Ben Smith is the gold standard for staying out of the box in the NHL, but these other four players aren’t far behind.
A grand total of 171 penalty minutes were handed out in Saturday’s game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks. Seventeen different players were penalized in a game that quickly got out of hand.
Maple Leafs center Ben Smith was not among the players penalized. In fact, in his entire NHL career, the game against Vancouver was his 208th, he has only recorded four penalty minutes. He hasn’t taken an penalty since November 11, 2014.
Smith has become the gold standard for staying out of the box in the NHL. No active player who has played more than 40 NHL games has fewer penalty minutes than Smith.
Smith only recalls one of the two NHL penalties he has taken. Both came as member of the Blackhawks, with whom he spent five seasons.
“I remember one of them a couple of years ago against Tampa, it was goaltender interference,” Smith said. “But other than that I don’t remember.”
For the record, his only other NHL penalty was a tripping minor against the Edmonton Oilers in 2013-14. He finished sixteenth in Lady Byng voting that season.
Below are some of Smith’s contemporaries, the least penalized players in the NHL.
RYAN O’REILLY – Buffalo Sabres
510 GP, 76 PIMS
Considering the style of hockey that O’Reilly plays, he is the most surprising member of this list. Despite 237 career hits and 518 takeaways he has only ever served 37 minor penalties.
O’Reilly almost went the entire 2013-14 NHL season without a penalty, before being whistled for playing with a broken stick. He won the Lady Byng that season. O’Reilly is also good at drawing penalties, with a career 36 penalty differential, according to Corsica Hockey.
Clean hockey seems to run in the family, as his brother, Cal O’Reilly, also a Sabre, only has 14 career PIMs.
OSCAR KLEFBOM – Edmonton Oilers
120 GP, 10 PIMS
Among active players who have played more than 82 games, only Smith has fewer penalty minutes than Klefbom. He also has the fewest among defensemen in that category, as no other rearguard has fewer than 20 PIM.
Klefbom doesn’t kill a ton of penalties, especially now that Kris Russell is in town, but he is almost always available when called upon. His reliability in all situations has meant him leading the Oilers in ice time this season with 21:42 minutes per game.
BRIAN FLYNN – Montreal Canadiens
234 GP, 30 PIMS
It took Flynn 53 games to be whistled for his first penalty, a hooking minor against the New Jersey Devils. Since then, he has only ever taken 14 other minor penalties in his 234 career NHL games split between the Canadiens and Sabres.
Flynn did pick up 15 penalty minutes in a preseason game once, courtesy of a misconduct and a fighting major. All this came during the aftermath of the now infamous incident in which Sabres left winger John Scott tried to fight Phil Kessel on September 22, 2013.
MIKHAIL GRIGORENKO – Colorado Avalanche
153 GP, 20 PIMS
Grigorenko hasn’t exactly panned out the way fans would have hoped when he was drafted 12th overall in 2012. But at least he has stayed out of the box in his 153 NHL games. The issue is that he isn’t very good at drawing them either, despite only taking 10 career penalties he still has a penalty differential of -5.
Including his QMJHL days with the Quebec Remparts, Grigorenko has only had more than 12 penalty minutes in a season once at any level. That came during the 2014-15 AHL season with the Rochester Americans, mainly because of his part in a line brawl that broke out between Rochester and the Adirondack Flames in their season opener.