What I tried to do in this was pick big guys, but they also had to be good. These guys are big, big men, but they're also very good players, because in the end you can't just rely on your size to play in the National Hockey League.
And so, without further ado, here is my best all-time lineup of big guys:
Ken Dryden, G
-- In net, we're starting with Ken Dryden. He's 6-foot-4, and the numbers speak for themselves. He won the Conn Smythe before he won rookie of the year (in 1971), which hasn't happened since, and he's one of the greatest goaltenders ever to play our game. He was a part of those great Montreal teams -- some say the best teams in NHL history -- and he was an iconic figure on those teams. We all remember the photos of him leaning on his stick -- he made that pose very, very famous.
A goalie with Dryden's height, to play like he did, completely changed the game. They talk about positions that have changed the most or the biggest difference between now and the 1970s. It's goaltending. Every team now has got a great goaltender, and if you look at these goaltenders they basically all play the same, they're all 6-2 to 6-5, and some like Ben Bishop
are as tall as 6-7. They're all butterfly goalies and they're well-schooled. They're not reaction goalies anymore. They go to where the puck is going to go, and they're the best athletes on the team now. In the old days you put the fat kid in net. Now the best athletes on the team are in net. That's the biggest difference and you could certainly say Ken Dryden was on the cutting edge of that.
Zdeno Chara, D
Defense - BOS
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 13 | PTS: 18
SOG: 76 | +/-: 18
-- He's 6-9, but the guy is great, too. Zdeno Chara
was an easy choice. He's won a Stanley Cup, he's one of the best defensemen in the game right now, he's just a unique player, he's the captain of an original six team and the guy's gigantic. And he's not just a freak of nature -- the guy's a great athlete. Both of his parents were great athletes and his father went to the Olympics as a greco-roman wrestler. Chara came over to Prince George, British Columbia at a young age, began practicing and just developed, developed, developed. If you ask GMs in hockey which defenseman they'd take first if they got to draft them all, I've got to think a large number would pick Chara. He's that good.
A buddy of mine was an assistant coach at Prince George and he talked to me about Chara. He really thought he was going to be a player. He told me that Chara had just improved so much since he came over, he's a workaholic, he's a great kid, he's a sponge for information, and he's just awesome. Sometimes athletes that tall can struggle with coordination, but the guys who saw him play in juniors said he'll make it. They didn't say he'd become the best defenseman in the game, but they did say he's going to play in the NHL and play well. In addition to being a presence though, the guy scores 10-20 goals a year. He gets points. He's on the power play. He's a complete player. He's not a one-dimensional freak. He's a great defenseman who happens to be gigantic.
Chris Pronger, D
-- He's 6-6 and all you have to do to see the impact of Chris Pronger
is see what Philadelphia looks like with him out of the lineup. He's a lot like Chara size-wise, but he's a great passer of the puck. That's the biggest difference between the two if you had to find one. There aren't very many better first passers in the NHL than Pronger and that's an important part of today's game. He'll play the point on the power play, he'll kill penalties, he always plays against the other team's best player, and if you noticed, Pronger made the Final three times in five years with a different team each time.
Pronger is one of the great defensemen ever to play the game. He's mobile, he can skate, he's mean as a rattlesnake, tough to play against and his size just makes him more effective.
Mario Lemieux, F
-- It's nice when we're talking about one of the five greatest players in the history of the game as one of the big guys on my team, but if you look at him, 6-4, 230-240 lbs., great talent, some of the best hands the game's ever seen, scored over 600 goals -- he's another guy that if he hadn't been hurt or had cancer his numbers would have been Gretzky-esque. And he's also, arguably, done as much off the ice as he's done on the ice. He basically saved Pittsburgh twice -- once when he came into the NHL because Pittsburgh was a terrible, terrible franchise, and once when he restructured all the money they owed him and kept the franchise in Pittsburgh. Now everyone knows it as maybe the best franchise in the NHL.
He's just a great ambassador of our sport, but that frame makes him really the first great big guy with talent. Big guys before were physical players and fighters, but here we had a guy that big who was maybe the most skilled player in the game. Just a unique individual and a unique player. If he had stayed healthy his whole career I don't think he would have beat Gretzky -- Gretzky's numbers are that freakish -- but he certainly would have been up there.
Pete Mahovlich, F
At 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, Pete Mahovlich used his oversized body to score 288 goals and 773 point in 884 NHL games for the Canadiens and Red Wings. (Photo: Getty Images)
-- Pete was 6-5 and when I think of Big Pete I always think of that goal he scored against the Russians in the '72 Summit Series, where he beat the whole Russian team, went in and scored. It's one of the greatest goals ever. He was also very skilled, similarly to Mario. He had one of the best sets of hands the NHL ever saw, and he was also one of the funniest guys in the NHL. He was a great teammate. Everyone loved playing with Pete.
He was really just an unbelievable talent skill-wise. Here was a guy that wasn't very physical, but his hands, his stick, his skating, his ability to move the puck, he was one of the great players of that era. Anyone benefits from playing on a great team like he did, but Pete was a talent in his own right. When you're picked to Team Canada in '72 and you're one of the key players on Team Canada in '72, you're a great player. Pete was front and center on that team, so I think he stands on his own.
Dave Andreychuk, F
-- Dave is 6-5, another guy with over 600 goals, he won a Stanley Cup, he always scored a ton of goals in junior and the NHL, every place he went and every organization he went to he scored goals so it wasn't a case of people he was with making him a goal scorer, and he just had a great set of hands around the net. He was a gigantic man physically, and he would get into that tripod stance on the ice that made him impossible to move. He was a great power play performer and just one of the great goal scorers in our game.
He was not a great skater -- he'll be the first to tell you that -- but he got to the puck and he was able to put it in. As a result, Andreychuk is the third man on that gigantic line.