There is no denying the excitement of a player who can dazzles defenses with his stick handling, or a goaltender who robs opponents across the crease. But the heart and soul of hockey rests in a very simple, innate trait: toughness.
Toughness comes in many forms.
It can be found in a player who bullies his way into the crease to screen the netminder; it can be found in a guy willing to drop the gloves for his superstar; and it can be found in a player who takes extra shifts at the end of the game, playing through an injury in order to preserve his team's lead.
It can be difficult to assign the title "toughest player" to a member of each team, as so many of these athletes are the epitome of toughness. But when it comes down to it, a select few NHLers simply stand out.
These are the toughest players on each and every NHL team right now.
Anaheim's 6'4" captain may seem like he has a cushy job, given that he centers the top line with high-powered scorers Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan on his wings.
However, Ryan Getzlaf is anything but soft.
Getzlaf epitomizes the role of power forward, playing a physical game everywhere, from behind his own net to inside the opponent's crease. He takes on pressure as team captain without wavering in his abilities. Mentally and physically, Getzlaf has toughness written all over him.
For all intents and purposes, Milan Lucic is a thug.
Tipping the scales at nearly 230 pounds, Lucic has made his living battling in corners and getting into the faces of his opponents. He isn't afraid to drop the gloves, and while he doesn't fight as often as teammate Shawn Thornton, Lucic makes his physical presence known all over the ice.
The Bruins are a big, tough team, but no one on the roster displays that toughness in a more well-rounded form than Milan Lucic.
Thanks to the NHL lockout, Steve Ott has yet to play a game for the Buffalo Sabres.
That hasn't stopped him from becoming the toughest player on the roster.
Ott was brought to the team to add some grit to the forward corps. According to hockeyfights.com, Ott amassed 27 fights in his last three seasons with the Dallas Stars. On top of his propensity for dropping the gloves, Ott plays a rough-and-tumble offensive style.
Jarome Iginla is a bit over-the-hill when it comes to his age, but not long ago he was one of hockey's true gems: a dominating goal scorer who had no fear in his game.
Iginla is not unfamiliar with fighting, and the former Art Ross winner plays a hard-nosed style of game all over the ice.
Now united with his older brother Eric in Carolina, Jordan Staal is the epitome of a two-way forward. Scoring is not a lost art form for Staal, but defense always comes first in his game.
Playing behind superstar centermen Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh left Staal to focus on backchecking responsibilities rather than scoring, but any forward who displays such talents deserves to be thought of as tough.
Brent Seabrook is one of the league's more underrated defensemen, but the blueliner led the Blackhawks last year in blocked shots and hits.
Both statistics are a testament to his toughness.
Seabrook is equally willing to take the body or give up his own in order to help the team win.
Steve Downie undeniably toes the line between being tough and being downright dirty, but it is impossible to deny the effect that his physical style has on a game.
Downie is the sort of player who, despite a smaller stature, makes himself known on the ice by throwing his body around.
He can get himself in trouble though, having once picked up a 20-game ban for this brutal preseason hit on Dean McAmmond.
Brandon Dubinsky is a defensively responsible two-way forward. While his offensive game took a downturn last season, he remains a capable player on the defensive side of the puck.
Dubinsky's toughness comes not only from his backchecking but also from his ability to deal with the dramatic New York media that spent much of 2011-12 criticizing his play. Dubinsky never seemed to complain.
Brenden Morrow took over for Mike Modano as captain of the Dallas Stars, a testament to his poise and leadership abilities.
He is also one of the game's better two-way forwards, and his loyalty to the Stars organization is an admirable trait the pays tribute to his mental toughness. He is willing to take on the task of leading a franchise that has struggled lately.
Simply put, few players in the game today hit as hard as Kronwall does.
Any player who has the innate ability to make his opponent remember to keep his head up is tough in my book.
Andy Sutton is a bull, standing at 6'6" without skates and weighing in at 245 pounds or so.
The Edmonton Oilers defense has had its share of issues in the last few seasons, but Sutton's pure size makes it very tough to get in front of the Edmonton net when he is on the ice.
George Parros is waiting to play his first game as a Florida Panther, but the fans in southern Florida already know what they're getting in him: one of the toughest players in the game.
Parros knows he can silence an opposing crowd with his fists. According to hockeyfights.com, 10 of his 11 fighting majors in 2011-12 came on the road.
You've gotta be tough to lead your team to a Stanley Cup championship, especially when your team is the No. 8 seed in the conference.
But it wasn't just being captain of the Cup-winning Kings that made Dustin Brown tough.
He came in second in the league in hits, to boot, proving that aggressive, no-holds-barred play can be the path to glory.
Not only is Cal Clutterbuck's name fun to say, he is also one of the toughest players in hockey today.
Clutterbuck finished third in the league in hitting, with 288 body checks, in 2011-12.
Montreal's Josh Gorges takes his defensive role very seriously.
Gorges led the league with 250 blocked shots in 2011-12. The next man on the list, the Tampa Bay Lightning's Brett Clark, had 199.
That's how seriously.
Some people would insist that slamming Henrik Zetterberg's head into the boards as time expires is not a sign of toughness, it's a sign of cowardice.
But hey, if Shea Weber did that to me, I'd have to think he was pretty damn tough. If I could think at all afterwards.
Anton Volchenkov is part of that elite class of defensemen who simply show no mercy.
Volchenkov weighs in at a bulky, sturdy 225 pounds, and he uses all of that weight to bully forwards in the offensive zone, making it nearly impossible to get a screened shot on Martin Brodeur.
By virtue of the fact that he easily led the league with 374 hits in 2011-12, Matt Martin has earned the title as "Toughest Player on the Islanders."
Unfortunately, his aggression has yet to translate into wins for New York's other team.
Few things in hockey are tougher than being a captain of an Original Six.
Not only is Ryan Callahan up to the task, he is also tough in every other aspect of his game. He finished fifth in the league in hits with 271 and also averaged better than one blocked shot per game.
Chris Neil has made an interesting reputation for himself over the years, and some fans will give him criticism for backing down from potential fights from time to time.
Nonetheless, Neil has fought 10 or more times in each of the last three seasons (via Hockey Fights), and he tied with the aforementioned Ryan Callahan for fifth in the league with 271 hits.
Like him or not, Chris Neil is one tough customer.
There are moments in sports when a player gets injured in a game and plays through the pain, prompting ESPN SportsCenter anchors to declare "He's a hockey player," even when he is not.
The phrase comes from guys like Wayne Simmonds, who can take a puck to the face in warm-ups, go back and get 25 stitches and then come out and score two goals. The only thing he couldn't do was give a post-game interview (via CBC).
And don't confuse that incident with the one in the video, where Simmonds actually scores a goal off his own face.
The Phoenix Coyotes have a number of physically capable players to choose from, but Shane Doan's loyalty to the franchise—he stuck with them through a number of very difficult years—makes him the toughest guy on the team.
There's a good reason Doan was so sought after during the offseason.
For all of Pittsburgh's offensive fireworks, it's the defensive reliability that the Penguins have built their team around.
And that starts with Brooks Orpik.
Not only is Orpik one of hockey's more responsible defenders, he's also one of the toughest—259 hits and 139 blocked shots are two good reasons why Orpik is the toughest Penguin on the ice.
When it comes to defenders who are tough to contend with, Douglas Murray is one of the most underrated.
Murray weighs nearly 250 pounds and has no problem getting into passing and shooting lanes.
The rumbling d-man was second on the team in blocked shots last season.
Not only is David Backes captain of this young team, he also led the squad in hits last year.
Expectations are getting higher and higher for the Blues, and that pressure will fall squarely on Backes' shoulders.
If there is a 2012-13 season, it will be a true test of his toughness.
Teammate Brett Clark finished second in the league in blocked shots, but the award for toughest member of the Lightning has to go to Brewer, who finished 11th in that category but also led the team in hitting, with 197 body checks.
Brewer certainly puts his 6'3" frame to good use on the Lightning blue line.
Dion Phaneuf has not quite panned out to be the player we thought he would be when he finished third in the Calder voting behind Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, but there is no denying his toughness.
Phaneuf delivers some of hockey's best highlight-reel hits, and he's got thick enough skin to deal with snide comments being made about his loved ones (via Huffington Post).
The Vancouver Canucks roster is filled with guys who can play tough, as well as a style of hockey that makes fans want to rethink their use of that word (namely, Ryan Kesler and Max Lapierre).
Therefore, until the rest of the team lets go of its antics, Andrew Alberts gets the honor of being the toughest player.
At 6'5", Alberts is the kind of player who doesn't need you to fake like you've been hit when he's on the ice.
Troy Brouwer has slowly become one of the most dependable, toughest bottom-six players in the league.
The defensive specialist finished first on the team in hits last season and spent significant time playing hockey's toughest minutes: the penalty kill.
There is a ton of pressure on Evander Kane to become the next big superstar for this historically inept franchise, but Kane is taking his role in stride.
On top of it, he shows his physical side in the video, knocking out the Pittsburgh Penguins' Matt Cooke in no time flat.