What is the future of fighting in the NHL? Will it go away completely, will the status quo be maintained, or will the job of intimidating opponents/defending teammates simply go to players who also bring other skills to the ice while enforcers are phased out?
No matter which scenario plays out, the following five players available for the 2014 draft can bring the pain when the gloves are dropped, but also contribute in other ways and play regular minutes.
1. Nick Ritchie, LW – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
Big and physical with a lethal shot, Ritchie is the top power forward available in the draft and has drawn comparisons to Jamie Benn and Milan Lucic. His scoring prowess gives him a very high ceiling and his nasty streak will endear him to the local fan base. As for fighting, Ritchie can throw cement blocks with both hands:
2. Aaron Haydon, D – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
A tough, defense-first blueliner who kills penalties and moves well for a big guy, Haydon was more than happy to thrown down this season in honor of his young IceDogs team. Look for him and his heavy right hand to be selected in the second or third round on Saturday.
3. Brett Lernout, D – Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
The Western League is known for toughness and for defense: Lernout brings both. A punishing, physical blueliner with great reach, Lernout will continue to develop on a great defense corps in Swift Current alongside Dillon Heatherington (Columbus), Bryce Martin and Julius Honka (both 2014 prospects as well). Lernout will be the muscle.
4. Nick Wolff, D – Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL)
Wolff played most of his season with Eagan in the Minnesota high school ranks, helping the Wildcats all the way to the state championship semifinal before losing to powerhouse Edina. From there, the big, nasty D-man headed to the United States League where he quickly made a name for himself as a player not to be messed with. Wolff is committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, so fighting might be on the backburner in the near future – but once he gets to the pros, opponents better watch out. Warning: NSFW language at beginning of video. Also, how the uploader thought the smaller Cam Ashley won this fight is beyond me.
5. Aaron Irving, D – Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Irving does a lot of little things well on the ice and his first priority is defense, though he can contribute on the offensive end a bit, too. His role on the Memorial Cup-winning Oil Kings will undoubtedly increase next season as players such as Griffin Reinhart move on and that will allow Irving to develop further. Plays with an edge and doesn't mind the rough stuff.