Ranking Every NHL Team's Most Intimidating Player
There are a number of ways to intimidate the opposition in the NHL.
While great fighters have intimidated opposing players for years, big hitters, unbeatable goaltenders and talented scorers can also be intimidating in various ways.
With the increasing concerns about blows to the head, the possible concussions they induce and the severe penalties for these infractions, many teams do not employ “goon” lines in today’s NHL. In fact, several teams, do not have a single player who plays only a few minutes and is a dedicated fighter exclusively.
Teams are much more likely to have a player or two who are physically intimidating, reasonably mobile and able to fight, on occasion.
In light of these changes over the past decade, here is a breakdown of each team’s most intimidating player, his main intimidating attribute(s) and brief analysis of his game. Also included are two honorable mentions for each team.
The regular statistics can be found on nhl.com
Advanced statistics are from Behind the Net
Most Intimidating Player: Ryan Getzlaf
Intimidating Feature(s): Size, skill and a mean streak
In many ways, Ryan Getzlaf seems more suited to an earlier era.
While he has the skill to be a first-line player on the majority of NHL teams, he has a physical edge that may not give him the advantages it would have in the '70s, '80s and '90s. Getzlaf stands 6’4” and weighs over 220 pounds.
He has been a similar size since his junior hockey years when he dominated in the WHL. Getzlaf has a great set of hands, is an excellent passer and has great vision.
He also drops the gloves when necessary, and he takes no prisoners when he’s engaged with opponents in the corners. As well as leading the Ducks, expect Getzlaf to be a key player for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Honorable Mentions: Jonas Hiller & Corey Perry
Most Intimidating Player: Zdeno Chara
Intimidating Feature(s): Size, skill and very physical game
Zdeno Chara is arguably the most intimidating player in the NHL.
Chara is an underrated skater who plays about 25 minutes a game and excels in all game situations. Not only is he a premier shutdown defender, but he can also contribute offensively. He has earned 478 regular-season points in 1,055 games.
He has added another 54 points in 129 playoff games. Chara influences a game in many ways, but at 6’9”, it is his reach, and ability to take the body, that alters opponents’ games.
He has anchored every defense corps that he has played on and shows little sign of slowing down as his career begins to wind down.
Honorable Mentions: Milan Lucic & Shawn Thornton
Most Intimidating Player: Ryan Miller
Intimidating Feature(s): Athleticism, intensity and competitiveness
The Buffalo Sabres, and Ryan Miller in particular, did not have a good season. Yet Miller is a very intense goaltender who never gives up on the play.
He is both combative and competitive in the net, and at times conjures up images of New York Islander great Billy Smith. At 6’2”, Miller is not as tall as some of his younger colleagues such as Ben Bishop and Pekka Rinne, but they do not possess Miller’s tremendous athleticism.
Miller’s numbers weren’t great last year, but that was with a poor Sabres team that provided him with little support on many nights. Miller still led the league in both shots against and saves in the 40 games he played. The former Vezina Trophy winner remains a key part of the rebuild that is underway in Buffalo.
Honorable Mentions: Tyler Myers & Thomas Vanek
Most Intimidating Player: Mike Cammalleri
Intimidating Feature(s): Great speed and scoring ability
With Jarome Iginla no longer with the team and Miikka Kiprusoff apparently retiring over the summer while at home in his native Finland, there will be some real changes in leadership in Calgary.
The most intimidating player now in Flames silks is Mike Cammalleri. Cammalleri is not a large player or a physical player. What separates Cammalleri is his ability to handle the puck with great speed and use his quick release in traffic. Cammalleri can be creative for his teammates, but oftentimes his best play is to fire at the net with his highly accurate wrist shot.
The Flames are in the beginnings of significant roster changes, but veterans like Cammalleri can be valuable contributors as younger players learn how to win at the NHL level.
Honorable Mentions: Mark Giordano & Sven Baertschi
Most Intimidating Player: Eric Staal
Intimidating Feature(s): Size, skill and ability to take the body
Eric Staal is a dynamic center who is not afforded the kind of press that he deserves. Carolina is not a hotbed for hockey. If Staal was in a hockey-mad market like Toronto, Detroit or Edmonton, he would receive much greater recognition.
Staal has excelled not only in league play, but also internationally when he has played for Canada. The former Peterborough Pete is 6’4” and has the reach and skating ability to make defenders look foolish.
Staal has been a leader on every team that he has played on, and the Thunder Bay native was sixth in NHL scoring last year. He also earned 54 PIM with his abrasive style that is difficult to handle in such a large package.
With younger brother Jordan also at center, the Hurricanes can boast one of the better one-two punches at this key position in the entire league.
Honorable Mentions: Jordan Staal & Cam Ward
Most Intimidating Player: Jonathan Toews
Most Intimidating Feature(s): All-around game and great intensity
Jonathan Toews is a natural leader who can dominate a game in all zones. Toews is one of the best faceoff men in the NHL and gives his team valuable puck possession because of this skill.
Toews can dominate in the offensive with his puck-handling abilities and his ability to snipe with his terrific shot release. The Blackhawks captain can also be counted upon to limit the other team’s top centers with his commitment to defense and excellent skating.
Toews wins consistently, and his ability to elevate his game on the biggest stages is second to none. Look for him to be a star for Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics next winter.
Honorable Mentions: Marian Hossa & Patrick Kane
Most Intimidating Player: Matt Duchene
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Speed and high-end skill
The Colorado Avalanche have an impressive group of young players. Matt Duchene, at just 22 years old, is the leader of this young group that now includes former Halifax Moosehead and No. 1 pick in 2013, Nathan MacKinnon.
Duchene is intimidating because he is very dynamic, particularly on the rush, and he can beat a lot of defensemen with his blazing speed. Duchene really flourishes when he plays with other highly talented players.
His ability to give his linemates chances to score, along with his ability to get off his great release under any kind of defensive pressure, makes him very difficult to defend. Look for Duchene to become a consistent, top-20 point-getter in the NHL as he moves into his prime years.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan O’Reilly & Erik Johnson
Columbus Blue Jackets
Most Intimidating Player: Sergei Bobrovsky
Most Intimidating Features: Athleticism and growing reputation
The Columbus Blue Jackets have made significant changes under new GM Jarmo Kekalainen. The Jackets are moving to the Eastern Conference and there will be new challenges there; however, if a team is poised to surprise some of its new rivals, it is likely the Blue Jackets.
Going into last season, Sergei Bobrovsky would have been, at best, a dark horse to win the Vezina Trophy. Yet Bobrovsky had an excellent year and posted a 2.00 goals against average and .932 save percentage to take home the trophy.
The Russian netminder is not as big as some of his contemporaries, but he is a very good athlete.
He is a proven goaltender, both in the NHL and internationally. The Flyers organization is likely regretting its decision to trade him in 2012.
Honorable Mentions: Nathan Horton & Jack Johnson
Most Intimidating Player: Jamie Benn
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Size and puck skill
The Dallas Stars are in the midst of a lot of changes. GM Jim Nill and new head coach Lindy Ruff are going to be a formidable duo as they try to get the Stars back to perennial playoff contender status.
Jamie Benn is the most intimidating player on the Dallas roster. At 6’2” and 205 pounds, he has great size. He will be moving back to his familiar left wing position and will have Tyler Seguin as his new center.
There are likely to be some growing pains, but Benn will not be relied upon as a setup man as he was at center ice. He has great touch around the net and an underrated shot that he should be able to use even more coming off the wing. Look for Benn to be a force on the revamped Dallas power play and the key player for them in 2013-14.
He has the potential to become one of the top left wings in the game.
Honorable Mentions: Tyler Seguin & Kari Lehtonen
Detroit Red Wings
Most Intimidating Player: Pavel Datsyuk
Most Intimidating Feature(s): All-world skill
NHL defenders do not fear much, if anything. Facing Pavel Datsyuk is a daunting task for all of them. He has the rare ability to make defenders look silly as they try to defend him in the neutral zone and in their own zone.
Datsyuk is an excellent passer and scorer; however, it is his ability to handle the puck at high speed that is his greatest attribute. Combined with his agility, Datsyuk can dangle better than anyone in the NHL. With the puck possession promoted by head coach Mike Babcock, Datsyuk’s puck skill makes him not only a fan favorite in Detroit, but also a key player in Detroit’s system.
Pavel's repertoire continues to grow over time, and his ability to produce points has not waned as he finished in the top 10 in NHL scoring in 2013.
Honorable Mentions: Henrik Zetterberg & Johan Franzen
Most Intimidating Player: Taylor Hall
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Speed, competitiveness and quick release
The Edmonton Oilers are going to have to make the playoffs this season if they want to be something more than a team with great potential. If that happens, winger Taylor Hall is going to have to lead them there.
Hall finished in the top 10 in scoring in the league last year with 50 points. He did it with blazing speed, an exceptional wrist shot and a will to win that few players have. Hall and Jordan Eberle are both on the radar for Canada’s Olympic team.
Hall loves to play a puck-possession game, and with the talent that the Oilers can now boast, look for Hall’s Corsi numbers, in all game situations, to improve next year as well.
If the Oilers make the playoffs in 2014, and if Hall continues on a similar trajectory of improvement, look for him to be in the race for the Hart Trophy next season.
Honorable Mentions: Jordan Eberle & Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
Most Intimidating Player: Jonathan Huberdeau
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Offensive creativity and speed
Jonathan Huberdeau made a great splash in the league in his rookie campaign. He won the Calder Trophy and played very well on a poorly performing team in Florida.
Huberdeau’s numbers were even more impressive considering how much was expected of him at this young age.
Huberdeau is wizard-like with the puck. The skill he exhibited with Saint John in junior hockey has transferred very well to the NHL. Huberdeau is not a physically imposing player, but he intimidates with his ability to change speeds while protecting the puck and driving to the net.
As he gets stronger, he will be even more difficult to handle when he has the puck down low. Florida is adding some good young forwards, so Huberdeau should have talented forwards to grow with in the next few seasons.
Honorable Mentions: Brian Campbell & Erik Gudbrandson
Los Angeles Kings
Most Intimidating Player: Anze Kopitar
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Size and puck-handling ability
While hardcore NHL fans know a lot about Slovenian star Anze Kopitar, not enough people know that he is one of the top players in the game.
Kopitar can do it all. He wins faceoffs, scores goals, is a great playmaker and leads by example. One of the marks of the best players in the game is their ability to make players around them better—and he does that.
His 5-on-5 Corsi number has been exceptional in the past few seasons, and he is extremely difficult to defend against. Kopitar is only now entering his prime years, so it will be exciting to see his game develop in the next few seasons.
The Kings should be perennial Cup contenders during Anze’s most productive years.
Honorable Mentions: Jonathan Quick & Drew Doughty
Most Intimidating Player: Ryan Suter
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Size, mobility and defensive skills
Ryan Suter has developed into one of the top defensemen in the NHL. One of the best measures of a player, particularly a defenseman, is their minutes played. The Wisconsin native will often play around 30 minutes in a game.
The former first-round pick was a stalwart alongside Shea Weber in Nashville. In Minnesota he is the No. 1 rearguard and has relished the role. Suter plays in all game situations.
He both scores and defends well as he was a plus player in the regular season and registered 32 points. He didn’t win the Norris Trophy as top defenseman, but expect that to happen in the next few seasons as his game continues to get even better.
Honorable Mentions: Zach Parise & Matt Cooke
Most Intimidating Player: P.K. Subban
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Speed, mobility and puck skill
The Montreal Canadiens were one of the biggest surprises in 2013. Most expectations were not high for the team, and collectively they seemed to relish the underdog role.
While the team does not have a lot of flash and dash throughout the lineup, 2013 Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban can claim more than most NHLers. Subban is a very talented defenseman who is an excellent skater and a threat to score on nearly every shift.
Subban has great agility, and his skill with the puck is likely the best of any defenseman in the game. The former Belleville Bull is also a physical presence when needed. If the Canadiens have success next year similar to what they had in 2013, Subban will need to have another great season.
P.K. brings high energy and drive to the arena every night, and combined with his talent, the sky is the limit as he moves into his mid-20s.
Honorable Mentions: Carey Price & Tomas Plekanec
Most Intimidating Player: Shea Weber
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Physicality, smarts and great shot
Shea Weber is an intimidating blend of size and smarts. He can control the game, in many ways, from the point. His ability to take the body can limit the effectiveness of opposing forwards, while his knack to make smart plays with the puck allows him to take control of the play offensively.
Weber plays quality minutes night after night. He can be counted on in all game situations and in every zone. He also has one of the hardest and most accurate shots in the NHL.
Shea's ability to shut down opposing forwards makes him a key consideration in any opposing team’s game plan.
Honorable Mentions: Pekka Rinne & Mike Fisher
New Jersey Devils
Most Intimidating Player: Martin Brodeur
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Arguably the best goalie in NHL history
Martin Brodeur is in the twilight of one of the greatest careers in NHL history. Brodeur has produced 669 wins, a .913 save percentage and 121 shutouts. Those numbers are staggering and are indicators of how good both the Devils and Brodeur have been in the past two decades.
While Brodeur is not the goalie he was in his early 30s, he still wins games on his own with his athleticism and his ability to never quit on a goal-mouth scramble. The Devils will struggle to score goals this year, but with Brodeur and the newly acquired Corey Schneider in net, the Devils are likely to be competitive on most nights.
Honorable Mentions: Patrik Elias & Travis Zajac
New York Islanders
Most Intimidating Player: John Tavares
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Highly skilled and superb puck smarts
John Tavares has become one of the best forwards in the NHL. The former No. 1 overall pick has met the expectations that have been placed on him since his late teens.
Tavares was nominated as a finalist for the Hart Trophy in 2013 after leading the Islanders to their playoff berth. Tavares seems to play his best hockey during the biggest games, which this bodes well for the Islanders.
With the massing of young talent in their organization, the Islanders are likely to be a threat to challenge for the Stanley Cup in the next few seasons. Tavares is a wizard with the puck, and his nose for the net is second to none in the league. His advanced stats are also looking better with the rest of the team improving dramatically.
Tavares’ real coming-out party might be the Sochi Olympics, where he is likely to be a key figure for Team Canada.
Honorable Mentions: Michael Grabner & Matt Moulson
New York Rangers
Most Intimidating Player: Henrik Lundqvist
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Athleticism, exemplary fundamentals and reputation
The New York Rangers are led by the best goaltender in the world, Henrik Lundqvist. He gives them an opportunity to win every night, and that advantage cannot be overstated.
King Henrik allows his team to take risks that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to take. His Ranger teammates know that they can count on Lundqvist’s athletic ability and his great fundamentals.
Lundqvist exudes confidence, and opposing players know that they are facing the best goaltender in the world when they play the Rangers. Lundqvist had a stellar 2.05 goals-against average last year along with a .926 save percentage. Expect nothing less from him in 2013-14.
Honorable Mentions: Rick Nash & Brian Boyle
Most Intimidating Player: Erik Karlsson
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Speed, skill and agility
The Ottawa Senators had a very good regular season in 2013, despite the losses of key players for long stretches. Defenseman Erik Karlsson suffered a serious Achilles injury that limited him to just 17 regular-season games. He still earned 14 points, and he is capable of scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace moving forward.
Karlsson is the most gifted offensive defenseman in the game today and is one of the rare defensemen who will likely challenge for his club’s scoring title for the foreseeable future.
Karlsson forces opposing coaches to know where he is at all times, as he not only neutralizes opposing forwards, but also contributes to scoring chances on many shifts as well. The Senators’ bright future begins with Erik Karlsson.
Honorable Mentions: Jason Spezza & Chris Neil
Most Intimidating Player: Claude Giroux
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Scoring ability and excellent creativity
Claude Giroux is a threat to score on most shifts. While he is not an intimidating physical presence, he does have the ability to make opposing players be aware of him at all times.
He is deceptively quick and is one of the brighter offensive players in the NHL. He has the ability to create something when other players will simply dump the puck into their opponents’ end. Giroux has the confidence to take on more than one defender at a time, and then the on-ice vision to find his teammates for a scoring chance if he's unable to take a good shot on net.
If Philadelphia improves in the standings in 2013-14 it will be behind the offensive leadership of Giroux.
Honorable Mentions: Scott Hartnell & Wayne Simmonds
Most Intimidating Player: Shane Doan
Most Intimidating Feature: Fearless, skilled and very physical
Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan is one of the best leaders in the NHL. Yes, his career is winding down, but he has been the most important Coyote since the move to the desert from Winnipeg.
He leads not only on the ice but off the ice as well. Doan’s game is defined by his fearlessness, and his willingness to physically engage with opposing forwards and defensemen. He has never backed down from a single opponent. He is multi-dimensional, though, as he is a great scorer, too.
He is always at or near the top of the Coyotes’ scoring. When Doan retires, the Coyotes will have a huge hole to fill on several levels.
Honorable Mentions: Mike Smith & Keith Yandle
Most Intimidating Player: Sidney Crosby
Most Intimidating Feature: Sublime puck skills and highly competitive
Sidney Crosby, when healthy, is the best hockey player in the world. Crosby can do it all and is that rare player who makes every single teammate a better player. He leads by example.
In Crosby’s case, this is most often offensively, but Crosby’s attention to detail on defense is also very good. He is great in the faceoff circle and he takes great pride in his defensive abilities. Ultimately, it is his offensive abilities that define him. He can score on the rush, off the cycle or quickly off an opponent’s turnover.
When teamed with other skilled players, Crosby has the ability to embarrass elite defenders. As he enters his prime years, his main obstacle appears to be only his health, and in particular, his concussion-related issues.
Honorable Mentions: Evgeni Malkin & Kris Letang
San Jose Sharks
Most Intimidating Player: Joe Thornton
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Size, skill and pedigree
Joe Thornton is one of the most gifted players in the NHL. His size, reach and skating ability are elite. He has been one of the top players in the game for well over a decade, and as his career winds down, bringing a championship to San Jose would be a fitting end to his Hall of Fame career.
Because Thornton does not play the game with the physical edge that some would like to see, he has suffered, at times, from a reputation that is undeserved.
Thornton has a burning desire to win, and this has been displayed not only at the NHL level, but also when he has represented Canada internationally.
Thornton is a great offensive player and can also make life miserable for opposing centers, particularly if they are smaller players. If the Sharks win the Stanley Cup in the next few years, it will be behind the leadership of Jumbo Joe.
Honorable Mentions: Logan Couture & Joe Pavelski
St. Louis Blues
Most Intimidating Player: David Backes
Most Intimidating Features: Size, tenacity and two-way play abilities
The St. Louis Blues have no superstars, but David Backes is very close to being so. Backes is not flashy, but his 5-on-5 Corsi number is consistently high. He is well over 6’0” and is nearly impossible to contain on the cycle.
Expect Backes to be a leader for the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi. He is a strong skater who should adapt well to the international ice surface. He never gives up on the play, and head coach Ken Hitchcock uses him in all game situations. He is a punishing hitter who enjoys engaging his opponents physically as he rarely loses a one-on-one battle.
Backes is now in the prime of his career. Team success in St. Louis will be a result of his continued great play.
Honorable Mention: Barrett Jackman & Vladimir Tarasenko
Tampa Bay Lightning
Most Intimidating Player: Steven Stamkos
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Best shot in the game and offensive skills
The Tampa Bay Lightning are led by Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. With Vincent Lecavalier now in Philadelphia, Stamkos and St. Louis are the unquestioned leaders.
While St. Louis remains a great offensive player, Steven Stamkos has been the most dynamic goal scorer in the NHL in recent years. He can score from anywhere in the offensive zone, but he is particularly lethal on his off-wing.
His release is phenomenal, and it is the rare goalie who can be set to limit his chances. Stamkos is also a gifted skater and passer. He is a fitness fanatic, and his endurance allows him to be as effective in the third period as he is in the first.
Stamkos is just beginning to peak offensively. Expect his goal totals to go even higher as he continues to improve.
Honorable Mentions: Martin St. Louis & Victor Hedman
Toronto Maple Leafs
Most Intimidating Player: Phil Kessel
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Quickness and goal scoring prowess
Phil Kessel has had to endure a lot of criticism throughout his career. His ability to cope with the criticisms, often unwarranted, shouldn’t be discounted, or underestimated. Kessel has been a top point producer for many years, and while he can be streaky, he is easily the Leafs most dangerous offensive threat.
Kessel will not beat you with his physical size, but he is tougher than many would think. He is willing to go into the tough areas of the rink, and his quickness and agility, are superb.
Kessel is very creative with the puck, and can create both individual and team chances. He can leave defenders looking confused in their own end.
Look for the Wisconsin-born Kessel to top 80, if not 90 points in 2013-14.
Honorable Mentions: Dion Phaneuf & Joffrey Lupul
Most Intimidating Player: Henrik Sedin
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Size, skill and savviness
Henrik and Daniel Sedin have been the best offensive duo in the NHL over the past decade. Still both in their primes, there is time for them to help lead the talented Canucks to a Stanley Cup.
Henrik is intimidating because of his rare puck-possession skills. He and Daniel have unparalleled success in cycling the puck. They can make seasoned defenders look lost with their ability to not only find each other, but also their teammates.
As a center, Henrik controls the play more than Daniel does on the left side. He creates all kinds of matchup issues for opponents with his size, faceoff prowess and ability to score in bunches.
Henrik’s 5-on-5 Corsi number is often in the upper tier in the NHL, and there is no sign yet that his abilities are in decline.
Vancouver is moving to a more challenging division in 2013-14. If they have success in the Pacific Division, Henrik will be the largest part of it.
Honorable Mentions: Daniel Sedin & Ryan Kesler
Most Intimidating Player: Alex Ovechkin
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Shooting ability, speed and physical presence
Alex Ovechkin had a bounce-back year in 2013. Under the guidance of new head coach Adam Oates, Alexander the Great excelled on the wing. So much so that he was the First Team All-Star on both left and right wings.
He also won the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player in 2013, the third time he has been recognized. Few players will shoot the puck as much as Ovechkin. He creates scoring chances shift after shift. Ovechkin is extremely creative with the puck, and while creating individual chances is his specialty, he has above-average vision to find open linemates.
Finally, Ovechkin is a devastating hitter. He punishes his opponents with his size and with his ability to close more quickly than expected.
Honorable Mentions: Nicklas Backstrom & Braden Holtby
Most Intimidating Player: Dustin Byfuglien
Most Intimidating Feature(s): Size, puck skill and point shot
Dustin Byfuglien is one of the most intriguing players in the NHL. He can control the game from the point with his offensive toolkit, and at over 6’3” and 230 pounds, he can intimidate players when he takes the body regularly.
Byfuglien has not been as consistent as many would like to see, although at his best he is one of the better defensemen in the league, particularly offensively. Byfuglien has played a lot of NHL games at forward, so his comfort level with the puck is high.
He likes to hang on to the puck, skate it out of the defensive zone or hit the breaking forward in the neutral zone. Byfuglien is a great weapon on the power play as he has a cannon for a shot. On the nights when he is fully engaged in the game, he is a true force in all three zones.
Honorable Mentions: Andrew Ladd & Evander Kane