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Top 15 Toughest Players in NHL History

Dropping the gloves and going toe-to-toe with your opponent doesn’t necessarily make you a tough hockey player, especially in this era of staged fights. What makes a hockey player tough is his ability to dish out and take bone-crunching body checks on a consistent basis as well as a combination of durability and skill. There have been many tough guys in the NHL who could throw their fists, but didn’t have the talent to do much else. A good tough forward shines in both ends of the rink, can set up his teammates and also knows how to put the puck in the net himself. Tough defencemen use their bodies to block shots and clear out the front of the net while some of them also have fine offensive skills.

Another sign of toughness is being able to play through pain and injuries. Some of the toughest players in history have endured major pain during their playing days, but it was tough to keep them away from the rink. It’s often hard to compare different eras in sports, but a tough guy back in the 1940s was just as tough or tougher than the tough guys of today. Many of the bygone players suited up in a six-team league, didn’t wear a helmet and wore flimsy equipment at best.

There are easily dozens of candidates for this list, but after narrowing it down these are 15 of the toughest sons of guns to ever lace up a pair of skates in the NHL. They’re each as tough as nails and possessed the essential skills needed to succeed at the elite level.

15 Borje Salming

via hockeysvierige.com

14 Red Horner

via vintageleafs.blogspot.com

13 Bob Baun

via ichill.ca

12 Clark Gillies

via saskprosportshalloffame.com

11 Jim Schoenfeld

via gamewornauctions.com

Former Buffalo Sabres captain Jim Schoenfeld was one of the most underrated defencemen in history. Schoenfeld wasn’t overly skilled offensively, but this guy could do it all in his own zone. He was probably the NHL’s greatest shot-blocker and a scary opponent when dropping his gloves. Schoenfeld and Wayne Cashman of the Bruins went at it one night in 1973 at the old Buffalo Auditorium in one of the league’s all-time classic fights. Both players crashed through the end gate and Schoenfeld proceeded to land haymakers on his opponent in the rink’s hallway next to the Zamboni.

10 John Ferguson

via winnipegfreepress.com

9 Tie Domi

via thescore.com

8 Cam Neely

via bleacherreport.net

7 Wendel Clark

via youtube.com

6 Maurice 'Rocket' Richard

via sbnation.com

Rocket Richard was a hockey legend with the Montreal Canadiens between 1942 and 1960. The Hall of Fame winger played 978 regular-season games and scored 544 goals and 421 assists for 965 points. He also served 1,285 minutes in penalties while making the All Star Team eight times and taking home the 1947 Hart Trophy. Richard was well known for his fiery temper which sometimes got the better of him. He earned a long suspension for hitting a linesman back in 1955 and this season-ending ban eventually resulted in a riot at the old Montreal Forum. Richard fought his own battles even though he was just 5-foot-10 and played through several injuries. He also appeared in 133 postseason matches where he racked up 126 points and 188 PIM.

5 Scott Stevens

via espn.com

4 Mark Messier

via xsport.ua

3 Bob Probert

via nhl.com

2 Tiger Williams

via nhl.com

1 Gordie Howe

via pixshark.com

There’s a reason Gordie Howe is known as Mr. Hockey. This guy could do it all. Howe could skate, pass, shoot, score, hit and fight at an elite level. He was incredibly durable and owned just about every NHL record imaginable until Wayne Gretzky came along. Howe played in the NHL from 1946 to 1971 with Detroit and then spent six years in the WHA. He returned to the NHL in 1979-80 with the Hartford Whalers and finally hung up his skates at the age of 51 after 32 major pro seasons. He finished his career with 1,767 regular-season games played and scored 1,859 points on 801 goals and 1,049 assists. He also served 1,685 penalty minutes. Howe would undoubtedly have spent more time in the penalty box, but after a few seasons in the league everybody had the sense to stay away from him, especially after he destroyed New York Rangers tough guy Lou Fontinato in a gruesome fight. The Hall of Famer added 160 points in 157 postseason games along with another 220 PIM. To this day a goal, assist and a fight is known as a Gordie Howe hat trick.

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Top 15 Toughest Players in NHL History