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10 Best NHL Grinders Of All Time

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Terry O'Reilly

Grinders might not be the most exciting and eye-catching of NHL players, but they’re an important part of any time. If you’re looking at the NHL odds and want to pick a winning team, then a quality grinder can be the difference between a win and a loss.

Here are the 10 best NHL Grinders of all time.

Terry O’Reilly

Canadian Terry O’Reilly was a right winger that was also one of the best and most fierce enforcers in NHL history. He was picked by the Boston Bruins in the first round of the 1971 NHL Amateur Draft and spent his entire career with the Bruins. He captained the team during the 83/84 and 84/85 seasons before retiring in 1985. His influence at the Bruins was so strong that they retired his No. 24 jersey in 2002.

Ted Lindsay

Ted Lindsay began his career in his native Canada before he secured a tryout with the Detroit Red Wings in 1944. Lindsay played left wing and scored over 800 points during his long professional career which stretched from 1944 to 1965. He won the Stanley Cup four times during his career and in 2017, was named one of the 100 Greatest NHL players as part of the NHL’s centenary celebrations.

John Tonelli

Tonelli signed with the Toronto Marlies OHA team at the young age of 15. Several legal battles overshadowed his early career due to a contract dispute between the Ontario Hockey Association and the World Hockey Association. Tonelli played three seasons for Houston’s WHA team before being picked up by the NY Islanders. He won the Stanley Cup four times with the Islanders from his position on the left wing and retired in 1992.

Bert Olmstead

Olmstead began his NHL career with the Chicago Black Hawks in 1949 and also played for the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leaves. During his time with Montreal in the 54/55 season, he led the league for assists with 48 and bettered his own total the next year with 56, also setting a league record. He retired from playing in 1962 after competing in 11 Stanley Cup Finals, five of which his team won.

Yvon Lambert

Lambert began his NHL career in 1973 with the Montreal Canadiens. After nine years with Montreal, he was traded to the Buffalo Sabres, where he stayed until his retirement in 1984. The highlight of Lambert’s career came in 1979 during the Stanley Cup Finals where he scored the winning goal in overtime to give Montreal the win.

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Kirk Maltby

Maltby’s first NHL season came in 93/94 for the Edmonton Oilers after he was drafted by them in 1992. He was traded to the Detroit Red Wings for the 95/96 season and spent 14 seasons with them before retiring. While playing for the Red Wings, Maltby won four Stanley Cups and was part of the famous “Grind Line” with Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, and Joe Kocur.

Doug Risebrough

Risebrough was the first pick of the Montreal Canadiens in the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft and spent eight years in Montreal. In 1982, he was traded to the Calgary Flames where he spent a further five years. From his Center position, Risebrough was well known for his talent at agitating and blocking opposition players. After retiring in 1987, he moved into coaching and scouting. During his career, Risebrough was involved in 25 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Bob Nystrom

Swedish-Canadian Nystrom kicked off his NHL career in 1973 with the New York Islanders after playing half a season for their minor league affiliate team the New Haven Nighthawks. His performance in his rookie season led to Nystrom being considered for the rookie of the year award, although he didn’t win. Nystrom was well-known for his hard work and all-around skills on the ice and he was one of the best clutch players of all time.

Duane Sutter

In the 1979 NHL draft, Sutter was a first-round pick by the New York Islanders. The Islanders won the Stanley Cup during his rookie season, as well as in 1981, 1982, and 1983, making it four wins in his first four seasons in the NHL. He stayed with the Islanders until 1987 when he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. Sutter was very skillful on the ice and a great passer of the puck. 

Kris Draper 

Although Draper was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, he didn’t have much chance to get on the ice. In 1993, he was drafted to the Detroit Red Wings for $1 and soon became a cornerstone of the Red Wings team. He’s one of only seven players to have racked up 1,000 games for the Red Wings. He retired from playing in 2011 and moved into a coaching and scouting position with the Red Wings.

Final Thoughts

Many great NHL players can be considered grinders and this article listed the 10 best. All of them are skilled and tough and worthy of a spot on any NHL team. We hope you enjoyed our selections.

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Adrian Dater - Kiss and Larry Bird fan. Writer with @Gambling and @Bookies, Avs Insider with 104.3 The Fan. Denver Post, SI, Bleacher Report alum, author of seven books.

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