13 Most Intimidating Defensemen in the NHL (and Why We're Scared of Them)

Ryan SzporerContributor IIIAugust 11, 2012

13 Most Intimidating Defensemen in the NHL (and Why We're Scared of Them)

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    When Scott Stevens hit someone, he didn’t so much metaphorically tattoo them, as he did literally leave a permanent imprint on their mind as to why he was destined for the Hockey Hall of Fame (and the hospital). Ask Eric Lindros. Ask Paul Kariya. His hits were hard, vicious, debilitating and more often than not, clean. Indeed, Stevens was the prototypical physical defenseman, the one who was most feared whenever he was on the ice. In his honor, here's a list of the 13 most intimidating defensemen currently in the National Hockey League.

13) Chris Pronger

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    Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger’s career may be coming to an end, but this list would be incomplete without him. As far as I’m concerned, he’s still qualified to make it until he officially announces his retirement. And when he does; small, skilled and skittish forwards all over the league will rejoice.

    Pronger made a career of doling out physical punishment; making players pay if they were assigned in-front-of-the-net duty on the power play. However, it’s his loose interpretation of the rules that lands him on this list. His elbow on Ottawa Senators forward Dean McAmmond in Game 3 of the 2007 Stanley Cup Final even got him suspended.

    A league that would sooner openly admit that the owners are what’s really wrong with the game today than risk calling a potential game-changing penalty during the Stanley Cup Playoffs found Pronger’s elbow so illegal that they had no choice but to suspend him…in the middle of the finals no less. On top of that? It wasn’t even his first suspension of that post-season.


    Why we’re scared of him: When healthy, he’s as dirty as a freshly used toilet brush. Additionally, he’s not afraid to go deep into the corners and come out with a little something small and black (also like a toilet brush).

12) John Scott

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    When you’ve got the last name Scott, your nickname can go one of two ways:

    1) “Scotty,” after the Star Trek character, heavily implying a love for all things Comic-Con, or

    2) “Scotties,” after the brand of facial tissues, heavily implying a love for all things adored by the fairer sex.

    However, John Scott’s nickname is apparently “Big,” somehow bypassing all hockey-related traditions and nomenclature. This is likely due to three main reasons:

    1) John Scott is big,

    2) He’s so big (6’8”, 270 pounds) that even teammates probably wouldn’t want to get on his bad side, and

    3) No one could think of the obvious, best choice of “Great Scott.” Of course, “Great” implies better than good, and Scott is unfortunately more goon than good.


    Why we’re scared of him: Scott is as much of an NHL player as Derek Boogaard (R.I.P.) was before him. He’s put in the lineup to send a message, and that message often comes the old-fashioned way via airmail and flying fists from up above landing on your face. It’s really the only thing he’s good at, so you know when he’s put on the ice it’s for one reason and one reason only.

11) Matt Carkner

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    I think it’s a fair assessment of Matt Carkner’s abilities to say he can probably make a pretty good go at a career in the UFC, at least a prettier go than he has at a career in the NHL.

    He most definitely deserves credit for finally permanently reaching the bigs at the age of 28 in 2009. However, his skill set, all due respect to him, is that of a sixth defenseman at best. That makes him very dangerous, when he has a whole lot to prove and lose each and every night. The team that employs him, unfortunately, not so much.

    Look to the Brian Boyle incident of last year. One game after Boyle took liberties with James Norris Memorial Trophy-winner Erik Karlsson, Carkner essentially delivered a hit and run to the unsuspecting New York Ranger, grounding and pounding him into submission before willingly leaving the ice. It may not have been pretty. It may not have been honorable. It was, however, effective.


    Why we’re scared of him: He knows his limitations and is prepared to do whatever it takes to keep his job, now with the New York Islanders.

10) Erik Karlsson

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    No, Ottawa Senator Erik Karlsson is not a particularly physical defenseman. In fact, if you go back to the previous entry, you’ll know he unfortunately has to turn to teammates to stick up for him.

    Now, I’m not saying that out of disrespect, just based on what has transpired in the past. When the hit you’re most famous for involves the so-called victim elbowing you in the head (see YouTube Clip), you’re clearly doing something wrong. However, like the recently retired Nicklas Lidstrom before him, Karlsson is primed to make a name for himself on the score sheet and through solid defensive play. He did lead all defensemen in scoring last season after all, and for that he may not be feared, but he will be respected. And you can’t be intimidating without being respected first.


    Why we’re scared of him: He has emerged as an elite offensive defenseman and for that opposing teams need to pay extra attention to him on the ice.

9) Alexei Emelin

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    Set to be a sophomore in the NHL this upcoming season, Alexei Emelin has quickly built a solid reputation of being one hell of a hard-hitter. Of course, he’s built that reputation on the backs of all those that would ignorantly cross him on the ice by bending his own.

    His highlight reel is comprised almost solely of low hits that are funny to watch, but, one has to believe, not so funny to experience. I’d say he’s purposely trying to take out knee after knee after knee, but, truth be told, he probably just likes looking at his reflection in the ice as often as possible and admiring his scar.

    That’s right. The dude has a metal plate in his skull that holds his eye in place following a fight in Russia. He’s that tough. It also means he can throw hits as vicious as he likes and have a viable excuse not to answer the bell afterwards.


    Why we’re scared of him: Firstly, he’s Russian, and Russians are scary. Have you never seen Red Dawn? Secondly, he continues playing despite having a friggin’ metal plate in his head that holds his eye in place. Would you mess with a guy that’s literally built like a tank?

8) Anton Volchenkov

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    New Jersey Devil Anton Volchenkov was signed to his current six-year, $25.5 million contract because of his on-ice value as a one-man shot-blocking and hitting machine.

    During his time as an Ottawa Senator, he was highly regarded as the team’s most unsung hero because he helped the team win, yet was seldom able to contribute with any goals. His career-high 19 points scored in a single season were made up of 18 assists and one goal, and I swear 17 of those helpers came as a result of odd-man rushes going the other way after a puck bounced off some part of his body after he selflessly dived in front of it.


    Why we’re scared of him: Seriously, watch Red Dawn, if for nothing else than the start of Charlie Sheen’s slow descent a step even further down from playing second fiddle to a 10-year-old. Also, Volchenkov has little to no regard for his own personal safety. Kind of the opposite of Emelin, he will do just about anything for his team…except maybe watch Red Dawn. I hear it’s outlawed as negative propaganda in Russia. That and watch an episode of Two and a Half Men. The jokes seem to fall flat(ter) in Russian.

7) Brooks Orpik

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    Pittsburgh Penguin Brooks Orpik’s claim to fame is a four-hit shift against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 3 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final. However, long before that, he was throwing some pretty nasty checks, delivering concussions and even breaking at least one neck (Erik Cole). He is a hard-working defenseman who sometimes crosses the line and opponents know it. If they don’t, they soon will.


    Why we’re scared of him: His crazy eyes and the hits the man behind them is capable of. (see the YouTube clip)

6) Dustin Byfuglien

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    Dustin Byfuglien may be making headlines right now for all the wrong reasons. But when he isn’t pleading guilty to careless boating charges, he’s instead making deers in the headlights out of players everywhere...including one Chris Pronger.

    Byfuglien’s coming-out party was the 2010 playoffs when he emerged as a legitimate offensive threat playing forward. However, as both the Chicago Blackhawks and Winnipeg Jets (yes, and Atlanta Thrashers) fans can attest to, the dude can play defense too (at least so far as the lineup card says).

    In any case, while Byfuglien’s defensive zone coverage leaves something to be desired, his game as a whole doesn’t. You take the bad with the good, and anytime someone can put Chris Pronger in his place, it’s definitely a very good thing.


    Why we’re scared of him: He can hurt you so many different ways; by scoring goals, by running you over, in a boat, etc.

5) James Wisniewski

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    From one former Blackhawk in Byfuglien to another in James Wisniewski. While this hit on Brent Seabrook is plenty bad, it’s made worse when one considers that the two are supposedly good friends. The old cliché goes I’d hate to see how he treats his enemies. Well, it turns out much the same way, with complete and utter disregard for the rulebook or their safety.

    That hit, which resulted in an eight-game suspension (the most since Chris Pronger got the same two years earlier), came one year and a half before his latest ban: Another eight-game suspension for blindsiding the Minnesota Wild’s Cal Clutterbuck in a pre-season game. Consider him a poor man’s Pronger, but with a six-year, $33-million deal to match.

    Nicknamed the Wiz for his apparent ability to pull insane, multi-million-dollar contracts out of thin air, Wisniewski has also been known to contribute on the power play, making him a triple threat. Thankfully, he doesn’t do children’s parties, or so I’m told.


    Why we’re scared of him: He clearly practices black magic, evidenced by his contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Of course, that could also be as a result of general manager Scott Howson’s incompetence.

4) Niklas Kronwall

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    With Lidstrom retiring, much of the burden of maintaining a certain standard of defensive coverage in Detroit will fall squarely on this man’s shoulders. However, for a defenseman with the word "wall" in his last name, Niklas Kronwall lives up to all expectations and then some. So much so that there was a TSN Top 10 compiled of all of his hits.

    Granted, banging up Martin Havlat isn’t all that hard to do, but Kronwall did it with such oomph back in the 2009 playoffs that one can’t help but be impressed. Impressed and intimidated. 


    Why we’re scared of him: When your hits spark the birth of a term (“kronwalled”), you’re doing something right. Okay, well not necessarily, but being kronwalled certainly beats being lynched.

3) Dion Phaneuf

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    No, Dion Phaneuf may not have lived up to all the hype that had him winning Norris Trophy after Norris Trophy early on in his career, but he is still a solid defenseman and one who can hit with the best of them.

    Analyst Pierre McGuire once coined the term “Double Dion” after Phaneuf was able to take out two opponents in one fell swoop at the World Junior Ice Hockey Championships way back when. Thankfully for his sake he’s proven to be much more than a one-hit wonder.


    Why we’re scared of him: Aside from all the hits he dishes out, he looks like Frankenstein’s monster, and that’s plenty scary. Kind of ironic he was ever a Calgary Flame, eh?

2) Shea Weber

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    When he’s not pursuing a second career as a professional wrestler, slamming opponents’ heads into turnbuckles left, right and center, Shea Weber is arguably the NHL’s most complete defenseman.

    It’s no wonder the Philadelphia Flyers broke all unwritten rules this summer and decided to sign him to an offer sheet, much to the chagrin of the Nashville Predators. Not only would he have filled their glaring hole on defense (with the loss of Chris Pronger and made much larger with the injury to Andrej Meszaros), but he would have fit right in with that classic Broad Street Bullies mentality of physically intimidating opponents.


    Why we’re scared of him: Opponents are scared of him because he’s the complete package. Nashville Predators fans are scared of him because of the uncanny ability he possesses to single-handedly snuff out a franchise’s long-term potential, namely their own. No one’s worth $110 million, no matter how good they may be on the ice or in the squared circle.

1) Zdeno Chara

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    Remember when the Ottawa Senators had the option of keeping either Zdeno Chara or Wade Redden? Remember long before that when the New York Islanders added him as a throw-in to the rights to Jason Spezza when they acquired Alexei Yashin?

    With Chara standing at 6’9”, 255 pounds, few people can check to see if there’s an actual chip on his shoulder. But, no matter where he’s gone, Chara has played with one, proving everyone wrong to the point of capturing the 2008-2009 Norris Trophy.

    Chara is the most physically imposing specimen in the league and he knows how to use his size. All of these things make him the most intimidating defenseman as well.


    Why we’re scared of him: Bryan McCabe is not a small man (6’2”, 220 pounds), and yet Chara made it look like he was airing out his dirty laundry, throwing him around, dwarfing him in size to the point that McCabe looked like a Wizard of Oz extra.

    If that example of Chara’s physical prowess wasn’t enough, he did slam Max Pacioretty so hard into a Bell Centre stanchion back in 2011 that a criminal investigation ensued as a result of the concussion and broken neck Pacioretty suffered.

    Of course the “investigation” in question was launched by an over-zealous, hockey-mad Montreal police force and was a glorified waste of time. It still doesn’t take away from Chara’s reputation as a tough-as-nails blue-liner not to be messed with. In fact, it adds to the legend.