Known as the Boogey Man because of his role as one of the game's most physical forwards, Boogaard was found by members of his family at his apartment in Minneapolis. Boogaard spent the first five years of his career with the Minnesota Wild before signing a free-agent deal with the Rangers last summer.
The Associated Press reported that Minneapolis police Sgt. Bill Palmer said authorities received a report of a man not breathing shortly before 6:15 p.m. Friday. Minneapolis fire officials were the first to arrive and determined he was dead. Palmer said authorities do not suspect foul play at this point, but the police department's homicide unit and the medical examiner's office are both investigating. Palmer said the medical examiner will determine the final cause of death.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed that an autopsy would be conducted Saturday; however, results are not expected to be known for several weeks, after test results and toxicology reports come back.
"I don't think we have any answers as to what happened or why it happened," Ron Salcer, Boogaard's agent, told the AP on Saturday.
Michael Russo of the Star Tribune reported Saturday night that Boogaard's family signed papers to donate Derek's brain to the Boston University researchers who are studying for brain disease in athletes.
"Derek loved sports and obviously in particular hockey, so we believe Derek would have liked to assist with research on a matter that had affected him later on in his career," his brother Ryan told Russo.
Boogaard's first season with the Rangers was cut short due to a concussion and a shoulder injury. He played just 22 games, scoring 1 goal, adding an assist and earning 45 penalty minutes.
"Derek was an extremely kind and caring individual," Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather said in a statement. "He was a very thoughtful person, who will be dearly missed by all those who knew him. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and teammates during this difficult time."
In 277 NHL games, Boogaard, a 6-foot-7, 265-pound winger, compiled 3 goals, 16 points and 589 PIM. He was very popular during his time with the Wild, winning over fans with an ever-present smile and an eagerness to help out his new community. He was also loved for his willingness to protect teammates on the ice. He's second on the team's all-time list for penalty minutes with 544.
The Wild released a statement Friday night: "The Minnesota Wild organization sends our deepest sympathies to the family of Derek Boogaard. Derek was a fan favorite during his five seasons with the Wild and will be greatly missed here in Minnesota and throughout the NHL."
As the news of Boogaard's death spread Friday night, it hit the hockey community especially hard.
"The news that we have lost someone so young and so strong leaves everyone in the National Hockey League stunned and saddened, Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement released Saturday morning. "The NHL family sends its deepest condolences to all who knew and loved Derek Boogaard, to those who played and worked with him and to everyone who enjoyed watching him compete."
It was his teammates and his foes, though, who knew Boogaard best. They saw past the intimidating stare and the reputation as the toughest man in hockey.
"Unreal guy -- just a really big teddy bear," Wild goalie and former teammate Niklas Backstrom told the Star Tribune. "Outside the rink, he didn't want bad for anyone."
"We're devastated by it," New Jersey forward Brian Rolston, another former teammate of Boogaard's in Minnesota, told the Star Tribune. "Disbelief, really. It's just crazy. He was a great teammate, a great friend. He always treated my family and my kids with great respect. He was just a great kid."
Boston defenseman Shane Hnidy played with Boogard in Minnesota last season and was clearly upset as he discussed his former teammate and friend after Saturday's morning skate in preparation for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden.
"It's really tough,” Hnidy said. "It hit me pretty hard last night when I heard. I send everything out to his family. It's a tough time for everyone.
"Everyone just saw the big tough exterior, but he was a great guy that really gave back. Especially in Minnesota, he was probably the biggest, most popular player there. He always gave back.”
His teammates will also miss him.
“I am still in shock," forward Brandon Prust said. "It keeps hitting me off and on all day as I'm driving home. Though he was a fighter on the ice, he was definitely a gentle giant off the ice. He was just a real good guy, a team guy all the way. I've been looking at some of the silly pictures I have from when we were roommates and it just hits me what a good guy he was. I still can't believe I am referring to him in the past tense.”
Added captain Chris Drury: "On behalf of all Derek's teammates, I would like to say that he was a great friend and a great teammate, and that we are all going to miss him dearly. This is a tragic loss for the hockey community. All of our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family."
Boogaard was active in a number of charities during his NHL career. Last season he started "Boogaard's Booguardians," where he hosted military members and their families at all Rangers home games. He also was active with the Garden of Dreams Foundation as well as the Defending the Blue Line Foundation, a non-profit foundation that ensures children of military members are given the chance to play hockey.