NHL Players Who Have Taken up Poker
Ice Hockey players are some of the most gifted athletes around. This is a sport that tests a number of skills like no other, and many of the top NHL players are versatile sportsmen.
A mix of strength, speed, agility and an eye for the target will help those players to reach the top of their profession.
Because of that versatility, we shouldn’t be surprised to see hockey players excelling in other disciplines too. To succeed on the ice, they also need to be mentally tough, and that’s a skill that transfers seamlessly to the world of poker.
Many top hockey players have made an impression at the tables over the years. Whether it’s down to those mental skills, or they simply have an aptitude for high stakes at the big tables, many have adapted to poker, while others have taken a bigger step by competing in person at major tournaments.
Here are the best of the NHL poker players.
For winger Phil Kessel, poker runs in the blood. His father, Phil Kessel Sr, has competed in the WSOP and it’s thought that he introduced his son to the game. The younger Kessel has competed in every World Series of Poker since 2012 and, while his overall results have been modest, he’s been a consistent performer.
Phil Kessel Jr’s best performance in WSOP saw him return a prize pot worth just over $4,000. He continues to compete at the tables and is looking to boost his poker earnings beyond the $20,000 mark.
It’s been a relatively unremarkable career on the tables so far, but that may well be down to Kessel’s devotion to his main sport. At the age of 35, his time on the ice is coming to an end and, when he finally leaves the NHL, greater focus on poker could see those earnings rise exponentially.
A number of Canadian hockey players have made the transition from the ice to the poker tables. Adam Foote was one of the more successful in the NHL, and he also won a gold with team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Foote is more of a recreational poker player, and he is known to hold celebrity events, along with charitable evenings in aid of the Adam Foote Foundation. For now, he remains an enthusiastic amateur, but Foote may well have the qualities needed to succeed in professional poker.
With so much time spent on the ice, many of today’s top hockey players have little time for other activities. That’s why those who have looked at poker as a career have only done so once they’ve hung up their skates.
That was the case with Maxime Talbot who played in the NHL for 14 years across four different NHL franchises. The centre won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, but he’s now considering a different path.
In view of some impressive displays in charity poker events, Talbot won a free entry ticket to the World Series of Poker back in 2007, and the game remains an option as he considers his next move.
Another hockey star who may be eyeing up a future at the poker tables is Alexander Ovechkin. As one of the best players in the game over the last twenty years, it’s clear as to why the Washington Capitals captain is focusing on the ice for now.
He’s a hero at the Capitals having remained there for his entire NHL career after being drafted first in 2004. He was a Stanley Cup Champion in 2018 and continues to compete past his mid-30s.
As one of a number of NHL players to take part in a celebrity poker tournament in 2009, his sheer will to win may yet see Alexander Ovechkin develop a career on the green baize tables.
An honorable mention goes to the great Wayne Gretsky who was a regular at the grand casinos of Las Vegas. While he didn’t progress into the professional poker leagues, he has left a rather unusual legacy on the card game.
A hand of 9s is now known as a ‘Gretsky’ due to the fact that the Canadian wore 99 on his jersey throughout his career.
A considerable number of professional athletes have successfully made a switch to the poker tables. The list of NHL stars to follow this path is relatively small, and that could be down to the demands of a hockey career.
There is a pattern among those who do choose to play. After taking part in charity poker tournaments during their playing career, they’ve considered the card game as a post-retirement option.
While we’ve yet to see a hockey star rise to the top of the poker world, it’s surely only a matter of time before that happens.