Top 10 penalty killing forwards in the League

After some critical thinking and overall internal debate, Alexander Monaghan and NHL Hot Stove proudly bring to you the elite defensive forwards, the kings of the penalty kill.

When looking at a team, the main penalty killer very rarely gets their due.  Whether it be a goon for an affinity for blocking shots or a player who simply refuses to give up on a play, the penalty killers deserve some credit for the final outcome of a game.  Without their 100 percent effort every night a good team can crumble and further succumb to failure.

Top 10

  1. Jay McClement – Nobody came near to the amount of short handed ice time McClemment experienced last season.  In fact, only three players total (all defenseman) had more short handed time of ice than this center.  Last season the St. Louis Blues finished first in penalty killing thanks to the effort from this Brampton Battalion alumni.  Aside from his 300 plus minutes on the kill, he also contributed with 29 points– none of which same shorthanded.  As far as traditional checking line players go, McClement is as genuine as they get.  Not necessarily a threat but incredibly defensively aware and able to never get caught out of position.  Throw in his league leading 189 shorthanded faceoffs won and we will show you the master of the kill.
  2. Alexandre Burrows – Burrows shocked the world with his breakout season last year playing alongside Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin.  However, what most people failed to notice was his excellent work on the penalty kill.  Before stardom on the first line, the French Canadian winger was known for his agitating nature and ability to throw the opposition off of their game. Last season he was able to do that quite often as he led the league in shorthanded points with seven.  While statistics like shorthanded points may be volatile his effort every night remained consistent last season and should do the same once he returns to the ice.  The pesky Burrows helped the Canucks finish second last season in shorthanded goals, by percentage a lone bright spot in the Canucks penalty killing.
  3. LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Marian Hossa #81 of the Chicago Black Hawks controls a puck against the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on November 28, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  4. Marian Hossa – Hossa could have claimed the lead in shorthanded points had he not missed 25 games.  The two-way winger showed his true value as he finally became the elite player on both ends of the ice.  Chicago finished fourth overall in penalty killing percentage with an impressive 85.3 while leading the league in shorthanded goals with 13.  Last season seemed to be a perfect storm of sorts for the Blackhawks as they were truly one of the best teams defensively and an absolute powerhouse on offense.  A threat like Hossa seems to be not only a luxury but one of the most dangerous assets to have on the ice.  Worth every dollar he is paid.
  5. Jordan Staal – This perennial candidate for the Selke makes the cut in the top ten thanks to racking up the time of ice on the kill.  Whenever anyone talks about top defensive forwards Staal always seems to make the cut while posting close to 20 goals of his own.  Last season, he registered a healthy 274:08 on the penalty kill in addition to his 118 shorthanded faceoffs won– only McClement finished with more time as a forward.  Not only can Staal establish himself as a threat on the forecheck, his size and strength make him a very valuable playing at the other end.
  6. Rene Bourque – One of the most consistent threats on the penalty kill.  Not only does Bourque’s speed lead to many opportunities but manages to finish his opportunities every year.  Over the past three years, Bourque has combined for a whopping 10 shorthanded goals.  GM Darryl Sutter knew what he would be getting when he traded for Bourque and because of that let him flourish amid a defensive system.  Size, skill and speed lead to this young man having a very bright future in the league after coming to the Blackhawks undrafted.  His unique path from the AJHL to the University of Wisconsin and eventually the NHL taught Bourque how to play hockey the right way on both sides of the ice.
  7. Vernon Fiddler -  This list will probably be the only list you see Fiddler’s name on, ever.  Also undrafted, the center helped define the hardworking nature of the Nashville Predators before doing the same with the Phoenix Coyotes.  Last season, Fiddler absolutely racked up the shorthanded time of ice with 234:58, helping the defensive minded Coyotes reach the playoffs for the first time in seven years.  The team would finish 6th overall in penalty killing, fourth overall amongst Western Conference teams.  The speedy Fiddler a part of the mold as his other fast, defensive forwards like Lauri Korpikoski and Scottie Upshall as the team learned discipline from head coach Dave Tippett.  In Fiddler’s case, the lesson seemed to sink in.
  8. PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 31: Darren Helm #43 of the Detroit Red Wings prepares for a face-off against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena on January 31, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Penguins defeated the Red Wings 2-1. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

  9. Darren Helm – Helm represents the little engine that could on the Red Wings penalty kill.  His tenacity may be exemplified by his strong playoff performances but regardless Detroit really have a very special player who may be than just a specialist.  Very few players can kill a penalty for the entire two minutes, it seems to be nearly impossible, but if anyone could wear down the opponent to that degree, my bet would be on Helm.  Exhibit A, the shift which would not end.  With the greats like Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby helping this kid develop it will only be a matter of time before we see another two-way stalwart.
  10. Todd Marchant – Little has been made about Marchant since he left Columbus but quietly he has maintained a strong level of defensive awareness.  Last season, only Staal and McClement logged more ice time amongst forwards as he really needed to step up following the departures of Travis Moen, Rob Niedermayer and Sammy Pahlsson. Marchant also blocked 69 shots last year, putting his 37-year-old body to the test.
  11. Chris Drury – For some reason Drury almost did not make the cut.  Maybe it was his albatross contract, maybe it was a little lack of production.  Regardless, he captained one of the best penalty kills in the Eastern Conference and blocked more shots than any forward in the league.  His fourth line presence during the Olympics showed younger players the proper way to block shots.  In addition, he won an impressive 140 shorthanded faceoffs, good for sixth in the league.
  12. Pahlsson - This Swedish center came into the limelight when the Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup.  His presence on the third line and on the penalty kill helped the team erase penalties and the opposition’s attack.  Even on a bad team like Columbus, the crafty pivot won 138 shorthanded faceoffs and finished at 11th in shorthanded time of ice.  Stick Pahlsson on a star forward and see how effective he can be shadowing him all game.  He has quietly done this for years.

We hope you enjoyed our top ten, as a bonus here is another ten who make the cut as honorable mention.  Afterall, this article focuses on the best in their craft and giving press the the underrated defensive specialist.

Honorable Mention:

PHILADELPHIA - NOVEMBER 02:  Blair Betts #11 of the Philadelphia Flyers looks on against the Tampa Bay Lightning on November 2, 2009 at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Flyers won the game 6-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)(in no particular order)

Blair Betts – The former New York Ranger amassed 3:09 on the penalty kill, good for fifth in the league.  Had he not been injured last year he probably would have ranked higher in shorthanded time of ice.  His presence as well as his partner Ian Laperierre helped take the pressure off scoring forwards like Mike Richards and Simon Gagne– who previously spent time on the top unit.  Betts also ranked 14th amongst forwards with blocked shots.

Laperierre – We touched the subject briefly above but Lappy had some standout statistics of his own.  He finished sixth in the league in blocked shots while showing leadership to all young Flyer forwards.  He can be relied on defensively or to stand up for a teammate which is rare in this generation of NHL forwards.  At 36-years-old he may have lost a step but his value to his team has not taken a hit as he ranked 8th amongst forwards in shorthanded time of ice.

Chris Kelly – The Senators actually boasted an underrated penalty kill last season, in fact it was the fourth highest in the Eastern Conference.  Leading the way in shorthanded ice time and fifth overall in the league was Kelly, who reestablished himself as a top penalty killer.  Known somewhat for his timely goals in the early portion of his career, Kelly’s inconsistency defined the teams he played for.  At 29-years-old Kelly now makes a name for himself as an excellent two-way center and a perfect supplement to Mike Fisher as he handles more of the scoring duties.  He certainly grew into this role and deserves some due for it.

Ryan O’Reilly – This kid burst onto the scene after immediately making the team.  We all knew Matt Duchene would play for Colorado but when their second pick made the cut we knew it could be something special.  He finished directly behind Kelly in shorthanded time of ice and helped the surprising Colorado Avalanche return to the playoffs despite registering the second least shots on goal.  Their careful play led in part by O’Reilly helped this team succeed amid pretty hefty competition.

Marty Reasoner – Reasoner played a great game in his own end last season for the Atlanta Thrashers, making him look like a steal by Stan Bowman of the Chicago Blackhawks.  Unfortunately, due to even more salary cap issues the Hawks were unable to hold on to the crafty veteran and shipped him over to the rebuilding Florida Panthers.  As a Panther he should show young players how to play the game in an honest, hard working manner.  Last season only Marchant, Staal and McClement played more shorthanded as Reasoner carried the load for the Thrashers.  Expect more of the same in Florida.

Daniel Winnik – Part of the surprising Coyotes team, Winnik helped the team make the playoffs with his effort every shift. Similarly to Reasoner this trait got absolutely no respect as the team traded him to rival Colorado.  With players like Fiddler and Korpikoski already manning the penalty kill, Winnik became expendable.  Afterall, he did make the team out of seemingly nowhere and probably hit his ceiling.  He finished 10th in shorthanded time of ice last season and even blocked 54 shots.  His experience should help the young Avalanche like O’Reilly as they attempt to build on a good year.

David Steckel – Fourth line centers on offensive powerhouses rarely get their due.  Steckel deserves it here with his 186 shorthanded faceoff wins and team leading 2:51 on the kill.  We have gone on about this story for a while but Steckel continues to be one of the few who care about the other side of the ice– making him a very valuable player for the team.  Similar to Matt Moulson, the Los Angeles Kings could afford to let him go with their plethora of young forwards, but Steckel deserves some credit for his every night effort. NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 23: Antoine Vermette #50 of the Columbus Blue Jackets looks on against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 23, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Blue Jackets 6-3. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)Perhaps the most impressive thing about Steckel is that among the league leaders in shorthanded faceoff wins, only he had an average well above 50 percent.  In truth, a monster in the faceoff circle.  

Antoine Vermette – In his first full season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, center/winger Vermette finished with career highs.  In fact, his season stood out to me so much that he has been listed as most likely to succeed for his team.  However, his speed and skill has not all been used towards scoring goals — he happens to be a prolific penalty killer as well.  He registered two assists while playing the kill with captain Rick Nash.  More importantly, he ranked 9th in shorthanded faceoffs won and 20th in total shorthanded time of ice.  Considering how many Blue Jackets could have made this list, they should improve next season on the kill.  However, we all know the team’s best penalty killer should always be their goal– something the team severely lacked last year

Ryan Kesler – During the Olympics Kesler finally came out to the hockey world that he would refuse to be ignored.  His combination of size, skill and speed helped account for his gigantic raise in value.  Not only does he bang with the best of them, he can hurt you at both ends of the ice.  His 118 shorthanded faceoffs won tied Staal as he received his (ED Note. second) nomination for the Selke.  Kesler looks every bit as good as he is billed and the Canucks utilized him with over 218 minutes on the kill last season.  With the addition of Manny Malhotra, there should be extra pressure taken off Kesler coming into next season.

Tomas Plekanec – Mostly because of an off season the year before, Plekanec received very little due for both carrying the offensive load and remaining a constant on the defensive side of things.  He tallied over 224 minutes on the penalty kill for a decent Montral Canadiens team and blocked an impressive 63 shots.  His 146 shorthanded faceoffs won should also be commended as they finished fourth in the league.

We hope you enjoyed our piece on the men who give their all every night on the penalty kill.  Use the comments section to complain about our glaring omissions, we encourage it.  You can also follow us on twitter, @NHLHotStove.

Alexander Monaghan
Managing Editor
amonaghan@nhlhotstove.com
@NHLHotstove