NHL's Best Fighters: Top 15 Fighters in the NHL
Of the 30 teams in the NHL, 20 of them carried at least one heavyweight enforcer this past season.
Considering each player's power, strength, balance, and technique, these fighters have been ranked in their ability to handle themselves with the gloves off.
This list is based on each fighter's career work but their more recent fights hold more weight in determining their positions. Each spot on the list is arguable and not a set ranking, for they are easily changed upon the outcome of future bouts.
What should be noted is that just about all of these men have the ability to beat against every other fighter in the list, with a few exceptions.
No. 15: Paul Bissonnette
"Biznasty" is not the biggest or strongest fighter by any means. He does not hit hard in comparison to many of the fighters on this list.
He is a smart, strategic fighter who can usually avoid taking damage and manages to fight effectively in a manner that gets him some wins.
In this fight against Pittsburgh's Deryk Engelland, Bissonnette was able to grip Engelland in a spot on the shoulder and quickly threw punches. This prevented Engelland from achieving a quality grip on Bissonnette, allowing Bissonnettte to throw freely while also being able to hold off his opponent.
No. 14: Kevin Westgarth
Westgarth is similar to Bissonnette in his intelligent fighting approach. However, Westgarth has more punching power and seems to be able to take more damage.
He once went toe-to-toe with Steve MacIntyre, who has the hardest punch in the NHL right now. He also took a beating from John Scott without going down.
In this fight with Cam Janssen, Westgarth's aggressive approach at the start prevented Janssen from getting a good grip on Westgarth. Westgarth was able to use this grip advantage to land a few shots on Janssen.
For the rest of the fight, Janssen attempted to find a better grip while also trying to avoid the punches. However, Westgarth's grip advantage that he had right from the start allowed him to land several punches and win this fight.
No. 13: Chris Neil
Unlike the two fighters before him, Chris Neil does not have a very technical fighting style.
Neil is more of a brawler who just likes to grab on to his opponent and throw punches. He will attempt to avoid punches but would rather try to hit his opponent than tie him up.
When the punches land, this simple approach is effective. In this fight, Neil landed a few lefts that got the better of Westgarth.
No. 12: John Scott
The mammoth John Scott started to gain the attention of the NHL when he dropped George Parros in October 2009. He's never lost an NHL fight, but has yet to battle the league's elite tough guys.
Scott will likely do fine when he gets his chance against those guys, but until he does he'll be judged only by what he's done so far.
Scott's biggest asset is obviously his reach. In this fight, Westgarth is unable to get to Scott with his punches, and cannot avoid the fists coming his way.
No. 11: Eric Boulton
Boulton was one of just two people to beat Matt Carkner (who appears later in the list) this season, and in recent years has beat Chris Neil and drawn with Colton Orr.
Like Neil, he isn't one to tie up his opponent much; he enjoys throwing hard at his opponent and that's just what he did in this amazing fight with John Erskine.
No. 10: Darcy Hordichuk
Hordichuk has been fighting the league's best for several years.
He's beaten George Parros, Jody Shelley, Shawn Thornton and Eric Boulton. He's recently drawn with Colton Orr and Matt Carkner.
Here is the fight with Carkner, in which Hordichuk displays his brave head down, fist-forward approach. It takes a lot of audacity to fight the way Hordichuk does.
No. 9: George Parros
Almost as well known for his mustache as he is for his fighting ability, Parros has averaged more than 20 fights per year every season of his professional career.
Though he has an issue with falling down and ending a lot of fights early because of his poor balance, Parros has proven himself to be among the league's best.
At 6'5" he usually brings a reach advantage to his fights, and has a strong punch. He has dropped Jody Shelley, Colton Orr, and Riley Cote within the past four seasons.
Here is a fight in which Parros' reach advantage allows him to land several punches on the shorter Janssen. Later in the fight, Janssen is able to attempt a comeback, but Parros still gets the better of him.
No. 8: Jody Shelley
Shelley is a gritty fighter with a powerful right hand. He has seven career knockdown wins, including a knockout over Colton Orr last season.
Even though Shelley is generally an intelligent, careful fighter, he isn't afraid to stand up and trade punches; he's gone toe-to-toe with Eric Cairns, Georges Laraque, Shawn Thornton, Eric Godard, Colton Orr, Riley Cote, and Donald Brashear.
There isn't a fighter in the entire league that has a fight card as strong as Jody Shelley. He's also fought Derek Boogaard, Brian McGrattan, and as a rookie he fought Bob Probert, arguably the greatest hockey fighter of all time, four times.
In this fight all of Shelley's skills are displayed. First, Shelley used jersey jabs to make Yonkman turn away and create an opening to throw a right. As Yonkman looked away, Shelley became more aggressive and pounced on the opportunity to throw more punches.
However, Yonkman surprised Shelley with a right that cut him open. The cut would require 60 stitches after the game. Despite the big cut, Shelley came back and landed a very hard right on Yonkman that staggered him. Shelley fired away at his cowering opponent and eventually, Yonkman went down to the ice and let the linesmen step in rather than continuing the fight.
No. 7: Shawn Thornton
Thornton has drawn with both Matt Carkner and Colton Orr in toe-to-toe fights. He's beaten some of the league's best fighters, including Eric Boulton, Eric Godard, and has fought to a draw with Jody Shelley.
He is a versatile fighter who is smart enough to tie his opponent up in order to avoid getting in trouble, but is also willing to stand up and throw punch-for-punch. His toe-to-toe bout against Riley Cote in 2007 was one of the greatest hockey fights of all-time.
Thornton doesn't have a great punch, a great chin, nor is he an exceptionally strong person. He simply knows how to fight and does well at it. In this fight he gets Krys Barch into a bad spot and breaks his orbital with a flurry of uppercuts.
No. 6: Deryk Engelland
Engelland's first season in the NHL was a noteworthy one.
Using exceptional strength for his size, in combination with a hard right-handed punch, he took down the likes of Jody Shelley (bloodying him) and Colton Orr (dropping him in October and winning the rematch in December).
Engelland's greatest skill is his ability to tie up his opponent's throwing arm by grabbing the sleeve and being persistent in maintaining that grip. In his fight with Bissonnette, he was unable to do this and lost. When he does do it, his handcuffed opponent will be in trouble due to Engelland's punching power.
In this video, Jody Shelley becomes a victim to that powerful grip and can do nothing but bleed as a result of Engelland's work.
No. 5: Eric Godard
Godard secured himself a job in the NHL by knocking down Derek Boogaard in 2007. Since then, he's also dropped Colton Orr and Steve MacIntyre.
While his punching power speaks for itself, what is perhaps more impressive is Godard's ability to take a punch.
He's only been knocked down once in his entire NHL career. This past season, he had an orbital bone broken during a fight with Matt Carkner. Instead of stopping, he continued the fight and then did this later in the game.
Take a look at Godard's left eye and his toughness will be understood.
No. 4: Trevor Gillies
While Gillies is sensible about tying up his opponent, the southpaw's main focus in fights is to throw fast and hard.
A terrific enforcer who is dedicated to his job, Gillies will defend his teammates at all costs and is quite capable of finishing the job with his gloves off.
In this video, Jared Boll takes a run at John Tavares with Gillies on the ice and pays for it.
No. 3: Colton Orr
Despite Orr's disappointing 2010-2011 season, it's impossible to ignore everything he's done in the NHL. He has eight career knockdown wins.
What fight fans love about Orr is his open fight style. While this leads to many exciting fights, it also results in Orr getting hit hard; he also has six career knockdown losses.
Despite being taken down twice this season, Orr maintained a respectable card by beating D.J. King, Chris Neil, and Matt Carkner.
During the 2009-2010 season he also beat Eric Godard, Brian McGrattan, and Jody Shelley in addition to two knockdown victories against Matt Carkner.
Here is Orr demolishing Zack Stortini.
No. 2: Matt Carkner
Ranked just above Orr is Colton's greatest nemesis, Matt Carkner. Though Orr has gotten the better of Carkner in their head-to-head matchups, Carkner's overall card is better than Orr's.
This season he beat Eric Godard, Shawn Thornton, got a decision against Derek Boogaard.
Carker has proved himself to have one of the hardest punches in the league; he dropped Donald Brashear and Orr last season, dropped Rick Rypien this season, and broke Eric Godard's orbital.
Here is the fight against Godard. Watch for Carkner to put an uppercut into Godard's body. Godard looks at Carkner, then waits. He is expecting another uppercut, and when it comes he wants to take advantage of the opening to throw a punch at Carkner.
However, Carkner is ready for this. When Godard opens up to throw a punch, Carkner follows his body shot with a punch to Godard's face which causes the damage.
No. 1: Steve MacIntyre
Steve MacIntyre is the hardest puncher in the NHL. His seven knockdown victories in the past four seasons are the most in the league. Last season he knocked out Jeremy Yablonski, one of the top fighters in the AHL.
The dangerous combination of reach and power "Big Mac" possesses make him a difficult opponent for anyone. His only career losses in the NHL are to Derek Boogaard, Brian McGrattan and Eric Godard.
At 6'6," 250 pounds, MacIntyre is feared to the point that only six players would fight him this year, the smallest being Colton Orr.
Here is his devastating knockout of Raitis Ivanans. This fight marks the most destructive punch the NHL has seen in several years, as Ivanans has not played a game since the night of this bout.