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These East players combine skills with grit

Monday, 09.01.2008 / 10:00 AM / Season Preview

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

Players need two things to survive and flourish in the NHL -- talent and toughness. Lots of players have great amounts of one or the other, but which players have found an equal amount of both?

NHL.com asked former Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Jay Feaster – the man who built the 2004 Stanley Cup champions – for his opinion on who the most talented tough guys in the Eastern Conference are:

Vincent Lecavalier, Tampa Bay Lightning -- Feaster watched first-hand as Lecavalier grew – literally and physically – into one of the best all-round players in the League.

Lecavalier had 112 hits each of the last two seasons, which has helped him clear his path to 92 goals and 200 points, while missing just one game in that span. He’s also not afraid to get his nose dirty doing the physical stuff, picking up 89 penalty minutes, including three majors, last season. And one of the most memorable playoff moments of recent history is Lecavalier and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla dropping the gloves in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.

“With Vinny there’s no question, he understands (the physical) part of the game,” Feaster said. “He understands very well the need to be able to take care of himself. Guys aren’t going to take liberties with him.”

Mike Fisher, Ottawa Senators -- Much of the attention in Ottawa is focused on the big three of Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, but it’s Fisher who supplies goals and hits in equal measure.

Fisher has been a model of consistency, with three straight 20-goal, 40-point seasons. He’s the team’s top defensive center, and he dished out 234 hits, blocked 73 shots and picked up 82 penalty minutes, second on the team.

“That’s a real talented guy,” Feaster said. “He’s going to play you hard all the time. Not a guy prone to fight, but not a guy who’s going to shirk from it, either. … He’s a tough enough kid that he’s not going to turn away from it. Plus he’s incredibly talented. The attention is on other guys, but he was one of the most dangerous guys against us. Because of his speed and his talent, he was tough to find an answer to.”

Mike Richards, Philadelphia Flyers -- There wasn’t a team statistic in which Richards wasn’t near the top for the Flyers last season. He scored a team-high 75 points, was fifth with 28 goals, fourth with 76 penalty minutes, tied for the second with 110 hits and second with 21:30 of ice time per game.

“I think that he’s a big reason for the resurgence there,” Feaster said of the Flyers’ one-season rise from worst in the League to the Eastern Conference Finals. “The kind of season they had (in 2007-08) was because of him. He’s a hard-nosed player, going to compete every shift. He’s a guy that is willing to hit, take a hit to make a play, and he’s not going to back down.”

Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins -- Big, mean, nasty and highly skilled – those are the terms most commonly associated with the Bruins captain.

Chara tied for second among all defensemen with 17 goals, and his 223 hits was third among blueliners. His 114 penalty minutes led the Bruins and his plus-14 rating – after being a minus-21 in 2006-07 – was one of the biggest reasons Boston made the 2008 playoffs.

“He’s not going to go around looking for (trouble),” said Feaster, “but if you want a piece of him he’s going to gladly oblige.”

Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals -- The only thing Ovechkin might enjoy more than scoring a goal is landing a big hit. And last season, he did each in equal amounts. Ovechkin led the world with 65 goals, and his 220 hits was the ninth-highest total in the League.

“He’s not afraid to hit,” Feaster said. “He’s a hard-nosed guy. The thing about Ovechkin is he loves it. … You see the passion when he scores a goal, but it’s the same passion when he gives a big hit.”

Milan Lucic, Boston Bruins -- Lucic was a surprise addition to the Bruins’ roster last season, but he more than showed he deserved his spot. Four of Lucic’s eight goals were game-winners, and he also showed no hesitation to stick up for his teammates. He had 89 penalty minutes, including 13 majors, and his 181 hits was second among first-year players.

“I would put him in the category of those types of players to watch in the future because he’s not going to back down,” Feaster said.

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com.

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