The National Hockey League is filled with fun-to-watch superstars capable of dazzling audiences with sheer and utter clinical displays of finesse and finality. However, some of the NHL’s finest leaders play a take charge, all round, in your face brand of effective physical, defensive, and down right intense hockey on a nightly basis.
For a lot of the players on this list, mainstream attention wasn’t realized until they won a Stanley Cup, or two. For some of the players on this list, there is still a lack of respect concerning their unique ability to lead on the ice, score goals, and play the game with heart.
The Top 10 Blue Collared Forwards In The NHL
10. Brooks Laich – Washington Capitals
Brooks Laich may not wear the ‘C’ for the Washington Capitals, but in many ways, he’s their heart and soul. Whether it be blocking shots, throwing hard body checks, or crashing the net for garbage goals, Laich isn’t scared to pay a physically tasking price in order to win hockey games.
The Caps Assistant Captain has come into his own as a leader over the last several seasons, but he still flies under the radar in many circles. This 3 time twenty goal scorer can basically do it all on a Caps team that struggled to win hockey games without him in the lineup last season.
9. Shane Doan – Phoenix Coyotes
The Phoenix Coyotes long serving captain is one of the fiercest competitors in the National Hockey League. This 11 time twenty goal scorer has ravaged under the radar for several years, however, people in Phoenix are well aware of the intense intangibles Shane Doan brings to the ice on a nightly basis.
The Coyotes leader won’t be known primarily for his ability to score goals, even though he’s a very capable finisher. It’s heart and soul that comes to mind when Doan’s name is called in conversation. He’s a hard hitting, tough to play against, all round force for the Phoenix Coyotes.
8. David Backes – St. Louis Blues
The Blues get nothing but fire from their blue collared captain. David Backes is rugged, rough and really competitive on the ice. He’ll burn opponents with a big goal, deadly hit, or vicious beating when someone steps out of line.
Twice, Backes has scored 30 goals in the NHL. He was nominated for the Selke as best defensive forward in hockey, back in 2011-12, and this season he will lead the charge on a hungry St. Louis Blues team with Stanley Cup aspirations.
7. Andrew Ladd – Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets made no mistake when they placed the ‘C’ on Andrew Ladd‘s chest. The two-time Stanley Cup winner is one of the game’s most competitive combatants. Ladd wins everywhere he plays, so don’t be surprised if the Jets have a very strong season, fuelled by the contributions of their fearless leader.
Ladd has flourished as a leader in Winnipeg. We always knew he could hit, grind and battle like few others, however, his offensive game has reached a new level, making him even more dangerous. Ladd scored twenty plus in his first two campaigns with the Thrashers/Jets organization, and followed it up with an 18 goal performance in last year’s 48 game lockout shortened season.
6. Ryan Callahan – New York Rangers
This Blueshirt is as blue collared as they come in the National Hockey League. Ryan Callahan hits like a ton of bricks and takes no prisoners on the ice. He’s a fan favourite in New York City because he brings it every single night, and leaves it all on the ice.
The New York Rangers‘ Captain and leader has cracked 20 goals four times, and was well on his way to doing so again with 16 tallies in 45 games last season. While Rick Nash steals all the coverage on the highlight reel, it will be the tenacity of Ryan Callahan that pushes the Rangers over the top as they embark on a journey to win their 1st Stanley Cup since 1994.
5. Ryan Kesler – Vancouver Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks Assistant Captain is pure heart and soul. Ryan Kesler plays with a take-no-prisoners attitude and everyone knows it. Kesler is not a smiley happy-go-lucky type of player – he’s a focused, dominant presence at centre ice who will crush you with a hit or punk you off the puck. Two words – Beast Mode.
The 2011 Selke winner is notoriously tough to play against. On top of just being a thorn in the side of his opponents, he’s also a former 40 goal scorer back in 2010-11 and one of the Canucks main reasons for making the Stanley Cup Finals that year. New Canucks’ coach John Tortorella is going to use Kesler in every situation, which is okay, he’s good at everything.
4. Jordan Staal – Carolina Hurricanes
Always hiding behind someone’s shadow, Jordan Staal is one of the NHL’s most effective two-way players, every single season. The Canes massive assistant captain plays second fiddle to his brother from a scoring standpoint, but when the dirty work needs to be done, Jordan’s is the first name called. He’s a defensive specialist with an offensive potency that was stifled immensely while he played behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh. Staal bought in, mastered play without the puck, and earned himself a Stanley Cup ring as one of the most essential contributors to the 2009 Stanley Cup winning Penguins. Staal was nominated for the Selke Trophy in 2009-10.
He’s a big boy who hits hard, but he also has a great set of hands he displays when capitalizing on a goal scoring opportunity created by his excellent defensive work ethic and savvy. Staal has scored 20 goals four times in the NHL, and at the young age of twenty-five years old, he’ll be scoring 20 again, for years to come.
3. Dustin Brown – Los Angeles Kings
Former NHL regular season hit leader, Dustin Brown, is a one man wrecking ball. A lot of hockey enthusiasts have been onto Brown’s status as one of the game’s most intangible players for a while, however, he truly made a mainstream name for himself in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he captained his Los Angeles Kings to the franchises’ first ever Stanley Cup victory. Brown was strongly considered for the Conn Smythe, in ode to a playoff performance consisting of 20 points in 20 games, several bone crushing hits, and an overall performance that will stand the test of time in Kings’ playoff folklore.
Brown is a five time 20 goal scorer, punisher of enemies, and a winner of individual battles. He’s built like a tank, goes to the net with authority, and leads by example with a never say ‘quit’ attitude that correlates with winning hockey games, and Stanley Cups.
2. Mike Richards – Los Angeles Kings
Mike Richards was really close to captaining his Philadelphia Flyers to a Stanley Cup victory in 2010, inevitably losing in 6 to the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals. Richards is one of the NHL’s best defensive centremen, and he really takes his game to a new level in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He finally won the Cup two years losing out with the Flyers. Richards was as a key piece on a Los Angeles Kings team that literally bullied their way to a Stanley Cup championship, with a compliment of skill and world class goaltending.
Richards is a regular point producer, aside from being one of the NHL’s most prolific hard workers and defensive juggernauts. He’s scored 30 goals twice, and reached the top tier point total of 80 back in 2008-09. He played on a line with Jonathan Toews and Rick Nash in Vancouver 2010, and they were unstoppable, on route to a Canadian Gold Medal.
1. Patrice Bergeron – Boston Bruins
It took a long while for the average NHL fan to realize what Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman, Boston Bruins fans, and Montreal Canadiens players have known for half a decade now – Patrice Bergeron is one of the most intense, positionally sound, mistake free hockey players in the world. Bergeron wins face offs, breaks up plays, forces turnovers, and if you hold the puck too long he’ll knock you with a solid heavy body check, as well.
In 2011, Bergeron did what very few NHL players will ever do when he scored the Stanley Cup clinching game winning goal against the Vancouver Canucks.
Bergeron brings it all the time, every time. He’s scored 20 goals four times throughout his career, been nominated for the Selke Trophy on more than one occasion, finally winning in 2012. Bergeron is a lock for Team Canada in 2014, he’s a guarantee to replace Zdeno Chara as Captain of the Bruins when the big man retires, and he’s starting to make a strong case for himself as the best defensive specialist in hockey history, or at least in the conversation with Bob Gainey and a few others.
Maybe what makes Bergeron so amazingly blue collared is that his name has become synonymous with doing the little things necessary to win. Typically, the spotlight casts no acclaim on defensive specialists who score at Bergeron’s clip. However, Patrice has become so dominant at essential defensive aspects – winning face offs, blocking shots, forcing turnovers, stealing pucks, that he earns regular recognition as one of the best players in the National Hockey League.
Bergeron is a good enough offensive talent that he could have an NHL career regardless of his dedication to defence first thinking. Yet, he chooses to master play in his own end, and without the puck. He’s possibly the only player in the NHL who would rather play a penalty kill than a power play. He’s a blue collar beast.