What number you wear can often be a big part of a player’s hockey identity. Some players care more than others about the number they don, but even for those who are indifferent to them, those numbers help connect players with young fans and can even have sentimental value. Like it or not, numbers are a big part of what can make this game great.
Of course, some numbers are better than others. This is especially true in hockey where the history of certain numbers carries with it a certain folklore that others lack. Think of Vladislav Tretiak and his disciples wearing 20 in the crease or how number 19 became synonymous with Steve Yzerman and Hockey Canada. Hockey numbers are part of the sport’s lore and the good ones deserved to be honored.
That’s why I took the time to conduct top secret scientific research to determine the definitive ranking of hockey jersey numbers. Which are good, which are bad, which ones are elite. What will follow is a breakdown of numbers 1-99 and where they each fall in the four ranking tiers.
The ranking is based on aesthetics and not whether or not a legendary player wore it. This is strictly a beauty contest. If a number looks good on a hockey jersey, it gets ranked higher. If it looks like crap, it gets ranked lower.
Some of these are font dependent, and that factored into where they fell. For example, the number 13 might look dull on the basic block font of a Sabres jersey but in a more dynamic font, it can look much better. In that particular case, I spit the difference and that’s how it wound up in the middle tier.
One other factor in whether a number looks good on a player or jersey is where and how it’s being used. For example, 6 looks a heck of a lot better on a defenseman than a forward. A defenseman wearing 16 might look a little wacky and a goalie wearing a number in the teens should be tried for war crimes. Those scenarios didn’t really influence me in this regard as I was just going for the base determination of which hockey numbers are good and which ones are bad.
Lastly, as stated above, this is not a ranking of numbers based on who wore it. I love Marty Biron as much as the next guy but I don’t think 43 is an especially good hockey number. So once more for everyone in the back: this is not a ranking of numbers based on who wore them. Nor is it a player ranking. This is a ranking of which hockey numbers are best. No more, no less.
I should also point out that this ranking is completely arbitrary. Like Who’s Line, the points don’t count and the rules are made up. That being said, this ranking is unimpeachable and I will hear no debate to the contrary.
These are the best of the best. You’ll see that this group includes all doubles (save for 66) and many other traditional hockey digits.
3 4 9 10 14 16 21 22 23 24 26 27 28 29 44 77 88 89 94 97 99
7 – What’s great about 7 is that it looks good on forwards and defensemen alike. It’s right at home in the block fonts of an Original Six uniform and still looks great in a more modern treatment
11 – Obviously a number close to our hearts in Buffalo. 11 can give you a streamlined and tall look on the ice. It’s clean and dynamic.
19 – The resume for 19 is long and the history of the number certainly helps its street cred. It became so revered with Hockey Canada that only Steve Yzerman was permitted to wear it for a time. Beyond that, it’s a good looking number. Especially in a block font. You tend to think of a number one center wearing this one and for good reason.
33 – The best goalie number. Maybe the only goalie number you’d ever need. It’s hard to say! Like the other doubles in this category, the visual symmetry makes 33 look great on any uniform you sew it on to.
55 – Sort of like number 7, this one looks great at center, on the wing or on the blueline. For what I think would otherwise be considered a traditional defenseman number, 55 looks sharp on a forward. An added benefit for 55 (and pretty much all the doubles), it looks even better in a dynamic font.
91 – Maybe one of the very best contemporary numbers on this list. The natural inclination here is to think back to the days of Sergei Fedorov, or perhaps younger fans will jump right to John Tavares, Steven Stamkos and Tyler Seguin. But divorcing the number from some of the players who have worn it, you still wind up with a very cool set of digits. What’s great about any number ending in one (91, 71, 51 etc.) is the odd visual that the one provides. It’s very aesthetically pleasing and makes all of those digits work. Especially 91.
2 8 12 17 18 20 30 31 37 41 51 61 71 81 93 95
1 – I’m not a huge fan of goalies wearing 1. I find it to be a little boring an unimaginative. But it’s a nice, traditional number which deserves its due.
5 – Another key, traditional hockey number. Doesn’t look quite as good on a forward as it does patrolling the blueline, but you’d be hard pressed to find a uniform where 5 looks out of place.
35 – This is an excellent goalie number. There’s something about it that looks great in the net. Not so much at forward or defense. But in goal? It looks terrific.
66 – Really the only double that isn’t really aesthetically pleasing. Still good but not at the level of 77 or 88.
74 – This is not simply a Jay McKee appreciation post. 74 is one of the most aesthetically pleasing numbers out there. The slope of the 7 and 4 complement each other perfectly forming an excellent visual partnership on a jersey. This works similarly on 24, which is part of the reason that number made it to the elite tier.
96 – This is a good looking number. Look at that picture of Mikko Rantanen. It’s real good.
13 15 25 34 68 90 92 98
6 – I mentioned this in the introductory paragraphs but this is a tricky number because it looks right at home on a defenseman. It’s a very good number in that respect. But you slap it on a forward and it looks awkward and out of place. For some reason it just doesn’t work.
39 – As a Sabres blog and a Goalie Union member, this will get me a lot of grief. But the number 39 is simply not that great. There is some symmetry in the shape of the two numbers but the flow just isn’t there. Dominik Hasek made it his own and this is a rare instance of a number getting a slight boost in my mind because of who wore it. But separate the player from the number and it’s very average as hockey numbers go.
87 – What’s great about hockey is that players can often transcend the numbers they wear. Many have reasons for choosing their preferred or lucky numbers. In other cases, players may wind up with an otherwise unattractive assigned number but through their on-ice exploits, they make that number their own. Take Braden Holtby. He wore number one in Saskatoon and Hershey but Washington’s number assignment system at the time he entered the league called for any and all goalie prospects to have a number that ended in zero. That’s how Semyon Varlamov started out with 40 and why Holtby wore 70. Only, Holtby came to define the number for the Capitals and I doubt many could imagine him having worn a different number in Washington.
This is a long way to say that 87 has become a definitive hockey number despite being fairly substandard. Ending in seven helps in this regard and it’s difficult to look beyond how Crosby has influenced the number in the hockey world. This is also why I ultimately bumped 68 up from the lower tier as well.
32 36 38 40 42 43 45 46 47 48
49 50 52 53 54 56 57 58 59 60
62 63 64 65 67 69nice 70 72 73
75 76 78 79 80 82 83 84 85 86
Not much to say about this batch of numbers. Sabres fans will get bent out of shape at 32 and 48 landing here but they’re simply not good numbers. This group lacks the visual flow and cohesion to look good on a jersey.
As mentioned above, there are plenty of examples of players who made an otherwise bizarre number their own and made it a notable or otherwise special number on their respective teams. There are quite a few of those examples present in the numbers above but that doesn’t change the overall look of these numbers.
What’s important to remember is that there are 61 good numbers to choose from and NHL teams ought to adopt this scale to prevent their players from being put on the ice in substandard digits.