Top 10 Best Open Ice Hitters Of The Last Quarter Century
Top Ten Hitters
Over the last quarter century, the NHL has witnessed a trend towards bigger, more powerful players. In the game today, on average, players stand about 6-foot-2 and weigh about 210 pounds. With the players getting stronger, quicker, and a lot faster, there is going to be bodily contact. The element of body contact involved in hockey has led to some great open ice hits and hitters. Hitting has become a critical part of a hockey game, and for some fans it makes the game a lot of fun to watch. Hitting isn’t just about brute strength and size. There is also a technique involved with hitting. Proper body checking requires well-developed skills, concentration, agility and anticipation. The player checking must concentrate on the puck carrier, not the puck.
Body checking has really also become something of an art form in hockey today. Many of the great open ice hitters have gotten that way by knowing the right way to hit another player and do so without taking a penalty. Sure there are a lot of guys in the game who know how to hit, but there are few who can change the game with a single hit. Some guys have made a living off being great hitters. Defenseman have made careers out of being solid hitters, while forwards can use hitting as a way to open more space up for themselves to create offense. If not for being good body checkers, there wouldn’t be power forwards in hockey. Those types of forwards use the physical game as a form of intimidation, and it allows them to get more scoring chances with their hard hitting style of play. There is a science involved, and players in the NHL seem to have mastered it.
There have been so many great hitters, both forwards and defenseman, that it is hard to cover all of history. So we have narrowed it down to the last quarter of a century. Why that time period? Well it seemed that a lot of the truly great hitters have come on the scene since 1988. Sure there have been guys that have delivered not so clean hits that happens in game such as hockey. More often than not, you will get guys throwing hard, clean body checks that can have a real impact on a game. Throwing a great hit can have a positive impact on a team, as well as a negative impact on another.
These are ten guys who in my opinion have mastered the art of open ice hitting better than anybody else in the last 25 years of NHL hockey. So without further ado, here are the ten best open ice hitters of the last quarter century in the NHL.
10. Niklas Kronwall
Niklas Kronwall has spent his entire nine year career patrolling the blue lines in Detroit. Kronwall has developed a reputation as one of the stronger hitters in the league, and fans refer to the frequently devastating hits as being "Kronwalled." Why is that? Because Kronwall has perfected the ability to pinch on opposing wingers and absolutely destroy them. He doesn’t care if it’s at the Detroit blueline or the offensive blueline; Kronwall will hit an opposing player anywhere at any time. He is one of the cleanest and purest hitters in the game today and continues to punish opposing forwards everywhere on the ice, at any time.
9. Rob Blake
Over the course of his 20 year career, Rob Blake really knew how to use his size to his advantage. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Blake was not a guy that you wanted to run into with your head down. Blake was a big man who knew how to throw his body around to create maximum damage on his opponent. One of the hits that Blake became known for was the “butt check.” Blake would throw hip checks to opposing players and lead with his rear end, a hit he used with great effectiveness during his career. There were many times that an opposing player would come out of a corner flat on their backs, thanks to a great Blake hit. Opposing players would think twice about bringing the puck over the blueline with Blake on the ice. He was that much of a force.
8. Bryan Marchment
Many people will say that Bryan Marchment was a dirty player. He is one of the dirtiest hitters in the game, and there is definitely video evidence that proves that point. Marchment has had more than a few incidents where his knee was sticking out further than it should have been when throwing a check. Despite the negative rap sheet on him, Marchment had hundreds of hits in his career, and most of them were clean. Marchment was a pest for opposing teams to play against, and he made his presence known wherever he was playing. Marchment would hit you clean, and it would leave you feeling a little woozy afterwards.
7. Dion Phaneuf
Dion Phaneuf has made a name for himself, both at the junior level and in his nine-year career in the NHL, for being a good open ice hitter. Phaneuf has developed into one of the hardest hitters and most feared defensemen in today's game. He will always be mainly known for his ability to hit, and hit hard. Phaneuf’s play along the boards is well known, but some of the hits he has thrown in open ice are stuff of legend. If you don’t believe that Phaneuf can hit hard, especially in open ice, just ask Denis Hamel, who was playing in Ottawa at the time of the hit. Phaneuf hits hard, clean and legally.
6. Eric Lindros
Here is a guy whose career was marked by injuries. Eric Lindros had to retire at age 34 after having totaled seven concussions during his 13-year NHL career. He had good hands for a guy his size, but the one mistake Lindros usually made when he played was skating up ice with his head down. That style of play is what led to all the injuries he had during his playing career. As much physical abuse as Lindros took during his career, he also knew how to dish out the abuse in kind, and it made for a pretty good career early on. Lindros was a guy that played the game with no fear, and he did whatever it took to win.
He was a fantastic goal scorer, but it was his physical play that separated him from the rest of the pack. Some of the checks that Lindros threw where thunderous, and it could be heard and felt throughout the arena. Using his size to his advantage, Lindros tossed his weight around with ease. Some guys would come out on the wrong end of a physical confrontation with Lindros.
5. Darius Kasparaitis
Darius Kasparaitis is one of the meanest defensemen to ever play the game and one of the hardest hitters to ever lace up skates. Just a look from Kasparaitis would strike fear into other player’s hearts Kasparaitis brought back the use of the hip check, and he used it often. Don’t get me wrong, Kasparaitis could throw body checks standing up just as well as he could a hip check. Some of the body checks Kasparaitis threw could knock the wind out of a lot of players. He was known mostly, though, for those great hip and submarine checks.
He loved to submarine players, and he took pride in going after the opposing team's best player. The propensity to go after a team’s best player was most evident during the 1993 playoffs when he was taking the physical play to the likes of Mario Lemieux. That style of play is what made Kasparaitis as good, and intimidating, as he was.
4. Wendel Clark
Wendel Clark wasn’t the biggest guy in the world. He didn’t really have the great goal scoring ability. What made Clark so popular, and such a great player, was that he was able to score a big goal when needed, and, just as important, run over anybody that got in his sight. Clark came into the league swinging and refused to back down to the league's toughest players. Clark quickly gained a reputation for playing hard-nosed hockey, showing little regard for his opponents or himself. Clark was a guy that other teams would try to interfere with as he fore-checked. This was done for the sake of defensemen's safety.
When you watch him hit, he was absolutely fearless, and he would explode into people. On top of it all, he was a guy who hit clean and played the game the right way. His hit on Bruce Bell is one of the hardest, and most famous, hits in NHL history.
3. Denis Potvin
Considered by many to be the greatest defenseman, outside of Bobby Orr, Denis Potvin made a name for himself with his physical style of play. Don’t get me wrong, Potvin knew how to score goals, but he was known for his physical play and his big hits. Potvin was the first defenseman to ever combine incredible physical force while still maintaining offensive ability. He was another guy who revolutionized the hip check, and he was never known as a dirty player. Some of his hip checks were so punishing that opposing players could miss time with lower body injuries.
He hit often, he hit hard, he changed momentum and he was a catalyst to the New York Islanders' dynasty. Potvin really knew how to strike fear into opposing players, and the hitting he employed made that all possible. The tenacity that Potvin played with made it almost impossible for other players to want to try and get close, because they knew they were going to get run over by a freight train.
2. Cam Neely
If there was ever a prototypical power forward, it was hands down Cam Neely. Neely could do it all; he could skate, score, hit and fight. Neely was at his best when he put his physical game as his top priority. Cam was never the biggest guy on the ice, but he never backed down and always made sure that opponents knew when he was on the ice. Neely made his living with his thunderous body checks. He would hit you along the boards and in the corners, but it was in the open ice where Neely made a name for himself. His open ice hits had become the stuff of legend. All of Neely’s hits were clean and were incredibly hard.
Neely could have been so much better a hockey player, but his career was cut short after an unfortunate knee injury, thanks to Ulf Samuelsson. If that hit hadn’t happened who knows how great a career Neely could have had. The time he did have in the league, Neely made an impact with bone jarring open ice hits. Arguably the best hitting forward of all time.
1. Scott Stevens
There should have been very little doubt that he would be the top guy on this list. Scott Stevens made his career on throwing great body checks. He didn’t care who it was, where it was, or when it was; if Stevens had you lined up, you were pretty much toast. If you were coming down the left side of the ice and cut across the middle while Stevens was on the ice, say goodnight. Stevens was often known for leveling players who crossed an open part of the ice with their heads down. Among the victims of Stevens' body checks were Slava Kozlov, Eric Lindros, Paul Kariya, Shane Willis and Ron Francis. There was fear involved when playing against Stevens, because there was always a chance he would drill you with a good clean body check.
Scott Stevens is without a doubt the hardest, and greatest, open ice hitter to ever play in the NHL.