Bob Hartley can easily narrow the list down to two.
Hartley, now with the Calgary Flames, has coached plenty of great players in his career but deems two as the best. One is Hall of Famer Joe Sakic. The other is Marian Hossa.
“He’s a dream to coach. He’s not just coachable, he’s a dream to coach,” said Hartley, who coached Hossa when the two were with the Atlanta Thrashers. “He always shows up to play, works unbelievably hard in the gym and in practices. For him, to play good defense is as important as scoring goals. Probably the strongest player I’ve coached on the puck. You basically need a tow-truck to lift his stick off the puck. He gets a lot of credit. But I still think he’s very underrated when it comes to the player that he is.”
You hear the phrase “coachable player” often in sports. That certainly applies to Hossa, who likely got that coach’s dream tag because you don’t need to teach him much. The right wing, two goals away from reaching 500 for his career, has earned respect from those who have coached him.
“As far as being a great player and top player, he’s consistent. He plays the game exactly how you'd want to play it on the technical side of things,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s just got a real good hockey IQ and plays equally hard on both sides. I've been fortunate to coach a lot of good players. I don't quantify exactly the number where I'd slot him, but he's way up there.”
Jacques Martin was coaching the Ottawa Senators when Hossa began his NHL career there. Martin saw the potential with Hossa on both sides of the puck and put the right wing with Magnus Arvedson and Radek Bonk.
“That line was a checking line until Marian joined them and then became more of a scoring and threatening line and one that could play against the opposition’s best line,” said Martin, who put Hossa up there with Daniel Alfredsson as two of his favorites to coach. “Right from the start, I think he had great offensive skill. But I always felt he was a strong player both ways. He’s been one of the better players as far as back pressure; every game he’d backtrack and steal pucks from the opposition.”
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There are some players that coaches have to work with more than others. Some players you can just throw out there and they’ll always know what to do. Hossa has been the latter for a good part of his career, and it’s one reason why he’s remained a favorite among those who have coached him.
“I always felt he was a strong player on both ends of the rink, very responsible and mature kid. When you have an opportunity to coach people like that when they’re young, you hope as a coach you can help them develop some values and help them in their career,” Martin said. “He’s always been a player that’s been a real pleasure to coach.”