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.