – Panarin was gifted his nickname when he was still a member of the Chicago Blackhawks in reference to the chain of Panera Bread stores/restaurants located throughout North America. Former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is credited with giving Panarin the nickname after telling Panarin that he was “Breadman”. More on how Artemi Panarin got his nickname.
#2. Pat Verbeek “Little Ball of Hate” – Anaheim Ducks GM Pat Verbeek was a heck of a hockey player having scored 521 goals and 541 assists while a member of the New Jersey Devils. He also had 2,905 penalty minutes during his career. The nickname “Little Ball of Hate” was given to him in 1995 by Glenn Healy after fellow New York Rangers teammate Ray Ferraro was tagged as the “Big Ball of Hate”. One of the greatest nicknames in the history of sports.
#1. Arber “WiFi” Xhekaj – the rookie defenseman form Montreal is one of those feel good hockey stories. His Montreal Canadiens teammates gave Xhekaj (pronounced Jack-eye) the awesome nickname “Wi-Fi” because of how his last name looks like a “WiFi password. As the story goes (and it makes sense), Xhekaj’s last name looks more like a bunch of random letters thrown together that an internet provider would give out as a password to connect devices to a network, it’s a perfect fit. The rookie is one tough customer and has had some pretty good scraps against other NHL tough guys. It is true that Arber Xhekaj worked at a Costco in Hamilton during the COVID-19 pandemic after the 2020–21 OHL season was cancelled. Just over a year later he was playing in the National Hockey League.