Coming up with a list of the hardest hitters in NHL history was no easy chore. There have been some true beasts throughout the years. Going way back into the annals of NHL history you can find great body-checkers like Sprague Cleghorn, Eddie Shore, Ted Lindsay, Tim Horton and Gordie Howe. However, over the last 40 years the players have increased so much in size and strength and skate so much faster that hits delivered in this era are far more devastating than those in days gone by. Even though every player in today’s game is required to wear a helmet and the padding worn by players is far superior to that of yesteryear injuries from clean, hard bodychecks are an increasingly common occurrence. Old time fans of the sport may complain that my list is too modern, and some of those bruisers from the 1920s – 1960s should be included. However, for my money the men I’ve settled on would win a collision against the smaller hitters from the golden era of hockey. So who made my cut for the hardest hitters in NHL history? Read on to find out:
10 – Dion Phaneuf
Strangely, this guy was arguably a more punishing hitter as a rookie than he is today. However, though he may have toned his physical game down a notch since entering the league in 2005 he can still crank opposing forwards with the best of them. Phaneuf was an absolute beast in junior hockey, and truly seemed a man playing among boys at that level. He had no trouble dealing with the larger sized players in the NHL and his penchant for catching forwards with their heads down reminds many of the way Scott Stevens used to play.
9 – Vladimir Konstantinov
Before the tragic car accident that abruptly ended his hockey career, Vladimir Konstantinov was one of the most feared blueliners in the game. His Russian teammates on the Detroit Red Wings were known predominantly for their incredible skill. Konstantinov earned his pay a different way: by crushing anyone bold (or stupid) enough to engage with him. Not the biggest guy in the world at just 5’11” and 176 lbs, but pound for pound as hard a hitter as the game has seen in recent memory.
8 – Bryan Marchment
Not only would this guy hit you hard, he had no problem hitting you low either, and more than one NHL forward was forced to miss significant time due to knee injuries suffered as a result of being low-bridged by Marchment. One of the least popular players in the game, and by many accounts, one of the dirtiest, Marchment certainly didn’t make a lot of friends during his career. However, he wasn’t there to make friends. He was there to make sure opposing players were scared to come over his blueline, and that was a task he was very effective at.
7 – Darius Kasparaitis
In an era when many European-born players were criticized by Don Cherry and others as being too soft, Darius Kasparaitis was doing his part to eliminate that particular stereotype. Kasparaitis was one of the meanest hombres of the 90s, and his hits, particularly his hip-checks, reflected that mean streak. As a member of the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins he had many memorable collisions with Eric Lindros, then with the Philadelphia Flyers, including one that concussed Lindros, and might have been just as significant as the legendary Scott Stevens hit on Lindros in terms of impacting 88’s long-term health.
6 – Cam Neely
Though it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see defensemen dominating this list of the hardest hitters in NHL history there have been a few forwards that could devastate opponents as effectively as even the hardest hitting blueliners. One would think these slots would be filled by enforcers or 4th line energy players, but here we find a bona fide superstar who was one of the greatest snipers in the game. Yes, Neely could fill the net, but watching him you got the sense that he was just as happy delivering a big hit as he was bulging the twine. Neely was so adept at crushing his opponents that he could do so even when carrying the puck. If a defenseman made the mistake of trying to stand Neely up he’d simply push the puck into the d-man’s skates and then level him as that player looked down at his feet. Neely would then scoop up the puck from his fallen adversary and continue on his way to the net. Sadly, another bruising hitter – Ulf Samuelsson – would get the better of this ferocious competitor, doing so much damage to Neely’s lower body that he was forced to retire while still in his prime.
5 – Denis Potvin
It’s been said that if Bobby Orr had never come along that many people would consider this man the greatest NHL defenseman of all time. Yes, he was that good. He was the first defenseman to score over 300 goals and 1,000 points in an NHL career, and was a lynchpin on the blueline for the New York Islanders when they won 4 straight Stanley Cups in the early 80s. However, though he was known predominantly for his offensive prowess any forward that played against Potvin on a regular basis could tell you what a beast this guy was. Stocky, compact and immensely strong, Potvin ran over anyone stupid enough to stay in the trolley tracks. He liked to lay a particular bad hurtin’ on anyone wearing a New York Rangers uniform and chants of “Potvin Sucks!” can still be heard in Madison Square Gardens to this day.
4 – Wendel Clark
Don’t mess with a Saskatchewan farm boy. Wendel Clark was far from the biggest forward around, but if he ran into you in the corner, or in open ice, you knew it. Clark was like a bull on the ice, and he tended to travel in straight lines, running over anyone who got in between him and the net. He delivered one of the most devastating hits I’ve ever seen when he came around the net and KO’d Bruce Bell of the St. Louis Blues. One of Bell’s teammates challenged Clark to a fight and Clark simply pointed to Bell lying unconscious on the ground. Perhaps he was urging him to help, but maybe he was warning him that he would wind up in a similar situation if he proceeded with the fight.
3 – Larry Robinson
Thinking back to the glory days of the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s, one of course remembers the heroics of forwards like Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt and the brilliant goaltending of Ken Dryden. However, arguably the biggest reason for the team’s great success in those years was the play of “The Big Three” defensemen – Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe and Larry Robinson. Robinson was electrifying in his ability to rush the puck and jumpstart the Habs offense, but he was also one of the most implacable, fearless players in the game, and woe to anyone who raised his ire. Robinson wasn’t shy about throwing his weight around, and he delivered arguably the hardest hit in NHL history, literally breaking the boards when he closed the gap on Philadelphia’s Gary Dornhoefer. Don’t believe me? Watch the video evidence of Robinson’s hit on Dornhoefer below:
2 – Eric Lindros
If ever there was a player built to be a hockey player it was Eric Lindros. Tall, thick, strong, fast and possessed of an incredibly deft set of hands, Lindros could punish opponents in the corner, on the scoreboard or with his fists. When he came barreling in on the forecheck the first image that came to mind was a runaway freight train. Defenders must have been shaking in their skates going back to get the puck, knowing that this force of nature was bearing down on them. Unfortunately, this former Legion of Doomer’s own style would ultimately keep him from reaching his full potential. He suffered multiple concussions in collisions with other bruisers like Kasparaitis and Scott Stevens and though he continued to play for a number of years following those injuries he was never again the dominant player he’d been in the early years of his career.
1 – Scott Stevens
This selection should be no mystery to anyone who follows the sport of hockey. Scott Stevens was a predator out on the ice, and anyone who came into his territory was hunted with lethal intent. Stevens didn’t discriminate. He was equally likely to hammer a 4th line grinder or a superstar. His victims included the aforementioned Eric Lindros, Ron Francis and Paul Kariya, all of whom were knocked senseless as a result. Want more evidence showing just how devastating an open-ice hitter this guy was? Watch this video compilation of Stevens’ hardest bodychecks below: