Being a strong hockey player has its perks. A big, powerful player might be able to play a crash and bang style, separate opponents from the puck and throw down with the best of them in a scrap.
Being strong on the puck is a completely different animal.
It's one thing to be strong and physically intimidating, but it's another thing to be able to hold onto the puck with a defender draped over your back, or multiple sticks and bodies flying around you as you try to squeeze out of the corner.
There are players who are capable of possessing the puck with soft hands and blazing speed, but there are others who have made a career of using sheer strength, balance and body positioning to hold on to the puck for as long as possible in an attempt to open up passing lanes, allow plays to develop and wear out opponents en route to a scoring opportunity.
The players highlighted in this list might not come off as the biggest, baddest, or strongest players in the National Hockey League - rather, they are the players considered "strongest on the puck" - those who are practically impossible to regain possession from when the puck is on their stick.
Many assume this involves size and strength, but puck protection is an art, learned through years of practice and honed to perfection with experience.
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14 Brent Burns
You might be able to make that argument that Brent Burns is able to fend off opposing players with his grizzly beard alone, but we'll give credit where credit is due. Burns plays the game with some bear-like tendencies; ferocious along the boards and as intimidating as they come. Burns is as strong on the puck in his own zone when he's manning the blueline as he is up front banging away in the corners. His ability to work along the boards down low has helped him carve out a niche as a power forward and offensive defenseman, and its helped revive his career.
14. Henrik Zetterberg
Its easy to forget all the little things Henrik Zetterberg does well when you're busy watching him work magic all over the ice. Zetterberg has earned a reputation as not only one of the best in the game, but also one of the toughest to go up against in one-on-one battles. While some of his illustrious teammates over the year have put up gaudy point totals with finesse, Zetterberg has managed to blend a rugged style into his play that make him one of the hardest players to knock off the puck.
13 Jakub Voracek
It took Jakub Voracek awhile to use his strengths properly at the highest level, but he finally put it all together last season with the Philadelphia Flyers. He's off to a slow start this season, but his size and ability to protect the puck haven't simply vanished. Voracek established himself as a top-end playmaker last year and a lot of it had to do with the honing of his puck protection ability. His refined game combined with his size have earned him a reputation as one of the strongest puck possessors in the NHL.
12 Tyler Seguin
Tyler Seguin's game is predicated on speed and skill, but many forget how strong he is with the puck on his stick. He's tough to catch to begin with, but opponents will often find themselves having as much difficulty knocking him off the puck as they did skating down the ice with him. Seguin has not only developed as a player over the past few seasons in Dallas - he's also grown into his body and has learned to his size and strength to protect the puck.
11 Jamie Benn
Jamie Benn's stock has skyrocketed over the past couple of season, as he and Tyler Seguin have formed the most lethal dynamic duo in the entire league. A lot of is has to do with the development of Seguin, but many have inexplicably overlooked Benn's ascension to super-stardom. Benn is a threat to score every time he enters the offensive zone and a lot of it has to do with his size and ability to contain the puck while space opens up for him and his teammates. Its hard enough to knock the puck off a high-end talent, but the task becomes even more challenging when you're dealing with a guy with Benn's hockey sense, size and tenacity.
10 Anze Kopitar
Anze Kopitar's name often slips through the cracks when discussing top-line NHL centres. The "East Coast Bias" is well and alive in the NHL, and it affects Kopitar as much as any other player who stars in late games on the West Coast.
Those who stay up late to watch Kopitar dominate (perhaps not so much this season, but I digress) know about his sheer strength and will when the puck is on his blade. Like many on this list, Kopitar is a fairly big man and he uses his lower body strength to shield the puck and hold off forecheckers - and its translated into several successful years with two championship-winning Kings teams.
9 Rick Nash
Rick Nash is an absolute bull on the puck and the rest of the NHL is aware of it. He's incredibly difficult to take the puck away from and, at a glance, one might assume Nash only does it with his large frame. However, go through a few Rick Nash highlight reels and that perception vanishes. Nash is just as effective using his soft hands and speed to get around and through the opposition, and no matter how many opponents are draped over him, he'll likely still come out of the battle with the puck on his stick.
8 Marian Hossa
Marian Hossa has carved out a niche as one the NHL's soundest players - a guy who can play 200 feet, be reliable defensively and still threaten offensively every time the puck is on his stick. Hossa, though, should also be recognized for his ability to hang on to the puck, especially in the offensive zone. He's not the tallest player out there, but he's stout and hard to move, making stripping the puck off of him a near impossible task for even the best defenders in the league. That attribute has allowed Hossa to wear multiple hats throughout his NHL career. He's been effective as a sniper and playmaker, smoothly transitioning between silky smooth and rugged from year to year, game to game and shift to shift.
7 Ryan Getzlaf
If Ryan Getzlaf is going into the corner (or any other part of the ice, for that matter), with an opponent, he's likely coming out of there with the puck and an opportunity to put the puck in the net.
Dubbed the big, prototypical number one center, Getzlaf has made a career of winning the puck and hanging onto it while his teammates (notably Corey Perry) work to create open space for him to feed them. Getzlaf is a behemoth on skates and his strength and balance make him incredibly difficult to move, let alone steal the puck off of.
6 Joe Thornton
When it's all said and done, Joe Thornton will likely go down as one of the finest playmakers in NHL history. Jumbo Joe has racked up more assists than most players have points, and Thornton can credit a lot of that success to his strength on the puck. He's got quick hands, making it hard enough to dislodge the puck off his blade, and he combines that with brute strength, making him one of the toughest players to knock off the puck. His strength and puck possession skills draw more attention to him, opening up teammates for him to set up with the perfect pass.
5 Alex Ovechkin
Was there any doubt Alex Ovechkin would find a spot on this list? The Great 8 is best known for his rocket launcher of a shot and the breakneck pace he tends to play the game at, but we often forget his ability to win and possess the puck. A lot of it is thanks to the respect he's garnered around the league - no one wants to give an inch and have Ovechkin take a mile - but when he's engaged physically, its often him who's initiating contact, even when he's the one with the puck on his stick. Ovechkin also plays with his motor running on high the entire game; half the battle with winning and possessing the puck is simply wanting it more than the other guy - and no one wants the puck more than Ovechkin.
4 Jonathan Toews
It's always the quiet ones.
Of the ice, Jonathan Toews is monotonous and soft-spoken. On the ice, he's a fiery competitor with a skill set that is practically unmatched throughout the NHL. One of the strongest parts of Toews game is his ability to corral and hold onto the puck, even with much bigger players bearing down on him. Toews has established himself as one of the strongest players on the puck in the league today, which has helped him not only step up his offensive production but solidify his spot as a top-end two-way forward.
3 Pavel Datsyuk
Many of the players on this list earned their spot through their ability to protect the puck with strength and size. Pavel Datsyuk is on this list for very different (and unique) reasons.
They don't call him "The Magic Man" for nothing. Datsyuk's puck-handling skills are second to none and even when he's getting leaned on a little bit there's practically no chance the puck is coming off his tape involuntarily. Over the years, Datsyuk has proven that size (and draft status) don't count for everything - and he reminds us all of that every time he's stronger on the puck than a bigger, highly touted player (which happens pretty much every single night).
2 Jaromir Jagr
If we were to appoint a king of puck protection based on the entirety of the player's career, Jaromir Jagr would win the crown by a landslide.
For all the incredible things Jaromir Jagr has done as a hockey player over the last twenty years, one thing that has become nearly synonymous with Jagr is his ability (and method) to protect the puck. Jagr has patented the "butt shield" or "butt block," or whatever you want to call it. Unflattering name aside, it works and no one does it better than Jagr. Even in his 40s, he's still holding off much younger, faster players, thanks to his brute strength, experience...and, well, he's still Jaromir Jagr.
1 Sidney Crosby
As good and great as Jagr is at being strong on the puck, no one in the game today does it quite like Sidney Crosby.
Crosby's puck protection and strength while carrying it can be attributed to a number of things. For starters, his hockey sense and awareness on the ice is nearly unparalleled. He knows where he's going with the puck well before he's made his move, which allows him to get into better position to execute his plan.
More importantly, perhaps, is his legendary lower-body strength. TSN host James Duthie, among others, have written about Crosby's freakishly large legs and thighs, which help him not only accelerate incredibly quickly, but also gives him an edge when he's trying to hold off opponents down low.
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