Lets take a break from the playoffs and look at a new concept from this past season. For years teams had certain 4th line players who's sole job was to protect their star players by fighting. They were usually big, tough, and lacked skill. These face punchers were well respected but as the seasons went on, their role dwindled. This year saw the enforcer all but disappear, with the likes of Colton Orr/Frazer McLaren (Toronto), Tom Sestito (Vancouver), Brian McGrattan (Calgary) and many others placed on waivers to be sent to the minors. The only team still carrying these big heavyweights are the San Jose Sharks who had Mike Brown and John Scott still in their lineups; although both are very unlikely to be in the NHL next season.
The times have changed and new "modern day enforcers" are beginning to emerge. These men are physical, can fight, but also contribute in other aspects of the game as well. They have some skill, can score, and most often can be the teams best penalty killers. These players don't just fight; far from it. When push comes to shove, they drop the gloves for their teammates but the point is that's not the only area of the game in which they are good in. Here we will look at those who qualify for this new title as the modern day enforcer, and some names are known while others will sound new.
Tom Wilson & Michael Latta, Washington Capitals
Latta (left) and Wilson (right) in the penalty box after fighting
They are best friends, roommates, sometimes line mates, probably the most skilled players on this list, and it seems both share a passion for dropping the gloves. Wilson was drafted 16th overall by Washington in 2012, and he brings a ton of energy to the lineup. Latta was part of the infamous trade at the 2013 deadline in which he (along with Martin Erat) was traded to the Capitals from Nashville for Filip Forsberg. Both players are constantly being moved up and down the lineup, and their speed and physicality is helpful in Washington's cycle game. Wilson is frequently on the top line with Ovi and Backstrom, giving Barry Trotz the comfort of knowing his two star players have a winger that can not only protect them, but keep up with their speed and skill as well. This season, Wilson had 12 fights and Latta had 8.
Antoine Roussel (Dallas) & Mark Borowieki (Ottawa)
They do play on different teams but they have much in common. Roussel is known by many and hated by all (which is why I don't need to have a picture of him), and he accumulated 11 fights this season. Borowieki is a stay at home defenceman and fought 13 times this season. Both players contribute more to the game than just fighting, and they play similar roles. Dallas and Ottawa's penalty kill units feature Roussel and Borowieki (respectively), and both play an agitating role. They play physical every shift against the leagues best players, and have a reputation for this in the league.
Brandon Prust (Montreal)
Probably the most notable "modern day enforcer", Prust is never afraid to drop the gloves, as evident with his 16 fights this season. He plays on Monteal's 1st line penalty kill, and sometimes is moved up the lineup to bring energy. He doesn't have the biggest size (6ft, 190 pounds) but he seems to always take on people who are bigger than him, and never looks out of place when fighting. Montreal has many undersized players, so having Prust be there to protect them is a must but having his skill to go along with the team is a bonus.
It seems now that everyone who accumulates a lot of fights are playing other roles for their teams at the same time, giving them the title of the modern day enforcer. Fighting in hockey is a must to keep tensions down, but from a fans perspective it is just plain entertaining. Now teams don't have to carry fighters who lack in skill, but instead can bring someone who will drop the gloves but doesn't always have to in order to remain in the lineup, because they are a vital part for other reasons.
Shout out to the rest: Cody McLoed (Colorado), Derek Dorsett (Vancouver), Dan Carcillo (Chicago), Zack Rinaldo (Philadelphia), Jared Boll (Columbus), Patrick Maroon (Anaheim), Matt Martin (New York Islanders)