Evolving Enforcer Roles In The NHL Especially Evident in St. Louis

The game of hockey has changed and evolved throughout the NHL over the years, and so have the roles on the ice. The profiles of two Blues players may be similar to the former enforcer descriptions, but their new-era hockey skill style plays a part in what makes them different.

Things took off for Blues forward Pat Maroon on Tuesday against the Dallas Stars in the opening preseason game. Maroon netted a goal in the game and showcased the physical presence he brings to the ice. The trend continued in Friday’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

In old school hockey, one may think of an enforcer on the ice as the fighter, who makes it his personal duty to protect his teammates by making his physical presence known. The chirping, the big hits and the ability to scare the opponent just by making eye contact. Former Blues enforcers Tony Twist, Kelly Chase or Cam Janssen may come to mind.

Some would call Maroon an enforcer, but his style is much different than that. His 451 career penalty minutes would suggest he’s a primary physical force on the ice, but his 78 career goals also make a difference. Maroon served as a top line winger alongside Connor McDavid for the Edmonton Oilers and will remain near the top for the Blues this season.

His style is different in that he can intimidate the opponent, while also making an impact at the net. And he doesn’t have to do it in a short amount of time.

The Blues added forward Chris Thorburn in the absence of Ryan Reaves to create an enforcer effect in 2017, but with Maroon it’s different.

The St. Louis native averaged more than 16 minutes on the ice in the 2017-2018 season compared to Thorburn’s seven-minute average. Players will step back on the ice knowing Maroon will be out there for more than a couple of shifts.

While enforcers tend to be forwards, it doesn’t hurt to have a defensive physical presence either. While it would be hard not to play physically as a defensemen blocking shots, checking and getting in scrums against the boards, some use different tactics than others.

Defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Joel Edmundson have learned to use their bodies to gain ice time and find their niche within the organization. But once again, the players are different.

Bortuzzo is a common third line defensive pair who plays solid defensively, mostly using his body as his weapon. His 41 penalty minutes in the 2017-2018 season would suggest he’s found how he fits into the lineup.

Edmundson has worked his way up from the third defensive pairing, or common healthy scratch his rookie season, to averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time with Alex Pietrangelo in 2018.

He commonly refers to his grandfather being a fighter in hockey, and the influence it’s had on his game. The story speaks for itself with his 57 penalty minutes last season, but once again, he’s proven to bring than his physical presence.

Edmundson’s seven goals and 10 assists last season contribute to the offensive improvements he’s made since his rookie year. Edmundson’s improvements in all aspects of the game make him an intimidation factor to opponents, and his average TOI makes it more difficult for players to get away with what they may have otherwise.

Former Blue Cam Janssen noted, “You now have the choice to go to the right and face an Alex Pietrangelo who’s ranked number nine in defenseman in the NHL, or you go to the left knowing Joel Edmundson is going to nail you and has skill. There’s not an easy decision in that situation.”

While the enforcer role may be slowly dying or evolving within the NHL, the physical aggression and intimidating presence of players like Maroon or Edmundson will continue to make a unique impact on the ice.