This season, three young guns have stepped up and earned a reputation as ready, willing, and able ice assassins on the NHL pond. Anaheim’s Kevin Sawyer has been anything but a lame duck, dropping the mitts at a moment’s notice against the circuit’s most accomplished fighters. Sawyer (27 years old, 6-2, 215) leads the NHL in fighting majors with 18 and penalty minutes with 142, a pace that would give this dastardly Duck a whopping 380-plus penalty minutes at season’s end. He was recently suspended for five games as a result of his charging Calgary goalie Mike Vernon, sparking off a brawl-filled game against the rival Flames that totaled over 250 penalty minutes. Washington Capitals strong-arm Stephen Peat has racked up eight fights in just under half a season. The 215-pound Peat is still wet behind the ears at 21 years of age, but that hasn’t stopped this sultan of swat. Peat has given the Caps a true tough guy for the first time in a long time. Atlanta’s Darcy Hordichuk, who played in only 11 games last season for the Thrashers, has really broken out this season, tallying 12 fighting majors and 87 penalty minutes already. Last season in the IHL, as a member of the eventual Turner Cup champ Orlando Solar Bears, Hordichuk registered a staggering 369 penalty minutes and was voted the IHL’s fighter of the year. There hasn’t been a more exciting puncher on the NHL scene in quite a while. Thanks to these three bad boys, the NHL fight game has a new jump in its step, all the way to the sin bin.

More of this season’s most exciting battles:

Nov. 8 Darcy Hordichuk (atl) vs. Eric Boulton (buf) What a rock ’em, sock ’em slugfest this one is, as two of the game’s toughest youngsters take their turn drilling the melon with hard shots, the Thrasher Hordichuk landing the more telling blows as they end up at center ice. One of the season’s best.

Nov. 9 Tie Domi (tor) vs. Randy McKay (nj) McKay is always game, but he shouldn’t have bitten into Domi this time around. Tie drops left-hand Scuds on McKay with booming results.

Nov. 13 Darcy Hordichuk (atl) vs. Brad Brown (min) They throw down the leather at center ice, then take center stage in a 10-bell bopfest. Brownie eventually lands a few more big rights, leaving the game Atlanta rookie bloodied but unbowed

Nov. 15 Stephen Peat (was) vs. Chris McAllister (phi) The pugnacious Peat is a legit toughie and takes on the 6-7 McAllister without batting an eye. Right off the faceoff comes the square-off; then McAllister gets into a left-hand flurry good, leaving a mess over the left eye of Peat. The Washington rook answers with a few nice rights but nonetheless leaves this one on the wrong end of the ice bag.

Nov. 17 Kevin Sawyer (ana) vs. Stephen Peat (was) A pair of this season’s youthful enforcers stretch their legs in front of the sin bin in D.C. Peat gets the jump early with a barrage of heavy lefts that gives the Cap crusher a one-sided win against league-leader Sawyer.

Nov. 18 Darcy Hordichuk (atl) vs. Sandy McCarthy (nyr) Two seconds into the game, stand back and watch ’em go! Another candidate for one of the season’s best battles royal pits a Southern young gun in Hordichuk against one of the game’s elite ice cops in the Sandy-man. They dance, they slug, they go toe-to-toe, and McCarthy gets a slight edge by dumping Hordichuk down at fight’s end. The scrap leaves both bruisers leaking scarlet.

Nov. 19 Peter Worrell (fla) vs. Tie Domi (tor)

This isn’t the first time these two titans have clashed, and it surely won’t be the last. Right as the puck hits the ice, the gloves are soon to follow, and off the draw they both blast away with some good shots. A late Worrell flurry of rights and Domi ringing in with a big left or two down the stretch give this pair of pugilists a well-earned draw.

Nov. 27 Sandy McCarthy (nyr) vs. Eric Boulton (buf) These two hooked up earlier in the season in a highlight-film frappe at Madison Square Garden. The sequel covers half the ice surface in Buffalo, with both strong-arms flexing their muscles appropriately and taking their piece.

Dec. 6 Chris Simon (was) vs. Darcy Hordichuk (atl) Once among the league’s most feared fighters, Mr. Simon takes up the challenge issued by Hordichuk, a rookie who’s already made an impression. But it’s Simon’s big left hand that makes the big impressions here, repeatedly, on the dome of Hordichuk, thumping his way to an impressive win.

Dec. 8 Eric Boulton (buf) vs. P.J. Stock (bos)

This pier-sixer develops at the side of the cage, with Boulton administering one of the season’s worst face washes on Stock’s grill before the gloves were scattered. Then the fists rained down for both battlers, first Boulton with the right-hand hammers, then Stock with a couple of stiff left hooks, then Boulton to take it late with that friendly right hand. A top-notch dustup.