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Black and blue: Brown tops among U.S. hitters

Friday, 09.30.2011 / 11:46 AM / NHL Insider

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Black and blue: Brown tops among U.S. hitters
Instead of red, white and blue, the top American body-checkers in the game today leave their opponents black and blue -- and they're led by Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown.
There are times in the heat of battle when a big hit can provide just the impetus a team needs to begin a momentous charge.

For the last six seasons, American-born forward Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings has proven to be quite the momentum-changer. Since 2005-06, no player born in the United States has racked up more body checks than the 6-foot, 204-pound native of Ithaca, N.Y.

Last season, Brown finished third in the League and first among American-born players with 300 hits. He certainly made the most of those bumps and bruises, too.

The 26-year-old captain donated $50 for each of his hits to contribute $15,000 to Children's Hospital of Los Angeles' Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit in 2010-11. Two seasons ago, as part of the program he and his wife, Nicole, launched with KaBOOM!, a non-profit organization that envisions a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America, Brown's per-hit donation raised $70,000 to build a new playground in Carson, Ca., that now hosts more than 100 kids per day.

In addition to taking great pride in sacrificing his body -- he averaged 3.65 hits per game in 2010-11 -- Brown hasn't missed a game in two seasons.

Kings captain Dustin Brown, throws a check into San Jose forward Patrick Marleau during a game on April 25, 2011. (Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI)
Here's a look at the leading American-born players with a propensity for playing the body:

Justin Abdelkader, Detroit Red Wings:
Abdelkader, who averaged 12:18 of ice time last season, led the team with 188 hits and a plus-15 rating. Detroit coach Mike Babcock anticipates a breakout season for the former Michigan State University standout in 2011-12. Another feather in the cap of the Muskegon, Mich., native is his ability on faceoffs -- he won more than 52 percent of his draws on 430 opportunities last season.

"I think Abby (Justin Abdelkader) is going to have a huge year," Babcock told NHL.com. "I think he's probably wondering, 'Is the coach dumb? Why aren't I playing more?' I think he's earned the right to play more so he will play more. Abby can't be on the fourth line anymore, unless someone else can take his job, and I don't see that happening."

David Backes, St. Louis Blues: Blues general manager Doug Armstrong thinks so highly of the 6-3, 225-pound native of Minneapolis, Minn., that he named him the 20th captain in franchise history on Sept. 10. Backes was certainly Mr. Everything for the Blues last season, leading the team in hits (213), goals (31), points (62) and plus-minus rating (plus-32). He also exhibited plenty of feistiness, as evidenced by his 93 penalty minutes.

"David exemplifies everything we want as part of our team -- he's articulate and well-spoken in the room and community," Armstrong told NHL.com. "He plays a style of hockey we want to be known for. He's known as a physical player, but he has the skill set to produce points. We feel he's entering the prime of his career now and he signed a five-year deal with us (in November 2010). We're the team that drafted him and it seems like he's the guy who can lead us into the future."

Brian Boyle, New York Rangers: The first American-born center to make the list is the Hingham, Mass., native, who racked up a career-high 240 hits in 82 contests. Boyle also finished fourth on the team with 86 blocked shots and chipped in with a shorthanded goal for the Blueshirts last season. Look for Boyle, who had 143 hits in 2009-10, to assume that same gritty, in-your-face role working the Rangers' third- or fourth-line this season.

Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings: Brown has finished no lower than second among American-born players in hits the previous six seasons -- finishing first four times and second on three occasions. He was second in the League with 287 hits in 2009-10 after compiling 285 hits in 2008-09. He has also been named a finalist the past two seasons for the NHL Foundation Player Award and he has received the Kings' Community Service Award each of the last two years. Brown had a career-high 311 hits in 2007-08.

Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets: There's little doubt the Minneapolis, Minn., native will raise Jets' fans out of their seats on more than a few occasions this year when he decides to take full advantage of his 6-4, 255-pound frame. In 81 games playing defense last season, Byfuglien finished second on the team with 53 points, collected 24 power-play points, logged more than 23 minutes a game and was second on the team with 140 hits and first with 93 penalty minutes. Byfuglien, captain Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane will certainly be looked upon as the catalysts in Winnipeg this season.


Ryan Callahan, New York Rangers: The new Rangers captain has been an inspirational sparkplug each and every time he steps on the ice -- whether it's in the form of a big check or a critical goal. The native of Rochester, N.Y., racked up 224 hits in 2010-11 and was fifth on the team with 77 blocked shots. A leader in every sense, Callahan is certainly looking forward to Jan. 2, when the Rangers will face off against the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 Bridgestone Winter Classic.

"I think it makes it a little bit more special wearing the 'C' on my sweater and to be able to perform in an event like (the Winter Classic) and represent the Rangers," Callahan told NHL.com. "It's an event I'm looking forward to and was thrilled when I heard we'd be playing."

Erik Cole, Montreal Canadiens: The veteran Cole has traditionally done a little bit of everything in his nine seasons in the League. He was fourth among Americans with 225 hits last season and was also second behind Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien with 65 takeaways. He also chipped in with 26 goals and 52 points in 82 games with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Tim Gleason, Carolina Hurricanes: Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford is hoping the Clawson, Mich., native can sustain his aggressive, yet productive performances while playing right defense with either Joni Pitkanen or Tomas Kaberle. Gleason, a left-handed shot, averaged over 20 minutes a game last season while compiling 215 hits and a team-leading 141 blocked shots.

Matt Greene, Los Angeles Kings: The 6-foot-3, 231-pound native of Grand Ledge, Mich., was second behind teammate Dustin Brown and first among American defensemen last season with 243 hits in 71 games. Greene also proved valuable in front of his goalie, stepping in front of 105 shots, which ranked third on the team.

"He's not a big man, but he plays hard and he barks at all the big guys."
-- Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice on Chad LaRose

Chad LaRose, Carolina Hurricanes: Don't let his 5-foot-10, 181-pound frame fool you. LaRose is a competitor in every sense, as evidenced by the respect he's earned throughout the League. The Fraser, Mich., native actually finished eighth among American-born players last season with 196 hits -- which ranked third on the team. LaRose is a bona-fide spark plug who possesses the type of grit every NHL coach craves. He can play a third-line checking role or ride shotgun with Eric Staal on occasion.

"He's not a big man, but he plays hard and he barks at all the big guys," Carolina coach Paul Maurice told NHL.com.

Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh Penguins: The stout 6-foot-2, 219-pound defenseman from San Francisco, Calif., is a menace to opposing forwards with his long reach and tough demeanor. Orpik produced a team-leading 194 hits for the Pens in 2010-11 and also finished with 94 blocked shots. He'll certainly bolster a Pittsburgh defense that should be considered one of the strongest units in the Eastern Conference heading into the 2011-12 campaign.

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Quote of the Day

It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players