A big hit can rile up a crowd just as much as a big goal. There’s just something about two freight trains colliding that can turn an entire game around. We’ve all seen it; the big hit along the boards, the one that rattles the glass like an earthquake, and causes the first few rows to flinch and spill their drinks. The one you can practically feel through your TV. The one that gets you on your feet and excited.
And just like the player that got crushed, we make note of the hitter. Because that’s what we do. This week’s Hockey’s Future Top 5 takes a look at the Biggest Hitters among NHL prospects.
A future fan favorite in Boston, Anthony Camara has garnered quite the reputation when it comes to his body-checking ability. He was long considered to be one of the most feared players to play against in the OHL because of his propensity to lay bone-shattering hits, and that term isn’t used lightly; his hits have literally broken bones and caused substantial injury. As ‘wicked’ as hits are, there are times when Camara crosses the line, so he’ll have to be more aware if he wants to avoid suspensions. Today, the 21-year-old currently racks up monstrous hits in Providence of the AHL and is carving out a solid role for himself within the Bruins organization. While he’ll never be a top-6 forward in the NHL, Camara’s ticket to the NHL will no doubt be stamped by his physicality.
Anton Karlsson loves to hit people. He’ll hit anything that moves. It’s not that out of the ordinary to see a shift where he racks two, three, even four hits; it’s like he’s playing NHL ’15 in real life. The youngest player on our list, Karlsson often chases the big hit, so much so that he’ll often be out of position or give up a play. It’s a catch-22 because teams love his competitive edge and willingness to be physical, but he’s a hockey-player first and foremost, not a crash-test dummy.
Like a lot of young bangers and crashers, Karlsson doesn’t have to touch the puck to be happy; he’s content with just running people over, and it’s obvious by the way he smiles every time he lays a big hit. Not quite as deadly with his checks as Camara, Karlsson makes up for the lack of force with sheer quantity.
Considered by OHL coaches as the best hitter in the OHL’s Eastern Conference last season, the Peterborough Petes’ Nick Ritchie is pain on skates. While he’s not as overly aggressive to make the big hit, when he does make contact, it’s with intent. It’s almost uncomfortable to watch the hit recipient’s facial expressions when Ritchie really gets into a hit; it’s a non-stop train to grimace-town. Ritchie uses his 6’3’’ frame with deadly precision, and he’s probably one of the smoothest hitters in the game right now. Seeing him crash into the boards looks so effortless, in a strange way – when he’s causing pure agony to the opposition, he looks peaceful.
Some players grow out of being big hitters when they make the leap to the big leagues; it’s more difficult to body-check grown men than it is to run over a lanky teenager. The difference is like that between a pillow and a wall. But then some players grow into becoming the Kool-Aid Man, and just smash through every wall they see. That’s Nicolas Deslauriers. Currently the leader among all NHL rookies in hits, and eighth in the league overall, Deslauriers is quickly making a name for himself around the league (and in fantasy hockey circles). One of the most intriguing facets of his hitting game is his speed. He uses his quick legs to generate force, and has made some gigantic hits on big, unsuspecting NHL players because they wrongly believed they had the time to make a play without contact. That being said, Deslauriers is toeing the line.
1. Nikita Zadorov – Buffalo Sabres
Six-foot-five and two hundred and thirty-five pounds, Nikita Zadorov is a deadly weapon on skates. Considered the best body-checker out of his strong 2013 draft class, Zadorov tops our list on power alone. The former London Knights defender has a bit of a mean streak, too, and when he really gets agitated, enemies beware.
Zadorov often times will use the hip-check to thwart forwards coming into the zone–a throwback of sorts to defenders of old. But he’s at his absolute scariest form when he’s chasing the puck in the corners. Already a big man, it doesn’t take much for Zadorov to completely level the opposition along his defensive boards, and often times players will just run into him and comically fall over; in Russia you don’t hit Zadorov, Zadorov hits you.
Honorable Mentions: Jake Virtanen, Jonathan MacLeod, Patrick Seiloff, Mark Cundari, Hudson Fasching, Matt Dumba, Josh Anderson
Who do you think is the best and biggest hitting prospect in all of hockey? Are we missing anyone in our top 5? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Follow Craig Fischer on Twitter via @fgiarc