Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Who's the best young tough guy?

When kicking around the idea for this feature, profiling the NHL's top young tough guys, the last thing I wanted to do was focus on fighting. Though I see a role for enforcers in today's game, I'm not convinced that a one-tool player deserves to take up valuable space, both on an NHL bench and within a team's salary cap.

Today's players have to be able to skate and score. They have to be able to dish out hits. They must bring pause to any opponent with a tendency toward shenanigans. And, yes, they have to be able to put up their dukes.

Having said that, though, they don't have to be among the team's leaders in scoring or, in one case, even penalty minutes. Nope, all they have to be are solid all-around contributors.

That's why I believe these five young players, defined as 25 years old or under as of Oct. 4., best typify what every team longs to have -- a bona fide, three-tool tough guy.

No. 5: David Clarkson, right wing
New Jersey Devils
24 years old (3.31.84)
Undrafted; signed as a free agent in 2005
The skinny: At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, size plays a big role in his game. His 193 PIMs, including 21 majors, and his 150 hits show he's not afraid of the rough stuff. Of his 22 points last season, nearly half (9) were goals. The kid's a winner, too, playing for the Kitchener Rangers' 2003 Memorial Cup championship squad.

No. 4: Jared Boll, right wing
Columbus Blue Jackets
22 years old (5.13.86)
Drafted 101st overall in 2005
The skinny: Who's says Southern boys can't play hockey? Born in Charlotte, N.C., the Blue Jackets resident enforcer turned heads and flattened noses by making the Columbus squad out of camp. Not only did he rack up an NHL-leading 28 majors within his 226 PIMs, but he also logged 135 hits. Hopefully, he'll improve upon his offense (5-5=10 in 75 games).

No. 3: Dustin Brown, right wing
Los Angeles Kings
23 years old (11.4.84)
Drafted 13th overall in 2003
The skinny: One of my favorite players in the NHL, he's also the subject of one of my favorite hockey stories. It seems that he wasn't making any friends among teammates during his rookie AHL season because he kept knocking the tar out of them in practice. His coach told him not to worry about making friends. Last year, his 311 hits led the NHL. And though he had only 55 PIMs, 15 of those came from fights. His 60 points, including 33 goals, round out the package.

No. 2: Dion Phaneuf, defense
Calgary Flames
23 years old (4.10.85)
Drafted 9th overall in 2003
The skinny: To players of Phaneuf's caliber, it's s compliment to say he's scary good. This blueliner, however, is simply scary. He loves to hit (194) and most are punishing. He's not afraid to fight, picking up 10 majors among his 182 PIMs. Oh, yeah, he scores, too -- 17 goals among 60 points in 82 games.

No. 1: Daniel Carcillo, left wing
Pheonix Coyotes
23 years old (1.28.85)
Drafted 73rd overall (Pittsburgh) in 2003
The skinny: The only thing to say about Carcillo's season last year? Geez, what could have been. For a guy who missed more than a quarter of his season, he posted impressive numbers: 24 points, including 13 goals, in 57 games as well as 109 hits. And let's not overlook his NHL-leading 324 PIMs (20 majors). Sure, his actions sometimes hurt the Coyotes, and he paid the price. Opponents, however, take great pains to notice whenever he's on the ice.

Ones to watch

Keep an eye on these five players, listed in alphabetical order, as they're likely to make some noise by banging some bodies this season:

Adam Burish, Chicago Blackhawks, right wing
25 years old (1.6.83) / 282nd overall in 2002 Draft
The skinny: Scoring (8 points in 81 games) will never be his strong suit, but 16 majors with 214 PIMS, as well as 89 hits, shows that physicality often earns a spot on a NHL roster.

Hugh Jessiman, New York Rangers, right wing
24 years old (3.28.84) / 12th overall in 2003 Draft
The skinny: Long called the Huge Specimen for his formidable size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds), the Dartmouth product is my sleeper pick to make the Rangers and start mixing it up in the Big Apple. Sure, he's a long-shot, but imagine the fun you'd have watching him crash, bang (154 PIMs in AHL Hartford) and light the lamp (18 goals in 71 games in AHL Hartford).

Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins, left wing
20 years old (6.7.88) / 50th overall in 2006 Draft
The skinny: He's tough as nails and brings a hard-hat approach to every game. That's why the Black and Gold gave him the Seventh Player Award last season. You gotta love his beak, too. Scoring 27 points in his rookie campaign was impressive, as were the 13 majors (65 minutes worth) within his 89 PIMS. His 181 hits show he's a willing banger, too.

Shane O'Brien, Vancouver Canucks, defense
25 years old (8.9.83) / 250th overall (Anaheim) in 2003 Draft
The skinny: If you watch this kid, you can tell he loves to play the game. He can score (21 points, including four goals, in 77 games), skates like Popeye, loves to hit (128) and isn't afraid to drop the mitts (six majors within 154 PIMs). There were times last season, though, where his penalties were problematic.

Zach Stortini, Edmonton Oilers, position
22 years old (9.11.85) / 94th overall in 2003 Draft
The skinny: Among the league leaders in majors (23) within his 201 PIMs, he's someone the Oilers know will keep opponents honest. Personally, I'd link to think there's room for improvement in scoring (12 points, including three goals, in 66 games) and hits (99).

1 comment:

bamlinden said...

Carcillo is awesome! Glad to see him get some credit. I'm expecting even more from him this year.