The role of the enforcer in the NHL appears to be dwindling, and whether you take that as a good thing or a bad thing is wholly subjective. What is true about many of the NHL’s enforcers is that they didn’t start playing hockey with the dream of putting their fists through the faces of their opponents; they played to score and they played to win. Sometimes, when they reached Major Junior, they learned from their coaches that they didn’t have the kinds of skills around the net that were going to impress NHL scouts, but that they were tough, and could fight, and that that was their best chance of reaching the big time.
It isn’t easy to accept. Like Sandy McCarthy once said,
There’s a lot of pride you have to eat when you take a role like that.
Or, just as fittingly, from Bob Probert:
You’re only as good as your coach wants you to be.
What follows is a top ten scorers in Major Junior among guys who went on to become NHL enforcers. I went strictly off total points, although I excluded any player who played more than three seasons in Major Junior.
10. Joey Kocur
The longtime enforcer for both the Detroit Red Wings and the New York Rangers very likely could have been much higher on this list had he not spent two years in Junior A before joining the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL in 1982.
In just two seasons with the Blades, Kocur racked up 63-58-121 points in 131 games. While he managed 162 points in 821 NHL games, Kocur won Stanley Cups with the Rangers in 1994 and the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
9. Sandy McCarthy
Sandy McCarthy played three seasons for the Laval Titan in the Q, scoring 70-81-151 points in that time, while compiling almost 900 PIM along the way.
In the pros, McCarthy played with six different teams, including five seasons with the Calgary Flames, although his best years were with the New York Rangers, where, in three seasons from 2000 to 2003, McCarthy missed just one game, scored 59 points and over 400 PIM.
8. Craig Berube
Today, Craig Berube is credited with turning around the sinking ship that was the 2013-2014 Philadelphia Flyers early in the season and getting them into the playoffs. But back in 1983, Berube was a 17 year old with the WHL’s New Westminster Bruins, just getting started on a decent three-year career in Major Junior.
Ignoring the four games he played for Kamloops in 1982, Berube picked up 67-94-161 points in 206 games for both New Westminster, and in his third and final season, with the Kamloops Blazers and the Medicine Hat Tigers. Despite going undrafted, Berube landed a roster spot with the Hershey Bears of the AHL, where his 325 PIMs caught the eye of the Philadelphia Flyers. By 1988 he was an NHL regular, although he did the bulk of his job as an enforcer with the Washington Capitals in the mid 1990s.
7. Ronnie Stern
Ronnie Stern spent three seasons with the Longueuil Chevaliers of the QMJHL beginning in 1984. In his Major Junior career, the future Calgary Flames enforcer put up an impressive 77-86-163 points in 193 games. In his final season, Stern also put up 20 points in 19 playoff games for Longueuil.
Stern finished his NHL career with 75-86-161 points in 638 games, along with over 2,000 PIM.
6. Bob Probert
Widely regarded by virtually every enforcer and tough guy who played against him, Probie spent three years playing in the OHL, two for the Brantford Alexanders and one split between the Hamilton Steelhawks and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
In 164 OHL games, the ultimate NHL enforcer and fan favorite compiled 67-107-174 in 164 games, just slightly more than a point-per-game player. You don’t have to tell this to long-time Detroit Red Wings fans, however, who surely remember his 398 PIMs in the 1987-88 season but also his 29 goals and 33 assists, to go along with 8-13-21 points in 16 Stanley Cup playoff games that season.
For a guy who finished his NHL career with 3,300 PIM, Probert contributed elsewhere, managing 163-221-384 points in his 935 NHL games.
5. Matthew Barnaby
Barnaby spent his Major Junior career in the Q, where he played two full seasons with the Beauport Harfangs and a third season split among the Harfangs, Verdun College-Francais and Victoriaville Tigres.
During that time, he scored 82-109-191 in 180 games, with his best season coming in his last season, where he scored 44-67-111 points for three different teams.
During his season season in Major Junior, the future Buffalo Sabres enforcer led the Q with an eye-popping 476 PIM.
4. Lyndon Byers
Lyndon Byers enjoyed three solid seasons with the WHL’s Regina Pats starting in 1981, scoring an impressive 82-120-202 points in 185 games. While recording almost 500 PIM in that time, Byers proved to be a skilled player in the playoffs, recording 17-18-35 points in Regina’s 23 playoff games that season. The Boston Bruins drafted Byers #39 in the 1982 entry draft but he would have an inconsistent pro career, bouncing between the NHL, AHL and IHL for the next twelve seasons before retiring at the age of 30.
3. Kevin McClelland
Beginning in 1979, current CHL coach Kevin McClelland played three seasons with the OHL’s Niagara Falls Flyers. In that span, he put up solid numbers: 86-133-219 in 181 games.
In his second season with Niagara, McClelland ranked third on the team in scoring, behind Steve Ludzik and future NHL Rookie of the Year Steve Larmer. Meanwhile, he led the team in PIM with a relatively modest 184 PIM.
In the pros, McClelland won four Stanley Cups with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s.
2. Darren McCarty
The four-time Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings not only ranks second on this list, he also ranks at number one in terms of single-season scoring among NHL enforcers in Major Junior.
McCarty played three seasons for the OHL’s Belleville Bulls, compiling an impressive 97-124-221 points in 188 games from 1989 through 1992. Over half of those points he put up during his final year, when McCarty scored a spectacular 55 goals and 72 assists for a 127 point season.
That season, McCarty led the Bulls in goals, points, and PIM, and was second in assists to Gretzky (Brent Gretzky, that is).
1. Tiger Williams
This will surprise nobody who is familiar with Williams’ pro carrer. The NHL’s career leader in penalty minutes, who also holds PIM records with both the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks, knew how to score goals his entire career, and enjoyed an impressive three-year career in Major Junior, playing for the Swift Current Broncos beginning in 1971 through 1974.
In that span, he compiled 108-136-244 points in 202 games. In fact, his first season in Swift Current was unremarkable, scoring 34 points in 68 games. The following two seasons however, Williams put up 102 and 108 points respectively.
In his final season, Williams ranked third on the team in scoring, behind team leader (and current CHL coach) Terry Ruskowski and Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier. Williams was no stranger to the penalty box with the Broncos, racking up 854 PIMs.
Enforcers who just missed making this list include Peter Worrell, Kelly Chase, Krys Barch and Tim Hunter. Even Dave Semenko came awfully close.