Is “Too Small For The NHL” Changing?

The average Caucasian male in North America stands around 5’9-5’10 and weighs anywhere between 150-170 pounds. If you saw someone walking down the street who fit this description, you probably wouldn’t bat an eye. However, if you were standing next to someone this size in a NHL locker room, you would immediately think that the guy was at a disadvantage. Well, you used to think that way…

Things are changing in NHL locker rooms – and their farm system counterparts – faster than anyone could have anticipated. This past season there were 73 roster players (most of them forwards) who were listed at 5’10 or shorter vs. only 53 players ten years ago (38% increase). These players are listed on average between 180-185 pounds. Now anyone who has met a lot of professional athletes knows that what players are listed at is generally exaggerated. A guy who is listed at 5’10 185 lbs, likely walks around the neighborhood at 5’8 170’s.

When Martin St. Louis (listed at 5’8 176 lbs, but really much smaller) and Sergei Samsonov (5’8 180 lbs) first came into the league in the late 90’s, all anyone could talk about was how small they were. A decade later there are more than two guys this size on every roster and that number is only going to increase.

This past draft (2010), there were 20 players selected that were listed at 5’10 or shorter, with 4 going in the first round. In the 2000 draft there were only 11 players drafted under 5’10, with none going in the first round. Imagine where we will be 10 years from now.

So where am I going with all of this?

It bothers me that every time I hear some “expert” talking about the Tyler Ennis’s (5’8) and Jeff Skinner’s of the world, the focus is always on their stature, and the “insight” is that they need to bulk up to get into this league. That’s just lazy analysis.

Bulking up has almost nothing to do with getting into the Show and dominating in it. Guys like Zach Parise, Mike Cammalleri, and Pavel Datsyuk didn’t go and put on 25 lbs before their stats blew up. The core tools were always there and it started with being complete hockey players. If Christian Thomas is going to crack the roster, it won’t be because his biceps need to be bigger. It will be because he can skate like the wind, strip the puck from opposing players, and of course…score goals.

So while certain positions in professional sports are only getting bigger, forwards in hockey are getting smaller. Maybe it’s about time we stop talking about how Mats Zuccarello needs to hit the gym and focus on how he needs to have better escapability with the puck and learn how to play defense in all three zones. That is what will determine his spot on the depth chart, not whatever height/weight listing Glen churns out of his bingo machine.

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  • thats because we compare these guys to the likes of jagr ovechkin and nash who are freight trains.

    it is becoming more of a speed game, so in that sense size matters less.

    hence i am holding out hope that thomas’s speed makes up for his lack of stature.

  • Well size helps that’s for sure. Zuccarello has the skills to make it in the league for sure at only 5’7. The key is if your the smaller players is positioning on the ice. You have to know in the back your head everytime your on the ice where to be so don’t get destroyed by one of these huge guys. The rules the NHL has implemented has really led to size of the players making the team become smaller. Well Gretzky wasn’t that short at being 6’0 ft but for his time period he was small and a stringbean on the ice. Gretzky was hardly ever checked on the ice because he rolled with the check, and was nearly unhittable.

    • Patrick Kane, while not a very fast skater also avoids checks with the best of them. It’s definitely a skill to avoid hits when the puck is on your blade. Gretz was the best at this…just a slippery player.

    • Um. He was never checked because an enforcer was on the ice to pummel anyone who looked at gretzky the wrong way.

      Instigator rule will make smaller players more viable

  • i think zuccs held his own this season.he even threw a few checks of his own.he wasnt great but wasnt terrible either and hung in with his size for the most part.

      • I’m not too worried about his strength as much as I am worried about his lack of foot speed. Guys that size usually shake defenders with ease, which he doesn’t seem to do…well see

  • Zuc started off really good. Lots of skill, made some plays, fun to watch, especially in the shoot outs. However, even he admitted, his body wasn’t ready for an 82 game season. So it does take the College /European players time to get their body in condition to play a whole season. They stay in the line up if they continue to score. Something Zuc’s just wasn’t doing enough later in the year, but that was the case for the WHOLE team.
    Their needs to be a balance, in the eastern conference for sure. It sure is nice to have a Boyle that will play the body and score 20 goals.

  • Remember guys Zuccarello went undrafted so if it doesn’t exactly work out for him it’s fine and if he shows that he’s got what it takes then Gordie Clark, and Slats look like geniuses.

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