Skip to main content
The Official Site of the New York Islanders

NYI TOP 10: ENFORCERS 1-5

by Staff Writer / New York Islanders
By John Hill


Hockey is a game that is about far more than just goals scored. Because of the physical nature of the sport, some of the most important players on the ice are the strong men who protect the goal scorers. Below are the top five enforcers in Islanders history.

Garry Howatt
5. Garry Howatt

Howatt, known throughout his career as the “Toy Tiger” compensated for a lack of size with extreme toughness and energy. Howatt started his career on the inaugural Islanders team of 1972. Howatt’s career with the Isles spanned nine seasons, with the Alberta-native playing an important role as a scrapper and enforcer for the first two Stanley Cup teams. Howatt was a fan favorite, particularly for his tendency to back down from no one. Along with Bobby Nystrom, he was known by some fans as half of the “Dynamic Duo” which would also inspire a "Nystrom-Howatt Dynamic Duo" fan club. Howatt, at the time of his departure from the Islanders, was the team’s all-time leader in regular season and playoff penalty minutes. He also led the team in penalty minutes in all but two of his years on the Island.



Bob Nystrom
4.  Bob Nystrom

"Mr. Islander" began his career as a member of the inaugural Islanders team, and spent his entire 14-year career on the Island. Nicknamed "Thor" by his teammates for his fighting ability, Nystrom matched his ability as a fighter with a hard-working attitude and  improved his skating drastically throughout his career. Nystrom, while certainly one of the toughest players on the team, would also develop into one of the most clutch players in NHL history. He was known throughout his career for his strong checking and defensive prowess. The Stockholm-native played with as much heart and tenacity as anybody in the game.


Rich Pilon
3. Rich Pilon

Pilon spent the vast majority of his career with the New York Islanders after being drafted by the team in 1986. From his first season in 1988, he was known for his physical presence on the ice. In his first year, Pilon amassed a whopping 242 penalty minutes. Extremely hardnosed, Pilon also had the ability to get under opponents’ skin. Despite being hampered by injuries, Pilon was able to amass double digit fights in two seasons and would lead the team in penalty minutes three times over his 12 years with the Isles. He is second all-time on the team in penalty minutes, behind teammate Mick Vukota.


Mick Vukota
2. Mick Vukota

Vukota amassed 1879 penalty minutes in ten seasons with the Isles. He was among the most feared enforcers in the league,  amassing 82 minutes in the penalty box in 17 games his rookie season. From 1988 until 1994, Vukota never spent fewer than 200 minutes in the sin bin in any season. Vukota racked up well over 100 fights in his career with the Isles. He set a career high with 31 fights in 74 games in the 1991-92 season. He is the Islanders all-time team leader in penalty minutes.


Clark Gillies
1.  Clark Gillies

Gillies was part of the core group that led the Islanders to dynasty status in the early 80s. Over the course of his career, he was among the most respected goal scorers and enforcers in the league. In his rookie season, he set the tone for the rest of his career when he fought Dave Schultz in the playoffs. Schultz had just set the NHL’s all time record for most penalty minutes in a season—a record that still stands today. Gillies continued to make a name for himself as the type of player who would not be pushed around. In the 1980 playoffs, his dominance of Bruins enforcer Terry O’Reilly helped to invigorate the Islanders on their Stanley Cup winning run. Gillies continued to be a keystone of the team during their four-year reign as Stanley Cup Champions, and will forever be remembered as one of the all time great Islanders. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2002.




More NYI Top 10 lists:


* NYI TOP 10: ENFORCERS 6-10

* NYI TOP 10: DRAFT STEALS


View More