There's no play quite like a devastatingly hard hit in hockey. It is thrilling to watch and can often sway the momentum and change the course of a game.
This is a continuation of my NHL "Top 25" series. You can read the first article ranking franchise cornerstone players here. For this list, I investigated and attempted to rank the hardest hitters in the NHL right now.
I mostly disregarded hitting statistics, because I wanted this purely to be about who delivers the biggest, nastiest, (somewhat) cleanest hits. Remember, this isn't a list of "best" hitters, or most frequent, or anything like that.
Here are my top 25 hardest hitters in the NHL.
Ryan Callahan is not an electric offensive talent, but he was named the captain of the New York Rangers in part because of his toughness and ability to set the tone with physical play.
He has no problem taking on bigger, talented players like Evgeni Malkin and also demolishes even bigger players like Tyler Myers. But he just doesn't have the same amount of big blows as the guys on the list do, which is why he is only an honorable mention here.
Brenden Morrow, a beastly power forward and former captain of the Dallas Stars, has laid more than a few people out over his 13-year NHL career.
The current free agent has had plenty of major hits over his career, like this one on Anze Kopitar and this one on Milan Michalek. While his couple of big hits are enough to get him on the list, there just aren't enough major collisions to have him any higher than here.
P.K. Subban was a second-round pick who burst onto the scene a few years ago and has really taken the league by storm over the past 12 months, culminating in his winning the Norris Trophy this past season.
He's a great skater for a defenseman who can rack up the points, but his ability to absolutely wreck opponents is what really puts him into the top 25. He just doesn't have the same body of work as the guys ahead of him on the list.
David Backes is a talented all-around player who contributes a lot on offense but also absolutely decks people.
Backes' lack of that one crazy highlight reel-type hit is what keeps him down at 23.
Robyn Regehr is a veteran defenseman who has bounced around the past few years and is best known for his physical style of play.
There are so many hits to choose from, but I think that just by watching these three hits, you can get the point. Regehr hits people hard but doesn't have quite the same amount of collisions as the guys above him.
Matt Martin is a physical winger who doesn't have the enormous open-ice collisions that make highlight reels, but he still pummels guys with a lot of force.
He's a big guy himself, but to see him drilling Hall Gill, who is 6'7", 243 lbs, not once but twice is impressive, and it's what ultimately gets him onto the list.
Patrick Kaleta's biggest value has been in the big-hitter and enforcer mold, and he has gotten better and more consistent at delivering huge hits.
He has dished out some pretty major blows like this one and this one, but few things are more impressive than laying out the hardest guy to knock down in the NHL, Zdeno Chara, which lands Kaleta inside of the top 20.
Luke Schenn is a ridiculously strong player who doesn't bring much in the way of offense but really has an effect with his physical play defensively.
Johnny Boychuk may only be the third-biggest hitter on his own team, but that's more a testament to the Bruins' toughness than anything.
I am pretty sure everyone who is not a Flyers fan hates Zac Rinaldo, but nobody can deny his ability to absolutely demolish opponents every time he steps on the ice.
He's a high-energy player who throws his body around on a nightly basis. As big as this hit on P.A. Parenteau was, this one on Anton Volchenkov was even bigger. His penchant for swinging and missing and sometimes resorting to dirty blows is what keeps him outside of the top 15.
Other than having an awesome name, Cal Clutterbuck was valuable to the Minnesota Wild as a heavy hitter, which is a skill he will bring to the New York Islanders in 2013-14.
He has been a little under the radar since being taken in the first round of the 2004 draft, but when you see Mark Fistric line someone up and lay them out, you start paying attention quickly.
Check out this blow on Nino Niederreiter, this one on Mikkel Boedker and this one on Jordan Nolan. But most impressive is to see him just take a strong guy like Bobby Ryan and absolutely bully him, which Fistric does seemingly with ease.
Alexei Emelin is an imposing defensive presence, coming in at 6'2", 223 lbs of pure aggressiveness. He never backs down and is always willing to throw his weight around.
His hits are simple yet destructive, as he isn't the kind of player to take crazy runs at guys or anything like that, which is what keeps him at 12. Check out these extremely hard hits on talented skaters like Joe Pavelski and Jason Pominville.
Brooks Orpik has been a major physical presence on a Pittsburgh team that has quite a few stars to protect, which is a lot of responsibility.
Orpik's four-hits-in-15 seconds shift is legendary, and he has a number of serious bashings, but the main reason he's up this high on the list is because of his hit on Daniel Paille, where he literally sends Paille airborne clear across the ice.
Anton Volchenkov has essentially made a living off of being a stay-at-home defenseman who hits people really, really hard. The A-Train almost has too many big hits to count.
There was this big one on Daniel Paille and this one on Patrick Kaleta, but the best had to be last year's obliteration of Brayden Schenn. If he had the same wild collisions as the next guy on the list, he would be much higher.
Alex Ovechkin doesn't make a living from his hits like some other guys on this list, but he can deliver some of the biggest hits you'll ever see when he really lines someone up.
Douglas Murray isn't a name you hear about a ton, but San Jose fans know all about the defenseman's tough, hard-hitting ways.
Jordin Tootoo is almost comically small for a guy who hits so hard, standing at 5'9" and weighing in around 199 lbs.
He has helped really redefine the agitator/enforcer position in the NHL with hits like this one on Michael Frolik and this one on Philip Larsen. His encounters with bigger guys almost always leaves Tootoo on top, which is what pushes him this high up the list.
Shea Weber is such a good all-around defenseman that his hitting ability sometimes gets overlooked. He's also been forced to hold back a little, as the Predators need their captain on the ice, not in the penalty box.
But when Weber unleashes a hit, watch out. He's one of the meanest players in the league and can flatten someone against the boards or even launch a player into the bench, which is an impressive feat of strength.
Anyone who has seen Zdeno Chara play knows just how physically imposing the 6'9", 256-pound defenseman can be, but there are two hits in particular that really blow my mind.
The first is this one on Evgeni Malkin, where Malkin flies at a standing Chara, who is just so powerful that he knocks down Malkin, who is strong in his own right.
The second is this one, where Alex Ovechkin comes at Chara at full speed only to be completely thwarted by Chara, who is barely even moving. They're both pretty incredible feats of strength and power to witness.
He's toned it down a little bit in the last year or two, but the main video is a great reminder of all the huge hits that Dustin Brown has uncorked over his career.
The Kings captain is a little undersized at 6'0", 212 lbs, but he plays all out every shift and packs a major punch. The video really captures all of his best hits, but it's worth taking some extra time to watch this shift again.
Milan Lucic is a scary combination of size and nastiness. He always seems like he is looking for something to hit, and when he connects, the other player always gets the worst of it.
There are a ton of great Lucic hits to check out, but you really only need to see this glass-shattering blow that literally shook the rink.
For all of the inconsistencies in Dion Phaneuf's game, there's one thing that has always stayed the same: his ability to hit people really hard.
Just to name a few, there's the monster blow that has unfortunately sidelined Michael Sauer for years and this big but clean open-ice hit on Stephane De Costa. He can wreck almost anyone anytime, but the impacts of his collisions just can't touch the top guy on the list.
Too often, guys go for "big" hits when they just use their shoulder to target a guy up high and try to send him pinwheeling. But not Niklas Kronwall.
Kronwall has a unique style of hitting when he turns his back to a player and literally throws his whole body weight into them. His hits are true collisions, as he usually goes flying next to the player he hits.
If you watch all eight minutes and 13 seconds of that video, you will understand there is no debate that Kronwall is the hardest hitter in the NHL today.