He learned to skate at a young age growing up in Mississauga, and he developed his skating technique through lessons during his minor hockey years with coaches who valued the ability to skate as one of the best assets of a proficient hockey player. He continued to progress through the minor hockey program, and as a member of the midget league Co-ops at age 15 he helped the team capture the Canadian National Wrigley Midget Championships.
As a junior Gartner began to gain the attention of scouts, and as part of the Ontario Hockey League's Niagara Falls Flyers he amassed 74 goals and 165 points during his first year (1978). He was also named to the First All-Star Team and represented Canada at the World Junior Championships where the team finished 3rd. Gartner's stats were similar the following season. In 1978 he was drafted into the World Hockey Association, and as a member of the Cincinnati Stingers he accumulated 52 points. In so doing he was the runner-up to another promising rookie, Wayne GRETZKY, for the league's Rookie of the Year nomination.
Gartner's first year as a member of the NHL was 1979, when he was drafted 4th overall by the Washington Capitals. In his first year out he led the team with a total of 36 goals and 68 points, a successful trend he continued through much of his next 8 seasons with the team. After 10 years he was traded from the failing Capitals to the Minnesota North Stars. Despite the team's overall lack of success, Gartner had numerous personal accomplishments, setting 12 team records and finishing with a total of 397 goals and 789 points before departing for Minnesota.
Mike Gartner's time with the North Stars lasted only 2 seasons and he was traded to the New York Rangers in 1990. There, Gartner achieved several personal bests such as scoring over 30 goals in 14 consecutive seasons and reaching the 500th, 600th and 1000th point milestones. In 1994 Gartner was traded to the TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS, remaining near his childhood home for an additional 2 seasons. Although he was named to an All-Star Team during that time he was disappointed that a Stanley Cup final narrowly eluded the team. It was also during this time that he captured the NHL's "Fastest Skater" competition at age 36. In 1996 Gartner made one final move, to the Phoenix Coyotes, where he played two seasons and finished his career.
In addition to his NHL success Gartner was also a formidable force on several of Canada's national teams during the 1980s and again in 1993. He represented Canada on international World Championship teams 4 times (1981, 1982, 1983, and 1993), and was named to 2 Canada Cup teams (1984 and 1987). In all he amassed 19 goals and 29 points in international competition, winning 2 gold and 2 bronze medals in addition to the bronze he won as a junior in 1978.
Though a STANLEY CUP victory eluded Mike Gartner during his career, his personal statistics rank him among the top NHL forwards. He continues to hold the record for the most 30-plus point seasons, a total of 17 consecutively. He scored 708 career NHL goals, 627 assists for a total of 1335 points. In 2001 he was inducted into the HOCKEY HALL OF FAME, and he continues his involvement in hockey as a coach and as a mentor in the NHLPA's Goals and Dreams program.