Hockey is one of the most physical games on the planet, and you can't just be a big presence in order to be a great hitter. Hitting is just as much technique as it is brawn. The best advice I ever received as a hockey player was to always envision your opponent three feet behind where he actually was so that you hit through them, not into them.
Throughout the history of the NHL, there have been many great hitters, and I tried to pay as much respect to the greatest hitters of the past, as well as the best hitters of today.
This list is not the 25 toughest players ever, or the 25 greatest enforcers ever, but the 25 guys that were the hardest hitters the game has ever seen.
The two most memorable moments of Darren McCarty's career are his role in arguably the biggest brawl in NHL history between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche, and this amazing goal he scored against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 4 of the 1997 Stanley Cup Final.
However, people forget that Darren McCarty was one of the hardest hitters of his generation, and he had the look to go with it. McCarty was mean, nasty and was afraid of no one. He was definitely a guy you wanted on your team, and a guy opponents feared immensely.
The attached video shows McCarty's ability to use his body...and I don't understand how there could have been a penalty called on the play.
He is currently one of the best power forwards in the NHL, and he uses every single ounce of his 6'0", 200-pound frame when he connects with an opposing player. Until this year, I always thought Dustin Brown was one of the most unappreciated players in the NHL, but leading the Kings to a Stanley Cup finally got him the recognition he deserved.
Brown has never been a guy that will impress you with his outside speed or his hands, but he has great timing and is one of the best, and hardest, hitters in the game today, and that puts him at No. 24 on this list.
Cory Sarich is not only one of the hardest hitters to ever step onto the ice, but he also has been able to have a long career. Many big hitters sell their careers short, but Sarich has been able to maintain his abilities since he was drafted back in 1996.
At 6'4", 210 pounds, Sarich has perfected the ability to perfectly time the pinch on opposing wingers, and he will make you pay the price if he catches you with your head down. Just ask Patrick Marleau.
Garnet Exelby may have only had a solid six-year NHL career with the Atlanta Thrashers, but ask anyone that had to play against him and I can almost guarantee you they will say that he was one of the hardest hitters to ever play the game.
He is currently playing in the AHL and attempting to make it back to the NHL, but even if he fails to ever surface again on the main scheme, he will forever be known for his aggressive style, and booming body checks.
Leo Boivin was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986, and considering the fact that I was never alive to watch him play, here is what NHL.com writer John Kreiser said about him:
It's hard to imagine a player like Boivin as a defenseman in this day and age—he was all of 5-foot-7 and no more than 185 pounds during a career than extended from 1951-70, and his nickname, "Fireplug," said it all. But when it came to body checking, Boivin was a giant. He was known for his explosive hits that broke up rushes—and he almost always came away with the puck.
It is true that he has drifted off of his scoring pace since his first few years in the league, but what separates Alex Ovechkin from the rest of the NHL's best is the fact that he hits, and he hits hard.
Ovie is only 26 years old, yet he has compiled enough big hits for a career, and by the end of his career, I'm sure he will be more deserving than the 20th hardest hitter of all time. But as of now, that is where he stands.
Now, I know I just penalized Ovechkin due to his age, and although Cal Clutterbuck is only 24 years old, he is an absolute monster and arguably the purest hitter in the game today. He has the technique down perfectly and finds his moments to lay monstrous, game-changing body checks.
In his rookie season, Clutterbuck led the league with 356 hits, and at 5'11", 213 pounds, he is as solid a guy as they come in the NHL. If you admire a pass for one second too long while he is coming at you, the ultimate price will be paid.
If you are starting to get frustrated that I have only listed mainly current players, I promise you the legends are still to come. But Brendan Morrow more than deserves to be a part of this list.
Even at the tender age of 33, the Dallas Stars captain continues to be one of the best power forwards in the league.
He can score and he can pass, but his best attribute as a hockey player has always been the power that he puts into every body check.
Ed Jovanovski is still in the NHL with the Florida Panthers, but when I think of him, I think of his days with the Vancouver Canucks, when he was one of the toughest, hardest-hitting defensemen in the league. Jovanovski had the size and strength to absolutely pulverize people, and he took advantage of it.
As I mentioned in the intro, hitting is just as much timing and technique as it is size and strength. Jovanovski had all four of these traits, and that made him very, very dangerous.
Another one of the best power forwards to ever step on the ice, Jeremy Roenick was one of the guys that forever revolutionized the position. While he was a great leader, and a timely goal scorer, Roenick was at his best when he put his physical play first.
Never a guy to shy away from going into corners, JR made a career of chasing down loose pucks and making the defensemen that got in his way pay the price.
Say whatever you want that led to Derek Boogaard's unfortunate and early death, but there is no debating the fact that it was an absolute tragedy. Boogaard was a guy who put his heart and soul into every shift and did whatever he could to change the momentum for his team.
He was a fan favorite wherever he went and one of the toughest guys to ever set foot on the ice. He is the definition of a guy who literally fought for his ice time. At 6'7", 270 pounds, he was a train that went full speed and destroyed everything in his path.
Rest in peace, Boogey Man.
Another guy who will go down as one of the best leaders and defensemen to ever play the game, Chris Pronger was never afraid to get physical. Sadly, he has missed quite a lot of time from a concussion that could be seen as a result of the way he plays the game, but it's just who Pronger is.
When he is not playing physical, and throwing around his 6'6" frame, he simply does not possess half of the presence as he does when he is running around and hitting everything that moves. Here's to a speedy recovery, Chris.
Vladamir Konstantinov was a huge reason why the Detroit Red Wings were so dominate in the mid-90s. Had he been able to have a longer career, who knows the influence that the Russian-born defenseman would have had on today's game?
Sadly, his career ended after a tragic limo accident left him in a coma for several weeks just six days after the Wings had won the 2007 Stanley Cup. Thankfully, he would come through, but was left with severe brain injuries and paralysis.
The attached hit was one of the most memorable moments of the 2007 Stanley Cup Final.
Arguably the hardest hitters in the game today, Milan Lucic's physical play was a huge reason why the Boston Bruins were able to bring home the Stanley Cup in 2011. The Canucks were without a doubt the favorite in that series, but Lucic led an aggressive attack that shut down their offensive force.
He is only 24 years old, but he has already solidified himself as one of the hardest hitters to play the game. He has proved that even under the new rules, physical play can be just as effective as it was in old-time hockey.
Why his name is rarely brought up when people talk about the hardest-hitting players in the league has always made me chuckle. Niklas Kronwall has absolutely perfected the ability to pinch on opposing wingers and absolutely destroy them.
He is one of the cleanest and purest hitters in the game today and continues to punish opposing forwards everywhere on the ice. With Nicklas Lidstrom gone in Detroit, Kronwall will have some big skates to fill to be the next franchise defenseman in Hockeytown.
Many people will say that Bryan Marchment was a dirty player, and there is definitely video evidence that proves he had more than a few incidents where his knee was sticking out further than it should have been; however, Marchment had hundreds of hits in his career, and most of them were clean.
Marchment was a pest for opposing teams to play against, and he made his presence known wherever he was playing. His no-fear attitude puts him at No. 10 on this list.
Another large defenseman who was not only big, but knew exactly how to throw his body around to create maximum damage on his opponent. At 6'4", 225 pounds, Blake was not a guy that you wanted to run into with your head down.
On a deeper note, Blake has always been looked at as one of the gentleman of the game, and while he was one of the hardest hitters to ever play the game, he was also one of the greatest leaders to lace up the skates.
I'm probably going to get flak for putting him this high, but there is no doubt that all the way since he was playing in the World Junior Championships with Canada, Dion Phaneuf has been one of the hardest hitters and most feared defensemen in today's game.
Phaneuf can be a force offensively, and he's now the captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he will always be mainly known for his ability to hit, and hit hard.
Cam Neely was a guy who could do it all, and he was at his best when he put his physical game as his top priority. He was never the biggest guy on the ice, but he never backed down and always made sure that opponents knew when he was on the ice.
Neely was in his prime in 1991, when a knee-to-knee hit by Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ulf Samuelsson would change his career forever. He would play in just 162 games before his retirement in 1996 after also developing a degenerative hip condition.
Had he not been forced to retire at the age of 31, his legacy would be even stronger than it is now.
I know that I said size isn't everything, but when you are 6'9", 260 pounds...size is a lot. Chara is arguably the most feared defenseman in the team today, and he'll go down as one of the hardest hitters in the history of the game.
His most memorable—and stomach-churning—hit is definitely when he ran Max Pacioretty into the stanchion.
Darius Kasparaitis is one of the meanest defensemen to ever play the game, and one of the hardest hitters to ever lace up skates. He brought back the use of the hip check, and he used it often. He loved to submarine players, and he took pride in going after the opposing team's best player.
He last played in the NHL with the New York Rangers, where he served as an assistant captain, and he's one of the best hockey players to ever come out of Lithuania.
A legitimate argument can be made that Eric Lindros is the greatest power forward to ever play the game, and while many people remember the amount of big hits he received, the same people tend to forget the amount of big hits he gave out.
His career was shortened due to injuries, and he was forced to retire in 2007 at the age of 34. Eric Lindros was a guy that played the game with no fear, and he did whatever it took to win. He was a fantastic goal scorer, but it was his physical play that separated him from the rest of the pack.
Wendel Clark wasn't the biggest guy in the world, but he was loved in Toronto for his ability to score timely goals, and run over anybody that got in his sight. Clark was a guy that other teams would try to interfere with as he forechecked for the sake of their defensemen's safety.
When you watch him hit, he was absolutely fearless, and he would explode into people. On top of it all, he was a guy who hit clean, and played the game the right way.
His hit on Bruce Bell is one of the hardest hits in NHL history.
If it weren't for a guy named Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin would more than likely be known as the greatest defenseman to ever play the game. He was a four-time Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders and won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman three times.
Potvin was the first defenseman to ever combine incredible physical force while still maintaining offensive ability. He was another guy who revolutionized the hip check, and he was never known as a dirty player.
He hit often, he hit hard, he changed momentum and he was a catalyst to the New York Islanders' dynasty.
Was there ever a doubt? The laundry list of players that Scott Stevens has left on the ice knocked out is huge. If you were coming down the left side of the ice and cut across the middle while Stevens was on the ice, say good night.
Scott Stevens is without a doubt the hardest hitter to ever play in the NHL.