As much as Maple Leafs winger Zach Hyman is a hit with his teammates, he’s just as popular with opponents.
In a sense.
Hyman’s motor runs continuously when he’s on the ice, his work ethic and diligence lauded often by Leafs coach Mike Babcock, for good reason.
To no surprise, Hyman, who earns his salary in the corners and along the boards in each rink across the National Hockey League, leads the NHL in hits taken.
Before the Leafs played the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night, Hyman had been hit 162 times in 61 games, according to NaturalStatTrick.com. Defenceman Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins was second at 148.
“You have to be able to know how to take a hit when you’re going to get it that often,” Hyman said. “The worst hits are the ones you don’t see coming because you can’t brace yourself.
“You have to be strong on your skates all the time, a lot the time you are able to absorb it and use the boards to absorb some of it as well. The boards can take a lot of the pressure.”
It’s not that Hyman gets steamrolled every game. His fearless style of getting after the puck on the forecheck — and commonly retrieving it — means he gets bumped a lot.
All the while, Hyman is durable, having not missed a game this season or in 2016-17.
“You have to have the puck to get hit, right?” Hyman said with a smile. “You have to play through bumps and bruises. Everybody gets them. It’s part of being a pro.”
Hyman’s teammates don’t dismiss his ability to excel in the difficult areas.
“He is a big, strong boy, but I don’t know how he does it (all the time),” Auston Matthews said. “He plays the same way, he works hard, he skates every night, does not matter how he feels, he always brings it.”
APPLAUDING VIRTUE AND MOIR
When Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won Olympic gold in ice dance on Sunday, Babcock couldn’t help but feel inspired.
“Tessa and Scott, if you’re Canadian you’ve seen them … I’ve got to tell you, when they were going back a third time (to the Olympics) I wondered what they were doing, but it goes to show you when you have passion, you have a dream and you want to get things done, it’s unbelievable what you can do,” Babcock said.
“When you watch the best of the best grind and their stick-to-itiveness, in the end, that’s what makes them champions. Your skill only gets you so far.”
For centre Nazem Kadri, the respect level for the figure skaters is high.
“Their balance is exceptional and their edge work, it’s certainly second to none,” Kadri said. “It’s very impressive. You have to have the power and the agility and the flexibility, they are true athletes and true competitors. I could not be more happy for them.”