Ranking the 10 Toughest Players in the NHL Today

Carol SchramFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2013

Ranking the 10 Toughest Players in the NHL Today

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    There's no doubt about it. NHL players are some seriously tough men.

    Hockey toughness can be defined in so many ways. It can be the Boston Bruins' Gregory Campbell finishing his playoff shift on a broken leg after blocking a shot. It can be a talented scorer enduring endless abuse from opposing checkers as he relentlessly pursues his team's next goal. It can be standing up to an opponent from a different weight class or taking a hit to make a play.

    Toughness and courage are on display during virtually every NHL shift. It's one of the things that makes our game so compelling to watch.

    In today's NHL, the role of the pure fighter has diminished as both roster spots and salary-cap space often leave teams in need of more versatile players.

    This list includes fighters who play such an important role for their teams that they can't be ignored, as well as other skaters who play bigger roles but can still bring the pain when needed. Different types of "tough" for different types of situations.

    Who's on your top-10 list? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    All stats courtesy of NHL.com. Fight data from hockeyfights.com. Salary information from CapGeek.com.

10. Jared Boll

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    2012-13 Penalty Minutes: 100 (9th); Fighting Majors: 12 (t. 3rd)

    Jared Boll doesn't get a lot of attention as a career member of the Columbus Blue Jackets. With his team's improving fortunes and move to the Eastern Conference, Boll may find the spotlight shining a little brighter in the year ahead. He may also find himself facing some new dance partners.

    Boll's a 6'2", 219-pound 27-year-old with well over 100 NHL fights on his resume. Having never logged more than 14 points in an NHL season, Boll knows his role in the eight minutes of ice time he receives each game and is successful more often than not in his fights.

9. Milan Lucic

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    2012-13 Penalty Minutes: 75 (24th); Fighting Majors: 5 (t. 39th)

    Milan Lucic can do a lot more than fight, but he's not one to back down from a scrap.

    A prototypical power forward, Lucic finished the 2012-13 regular season fifth in team scoring with 27 points for the Boston Bruins, as well as first in penalty minutes. Lucic averaged about 16 minutes a game during the regular season, which rose to nearly 21 minutes in the playoffs.

    With just 14 playoff penalty minutes and no fights, Lucic was able to use his 6'4", 220-pound frame to punish his opponents without putting his team at a disadvantage—a tough guy who truly knows how to pick his spots.

8. Brandon Prust

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    2012-13 Penalty Minutes: 110 (7th); Fighting Majors: 10 (7th)

    Brandon Prust quickly became a fan favorite in his first season with the Montreal Canadiens.

    The grinding left winger played a solid defensive role while also taking on all comers on behalf of his teammates.

    At 6'2" and 195 pounds, Prust is a middleweight who won't turn away from a challenge. He generally acquits himself well when he drops the gloves. It's the mark of a true tough guy to stand in, even when he might be at a physical disadvantage.

7. George Parros

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    2012-13 Penalty Minutes: 57 (t. 49th); Fighting Majors: 9 (t. 8th)

    At 6'5" and 228 pounds., George Parros is one of the biggest heavyweights in the NHL.

    Parros was a member of the tough-as-nails 2007 Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks. He also carries the reputation as the most intellectual of the enforcers, with his degree in economics from Princeton University.

    Parros logged an average of 6:36 a game with Florida in 2012-13. He signed with the Montreal Canadiens this summer, where he'll be asked to relieve some of Brandon Prust's workload. With Parros' veteran intimidation in the lineup, expect Montreal's skill players to have plenty of room to operate.

6. Mike Brown

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    2012-13 Penalty Minutes: 123 (3rd); Fighting Majors: 12 (t. 3rd)

    Mike Brown made a splash when he arrived in Edmonton midway through the 2012-13 season.

    Brown was averaging less than five minutes a game with the Toronto Maple Leafs before he was traded, but in Edmonton, he saw closer to 10 minutes most nights and punched his way through seven of his 12 season fights.

    Brown gives up six inches and more than 20 pounds to a guy like George Parros, but he matches him whisker for whisker in the "best mustache" category. Also like Parros, Brown has a squad of skilled forwards to watch out for. Expect his fists to be busy again this season.

5. Zenon Konopka

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    2012-13 Penalty Minutes: 117 (4th); Fighting Majors: 9 (t. 8th)

    Is Zenon Konopka the toughest hombre in the Western Conference?

    In his first year with the Minnesota Wild, the 32-year-old did his best to lay claim to that title.

    Konopka put up his 117 penalty minutes in just 37 regular-season games while not scoring a single point. He averaged 8:26 of ice time per game, and though he's just 6'0" tall, he did well in most of his nine fights.

    The Niagara Falls, Ontario, native also has a softer side. From NHLPA.com, here's the story of Konopka and his pet rabbit, Hoppy, who has been with him for the past seven years. You got something you want to say to him about that?

4. Shawn Thornton

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    2012-13 Penalty Minutes: 60 (t. 43rd); Fighting Majors: 8 (t. 12th)

    Shawn Thornton has played his best hockey as part of some very tough hockey teams.

    He won his first Stanley Cup at age 29 alongside George Parros as part of the marauding Anaheim Ducks squad in 2007. He truly came into his own once he moved on to Boston. Thornton has thrived as a member of the Bruins' "Merlot Line," playing a key role in the team's 2010 Stanley Cup victory and again during the 2013 run to the final.

    Thornton averaged just over eight minutes a night on the ice during the 2012-13 regular season, but he knows how to pick his spots and maximize his impact on every shift.

3. Chris Neil

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    2012-13 Penalty Minutes: 144 (2nd); Fighting Majors: 6 (t. 25th)

    At 34, Chris Neil is a lifelong Ottawa Senator who provides both leadership and toughness to his team. More than just a fighter, the right wing averaged nearly 14 minutes of ice time per game during the 2012-13 regular season. He finished second in the league in penalty minutes despite taking just six fighting majors.

    Neil finished the 2013 playoffs No. 1 in penalty minutes, even though the Senators played just two rounds. Neil was an important leader in the physical attack that Ottawa laid on the Montreal Canadiens as they trounced them in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

2. Colton Orr

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    2012-13 Penalty Minutes: 155 (1st); Fighting Majors: 13 (2nd)

    In an era where the pure fighter is becoming a bit of a rarity, Colton Orr managed to play the role to the hilt for the Toronto Maple Leafs. After playing just five games for the Leafs in 2011-12, Orr became a regular fixture in the lineup in 2012-13, dressing for 44 games.

    Orr averaged just over six minutes of ice time per contest, but that was enough to lead the NHL in penalty minutes. The enforcer's contributions to Toronto's breakthrough season were rewarded this summer with a new two-year contract. Expect to see lots more fights from Orr in the season to come.

1. Zdeno Chara

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    2012-13 Penalty Minutes: 70 (27th); Fighting Majors: 2 (t. 89th)

    Zdeno Chara doesn't fight much anymore—because he doesn't have to. The Norris Trophy-winning defenseman is much more valuable on the ice than in the penalty box, and his Boston Bruins have plenty of other players who can also administer justice as needed.

    But make no mistake, the Slovak giant can throw 'em when he feels like it. His most prolific year of pugilism was back in 2001-02 with Ottawa, when he held his own against tough guys of the day like Gino Odjick, Chris Simon, Matthew Barnaby and Peter Worrell—three times. With his massive 6'9" frame and his superb fitness level, Chara has both reach and endurance that are unmatched in the NHL fight game.

    Of course, toughness means much more than fighting in today's NHL. During his 25 minutes of ice time each game, Chara has plenty of other physical ways to dish out punishment to Boston's opponents. At age 36, Zdeno Chara remains the toughest of them all.

     

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