Ever since the New Jersey Devils assembled a coaching staff with Lou Lamoriello, Scott Stevens and Adam Oates sharing leadership duties, the team has shown an increased emphasis on toughness. Players like Mark Fraser, Jordin Tootoo and Tim Sestito, have been stepping up and standing up for teammates. Yes, it is a different NHL but the Devils have a history of physicality and imposing their will upon opponents.
That history includes a list of enforcers, agitators and intimidating forces on the ice. Needless to say, it has always been advisable to keep one’s head up, when navigating the Garden State ice.
A few years back I pieced together a list a list of top enforcers who came through Albany, headlined by Rob Skrlac.
Just like Skrlac, the list of enforcers below, restored order in New Jersey.
10.) Claude Lemieux – Starting off the list, I was torn between going with guys that had a ton of penalty minutes and enforcers that played for the club but maybe weren’t in New Jersey that long. Instead, I settled on the ultimate agitator in Lemieux. Lemieux knew how to get under the skin of the opposition and could really spark the club in a variety of ways. The 1995 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, racked up 627 penalty minutes with the Devils.
9.) Reid Simpson – Simmer was one of the first big time fighters I remember from back in 1993 with Albany. As the “Crash Line” began to dissolve and players Randy McKay and Bobby Holik began to take on different roles, Simpson took care of the dirty work. Simpson was one tough customer and in parts of four seasons with New Jersey, he accumulated 182 penalty minutes.
8.) Jim McKenzie – With the likes of Krzystof Oliwa and Randy McKay gone, the Devils brought McKenzie in for the 2000 season. Along with being a member of the Devils 2002-03 Stanley Cup team, McKenzie is probably best known for getting back at a turtling Tie Domi, for his hit on Scott Niedermayer in the Playoffs. Across three seasons with New Jersey, McKenzie piled up 330 penalty minutes.
7.) Cam Janssen – Although he’s not racking up the 337 penalty minutes he once did with the Albany River Rats, Janssen keeps throwing his weight around with the Albany Devils. Not the biggest guy on the list but quite possibly the most fearless. As a member of the St. Louis Blues, Janssen went toe to toe with Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond for the better part of three minutes. Plus, he had a pretty good spar with Ryan Hollweg, in an exhibition game against the New York Rangers, some years ago. With New Jersey, Janssen has totaled 304 penalty minutes.
6.) Bobby Holik – Centering the vaunted “Crash Line” in 1995, Holik made life miserable for opposing star forwards. Just ask the likes of Oates, Ron Francis, Eric Lindros, Sergei Fedorov and Steve Yzerman. Holik could check, grind and wear down the opposition to the point of frustration. Part of two Cup winners in New Jersey, Holik ranks seventh in franchise history with 863 penalty minutes.
5.) Mike Peluso – Perhaps the most adept fighter of the “Crash Line,” Peluso was another guy you’d call absolutely fearless. Peluso would always step up for his teammates and standup to anybody. His numbers were actually pretty “tame” compared to his days with the Chicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators. Peluso always gave the Devils a jump and could mix it up with the best of ’em. Peluso’s 238 penalty minutes in 1993-94, are the eighth most in a single season in Devils history. Along with winning the Cup in 1995, Peluso ran up 619 penalty minutes, across four seasons with New Jersey.
4.) Randy McKay – Yet another member of the “Crash Line” and a pair of Cups with New Jersey. Like Holik, McKay would evolve into a 20-goal scorer with the Devils, notching some clutch markers in the postseason. McKay wasn’t afraid of getting messy around the net, in the corners, along the boards. McKay could deliver a timely hit and knew how to throw down. McKay holds two of the top ten single season penalty minute totals in club history. Additionally, McKay’s 1,418 penalty minutes rank second in Devils franchise history.
3.) Krzystof Oliwa – Probably the best pure fighter of this bunch, as enforcers go. Oliwa is the first Polish player to win the Stanley Cup. After racking up 563 penalty minutes and shoring up his game, under the tutelage of the late John Cunniff in Albany, Oliwa took the torch from Simpson in New Jersey. Oliwa holds two of the top single season penalty minute totals with New Jersey, including the single season franchise best of 295, in 1997-98. Across parts of four seasons, Oliwa’s 724 penalty minutes rank tenth in club history. A heavyweight to be sure.
2.) Ken Daneyko – Dano is without a doubt the toughest guy on this list. Talk about a guy who left it all out there, including a few teeth and that’s Daneyko, blood, sweat and tears. Throughout his 20-year career, all with New Jersey, Daneyko epitomized what it mean to play Devils hockey. A member of all three Devils’ Stanley Cup winning squads, Daneyko could always be counted on to fire the team up. Whenever the Devils needed someone to rough it up, Daneyko was always a fierce competitor and ready to rise to a challenge. Daneyko holds three of the Devils top ten single season totals for penalty minutes, including second with 283 in 1998-99. Additionally, Daneyko’s 2,519 penalty minutes are the most in Devils franchise history.
1.) Scott Stevens – The consummate tone setter and intimidating force, Stevens could strike fear into opponents, talk the talk and back it up. His presence on the ice was enough to make the opposition shutter. You definitely didn’t want to get caught with your head down, when Stevens was on the ice. Stevens delivered crushing hit, after bone rattling hit. Most impressive was the fact that Stevens hit hard and clean. The Playoff hits are known far and wide, Slava Kozlov, Lindros, Francis, Shane Willis and Paul Karyia. Along with Captaining New Jersey to three Stanley Cup titles and earning the Conn Smythe Trophy, Stevens ranks fourth on the Devils’ all-time franchise list with 1,007 penalty minutes.
Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.