When I think checking forward, two things come to my mind. First, is a player who is responsible for shutting down the opponents’ top player. Secondly, is a player who is responsible defensively, knows when to throw the game changing hits, not afraid to block shots and can create turnovers.
This column will look at the top 10 checking forwards who have played for the Detroit Red Wings. It will not necessarily be the top players to ever play on the third/checking line but rather the players you would want on the ice against the opposing teams’ top players.
Honorable mentions go to Igor Larionov, Sheldon Kennedy, Joey Kocur, Mike Sillinger and Darren McCarty.
10. Kirk Maltby – A member of the “Grind Line” Maltby was a hard worker who according to The Hockey News “knew how to take opposing players off their game.” That’s the role of a checking forward, a player that can get opposing players so frustrated by the checking forward that they don’t play to their level, that’s Maltby! Maltby would kill penalties and would be counted on to give the team a boost when they needed it. Maltby won four Stanley Cups with Detroit.
9. Darren Helm – Helm is the Red Wings current checking forward and looks like he will fit right into the Red Wings philosophy. Helm is one of the most exciting Red Wings to watch as he is a very fast skater, who works very hard every time he steps onto the ice. Helm played a huge role in the Wings 2007-2008 Cup, where as a rookie he played more playoff games than regular season games that season. To show the kind of character this kid has, he played in all 18 playoff games on the way to a Stanley Cup that season and started the next season in the AHL but never complained. He bought into the Wings system and now is a key member of this franchise. He will develop into a Kris Draper type of player.
8. Kris Draper – Draper embraced the role as a checking line forward. He along with Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty formed the “Grind Line.” The “Grind Line” got their nickname because they would grind and wear out their opponents. Draper won one Selke trophy and four Stanley Cups. Draper would kill penalties and brought up the energy level every time he stepped on the ice. Draper is so good as a checking forward that he was selected for Canada’s Olympic team to play that role in 2006.
7. Gordie Howe – Howe got the nickname “Mr. Hockey” because he would do everything and was great at it all. His name is constantly in the talk of greatest of all-time, not only would Howe beat you on the score sheet but he would physically beat down his opponents too. He was not afraid to throw the elbows or drop the gloves. Howe recorded 1850 NHL points and 1685 NHL PIMS and won four Stanley Cups.
6. Henrik Zetterberg – The Red Wings drafting philosophy is to draft players with great hockey sense and Zetterberg is loaded with hockey sense. Zetterberg is one of the best two-way forwards in the league today. It’s rare to see a team’s top players killing penalties but that is what both Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk can do. Zetterberg showed he can score 90+ points and can take care of things in his own end. Just imagine his point totals if he wasn’t so defensive minded. Versatile players like Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Darren Helm are the reasons why the Red Wings remain a dominate team year in and year out.
5. Ted Lindsay – Lindsay scored 851 points and racked up over 1800 PIMs in 1068 games. Lindsay had a reputation for meanness which led to the nickname “Terrible.” Thanks to Lindsay’s rough play the NHL had to create penalties for elbowing and kneeing. Lindsay won four Stanley Cups.
4. Steve Yzerman – Yzerman was the third wheel in the late 80s, battling Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux for scoring titles. It wasn’t until he became one of the best two-way centers in the game that the Stanley Cups started to pour in. Yzerman is the ultimate team leader, as he could score points and would shut down the opposing team’s top line. Yzerman led by example and wasn’t afraid to block shots but unfortunately injuries slowed his career. Yzerman won one Selke trophy and was a valuable asset for three Stanley Cups and an Olympic Gold Medal.
3. Sergei Fedorov – During the mid-90s Fedorov was the game’s best two-way player in the World. Fedorov was two Selke Trophies and a Hart Trophy, showing that he could be counted on at both ends of the ice. Fedorov skating and hockey sense allowed him to see the play as they were unfolding and know when to step up for the steal. Fedorov was a defensive force his whole career, so much so that he even played a little defense and was a key member of two Red Wings Stanley Cups.
2. Marty Pavelich – You’re asking who? Pavelich played in the 50s who put up respectable offensive numbers, was an NHL All-Star four times and won four Stanley Cups. He was the Kris Draper of his era; his job was to shut down the opposing team’s top scorer. Pavelich was so good at his job that Stan Fischler ranked him fourth overall as best defensive forward of all-time in his book Hockey’s 100: A Personal Ranking of the Best Players in Hockey History. Fischler wrote “Pavelich was a slithery center who tormented the foe with his tenacious checking.”
1. Pavel Datsyuk – The Red Wings continue to prove that they can be a dominating team by asking their superstar players to be defensively responsible. There is no doubt that Datsyuk has elite offensive skill, scoring 90+ points on more than one occasion and on any other team he probably would be a consistent threat for NHL scoring leader, but not on Detroit. The Red Wings have no problem matching first line against first line because they know Datsyuk is an elite defensive forward. Datsyuk is the reigning Selke Trophy winner and has been for the last three years.
Aaron Brouwer is the co-creator of fantasyhockeycoach.com. FHC is a free fantasy hockey service that developed a ranking system combining post-lockout statistics, current factors and our own hockey knowledge. Brouwer writes a weekly fantasy hockey column for The Star Phoenix, Fantrax, Inside Hockey and Bleacher Report. Email Coach Brouwer at [email protected] or check us out on twitter at twitter.com/fanhockeycoach.