2012 NHL Season: Top 50 Blue-Collar Forwards
Every year, the superstars such as Sidney Crosby, Evengi Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Nicklas Lidstrom, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews get all the accolades for leading their teams through the season offensively. However, who are the players who make hits, block shots, take the puck from the other team and minimize turnovers that help to carry their teams through the grind that is the 82-game NHL regular season?
These players create opportunities for the superstars through their fearless play along the boards, in the corners and in front of the net. Without enough blue-collar players in a franchise's lineup, it surely won't make the playoffs.
This list is based on statistics from the 2012 NHL regular season. We place value on hits, blocked shots and takeaways on this list.
Let's take a look at the top 50 NHL blue-collar forwards for the 2012 regular season.
50: Chris Thorburn
Thorburn has been a valuable member of the Jets during their first season back in Winnipeg. He has bounced around a little bit the past few years but has matured into a solid blue-collar, two-way player. He should be a valuable third- or fourth-line player for the Jets moving forward.
49: R.J. Umberger
Umberger is a solid NHL player, and while he is overpaid he is still an effective member of a dismal Columbus Blue Jackets team. At his price point, the Jackets could look to move him for another draft pick and a solid third- or fourth-liner at the draft. Or they could hold onto him to assist in their rebuild.
48: Ryan Kesler
Kesler is a very good NHL player. He is a solid second-line center on any team in the league and could likely sub in as a first-line center on the weaker teams. His play has spoken for itself once again this season. Look for him to be a key contributor on the scoreboard and to shut down opposing forwards in the playoffs this year.
47: Alexei Ponikarovsky
He is an effective third-line role player, but do not expect much more from him. At this point in his career, the teams know what they are going to get from him in terms of production. He could stand to use his size more effectively, though.
46: Samuel Pahlsson
The Canucks will be looking for him to provide veteran leadership and solid play in a shutdown role during this year's playoffs. He helped the Anaheim Ducks to a Stanley Cup in that role, and Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis is hoping Pahlsson can help the Canucks do the same this year.
45: Vladimir Sobotka
He has been a valued member of the Blues' turnaround this season. He is another one of those players whose true value will be shown in the playoffs. Look for him to fly under the radar and pot the occasional big-time goal in the postseason as well.
44: Ryan Getzlaf
In a down season offensively for Getzlaf, his defensive play remains consistent. He uses his big body effectively to grind down opponents. I fully expect him to bounce back as a dynamic player next season. He is just now coming into the prime of his career and he will help resurrect the once "Mighty" Ducks.
43: Jamie McGinn
Since his trade to the Avalanche, he has seen his production skyrocket. I do not expect him to continue his current points pace through next season. But he has shown that he can be a contributing member to a future Stanley Cup run for Colorado.
42: David Clarkson
Clarkson is the type of player any team in the league would love to have on its third or second line. His 30-goal outburst this year is also a welcomed bonus to the Devils. As much as Parise and Kovalchuk lead this team offensively, Clarkson is a big reason why it is able to get the room it needs to score.
41: Chris Kunitz
Kunitz has been lucky to ride shotgun on a line with Malkin and Neal. Prior to this, he was seen on Crosby's wing fairly often. There is a reason why Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma puts him with these players. He is a great blue-collar presence to go along with their skill. He never shies away from contact in the corners and digs out many pucks for the stars in Pittsburgh.
40: Mike Fisher
Fisher was once the heart and soul of the Ottawa Senators. Now he is the heart and soul of the Nashville Predators. He is the ideal second-line center for a team like Nashville. He will be a big part of the Predators' Stanley Cup run this season.
39: Milan Lucic
Lucic is a fierce competitor and an intimidating presence; just ask Mike Komisarek. He contributes in many ways besides his offensive output. He is a key cog in the machine that is the Boston Bruins, and his value only increases come playoff time.
38: Derek Stepan
John Tortorella has done a great job coaching the Rangers this season. Stepan has become a solid two-way presence for New York.
37: Scott Hartnell
Scott Hartnell is the type of player I would want leading my franchise. He is an intense competitor on the ice but also knows that he is playing a game for a living and should have fun. He is always taking on the ice and trying to get under the opponent's skin. Even at the All-Star Game he was chirping Dion Phaneuf after a goal with a gentlemanly "Suck it, Phaneuf!"
36: Eric Nystrom
Nystrom may have finally found a long-term home in Dallas. He has clearly caught the eye of coach Glen Glutuzan and has seen his role increase incrementally this season.
35: Matt Cooke
What a transformation Cooke has undergone this season. He is a very effective two-way player and has hit a new career-high in goals scored. He has maintained his blue-collar style while taking far fewer penalties and not costing his team suspensions. He is a great story in the NHL this season.
34: Craig Adams
Adams is a great player to have on your fourth line. The former Harvard grad is a silently effective role player and one of the best penalty killers in the NHL.
33: Jarret Stoll
He has carved out a role for himself with the Kings this season. While he still has more offensive upside, Kings coach Darryl Sutter has been impressed with his improving defensive game.
32: T.J. Oshie
Oshie is another of the Blues' players who has helped turn around their season since Ken Hitchcock was hired as coach. Oshie has offensive skill to go along with his blue-collar play, and that will make him a key contributor in the postseason this year for the Blues.
31: Patrick Dwyer
The Hurricanes have seen improvement in general under new coach Kirk Muller. Dwyer is an effective third-line player who will be a key role player for Carolina moving forward.
30: Erik Cole
If there is one thing ex-general manager Pierre Gauthier did right, it was signing Erik Cole this past offseason. He has been lighting up the score sheet and maintaining his valuable contributions defensively. Montreal will surely bounce back and be a playoff contender next season, and Cole will help it do so.
29: Maxime Talbot
Talbot did the unthinkable in the offseason. He left Pittsburgh for its hated cross-state rivals, the Flyers. Since leaving Pittsburgh his offensive production is up, but that is not why the Flyers wanted him.
He has continued his solid defensive play for Philadelphia and should be a clutch goal scorer in the playoffs. Perhaps he can provide an advantage for the Flyers in a potential first-round series with his former team, with his knowledge of its systems and players.
28: Evander Kane
Kane has developed very well this season under coach Claude Noel. He is becoming the player the then-Atlanta Thrashers drafted him to be. He may not become an elite player, but 60-70 points and solid blue-collar play are not out of the question.
27: Colton Gillies
Gillies moved midseason from Minnesota to the lowly Blue Jackets. What the Jackets have plenty of is players like Gillies, third- and fourth-liners. But they do not have enough top-six talent to compete. Gillies, however, has shown he can be a contributing member of an NHL team.
26: Derek MacKenzie
Here is another Blue Jacket to go along with the others on this list. On a better team, he likely would not have had the chance to play as much as he has. However, he makes Columbus' depth in terms of blue-collar players much better.
25: Zack Smith
He is a player who is loved in Ottawa, like Darcy Tucker was loved in Toronto. He will be a key member of its playoff run this year. Look for him to be a long-term member of the Senators, and he may still have a little more offensive upside.
24: Brooks Laich
He is a very good second- or third-line center. If the Capitals make it into the playoffs, he will be relied on to handle the other team's star player.
23: Nick Foligno
Foligno is now a veteran player in the NHL. The Senators now look to him to provide leadership to their young squad. He leads through his solid blue-collar play on the ice.
22: David Steckel
He is a player who thrives on being given a role and executing it. He has seen his role greatly increase under new coach Randy Carlyle. Expect him to be centering the Leafs' fourth line and be a relied-on penalty killer for the team next season.
21: Alex Ovechkin
Here is a surprising name on this list. However, he is a very physical player, and despite his lack of offensive production (for his standards) he is still a solid blue-collar superstar. His goal totals are comparable to last season's; however, the absence of Nicklas Backstrom for an extended period of time shows through in his assist totals.
20: Colin Greening
Another Ottawa Senator on the list is Greening. He still has some offensive upside, and the former Calder Cup winner, with the AHL's Binghamton Senators last season, has impressed with the big club this season.
19: Jim Slater
The fans in Winnipeg have enjoyed watching Slater play this year. He is a consistent two-way player and still has room to improve his overall game.
18: Darroll Powe
Powe made the move from Philadelphia to Minnesota in the offseason. He has been one of the better penalty killers in the NHL in the past few years and continued that this season.
17: Shane Doan
Doan continues his blue-collar play while leading his Coyotes to another unlikely season. This guy is a tremendous captain and has lead this team through successful times of late, despite constant speculation regarding the team's future in Phoenix.
16: Derek Dorsett
Dorsett is also a good fighter in the NHL. He is a valuable workman-type player; it is too bad we will not get to see him in the playoffs. A player like this thrives in the postseason.
15: Brandon Dubinsky
He has bought into Tortorella's message of blue-collar, hard-working hockey. He has not contributed to the level he was expected to this season offensively, but the Rangers are very happy with his two-way play.
14: Matt Hendricks
Hendricks is a Don Cherry type of player. He plays his heart out, fights, scores; everything you could ask for. He is a poor man's Scott Hartnell, and any team in the league would be better with him on their fourth line.
13: Maxim Lapierre
"Happy Lappy," as I like to call him, is, simply put, a major pest in the NHL. He is one of the most hated players in the league. However, his value to the Canucks is undeniable. He makes it his duty to knock the other team off their game by taunting them in any way possible.
12: Martin Hanzal
Hanzal was expected to develop into a better offensive player. However, he appears to be settling into his role as a blue-collar player for the Coyotes. He is also an effective face-off man.
11: Tanner Glass
Tanner has been a welcome signing for the Jets this offseason. His blue-collar play will help the Jets to take the next step and make the playoffs next season.
10: Chris Neil
Chris Neil is one of the ultimate tough guys and blue-collar players in the NHL today. He can beat you with his fists or he can help on the score board. Teams always know when he is on the ice, and he makes more room for the likes of Alfredsson and Spezza.
9: Gabriel Landeskog
No one expected him to make such an impact in his rookie season. He has brought flashes of Peter Forsberg into the hearts and minds of Avalanche fans. He will only get better in the years to come and should form a great one-two punch with Peter Stastny.
8: Dustin Brown
There were rumors around the trade deadline, as reported by TSN.ca, that the Kings were thinking of moving their heart-and-soul captain. They would be crazy to do so, as he is a player every team in the league would be lucky to have. He is a blue-collar presence that can also contribute on the scoreboard.
7: Steve Ott
Ott has matured into a solid two-way player that is also one of the better players in the league on draws. He will remain a part of the Stars moving forward as a valuable piece of their future.
6: David Backes
Backes is a player that Head Coach Ken Hitchcock surely loves to have on his side. He is the total package and will continue to lead the potent Blues side for years to come.
5: Cal Clutterbuck
He is annually one of the leaders in hits in the NHL, and his moustache is second to none in the NHL today.
4: Troy Brouwer
Brouwer moved to the Capitals from the Blackhawks in the offseason and has been a great addition. It is clear that Washington is doing their best to supplement their stars for a run at the Stanley Cup.
3: Brian Boyle
Here is another Ranger on the list, and a big one at 6'7" as well. He is a very valuable presence on the penalty kill, with his big body to block shots and long reach to chip pucks out of the zone.
2: Matt Martin
Matt Martin is a solid piece for the Islanders to hold onto as their rebuild ramps up to competing for the playoffs in the next couple of seasons. He is far and away the leader in hits this year in the NHL and is still young enough to round out his game even more. Look for him to be an even bigger contributor to the Islanders next season.
1: Ryan Callahan
He truly leads by example for New York, and this year his teammates are following. He does it all for the Rangers, and he is proving to be one of the best, if not the best, captain in the league this year. If the Rangers are in fact to win the Stanley Cup this season, Callahan will definitely be a candidate for the Conn Smythe trophy as the MVP of the playoffs.