Often deemed too small by NHL scouts, small, undersized, but skilled players, often have a harder time convincing NHL executives and coaches to give them a chance at the pro hockey level than a 6’4”, 220 pounds forward with lesser skills, but with a bigger physical frame. The rigour of the 82-game NHL calendar take its toll on every player, and even more so on players with a smaller stature, as they tend to tire more easily over the long run. Add in a long playoff run, and we are looking at around 100 games of hockey over a period of nine months.
However, as with everything, there are always exceptions to the rule, and the ten players below, all under 5’10”, made sure to silence their detractors by proving to the world that undersized players can have successful careers in the NHL.
1. MARTIN ST. LOUIS, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Vital statistics: 5’8″, 177 pounds
Never drafted, St. Louis started making an impact at the NHL level at the age of 27 in 2002-03. Since then, the speedy right-winger has averaged 32 goals and 52 assists for 84 points while missing only seven games over nine seasons. He missed only five games in 2011-12 despite receiving a puck to the face in practice, sustaining facial and nasal fractures. Talk about durability and toughness! He had been named a Hart trophy finalist the season before after recording 31 goals and 68 assists for 99 points in 2010-11. One of the most spectacular players in the NHL, St. Louis won the Stanley Cup with the Lightning back in 2003-04. St. Louis, who turned 37 last June, still has three seasons remaining to his contract.
2. BRAD MARCHAND, BOSTON BRUINS
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 183 pounds
Marchand was quite effective as a sophomore last year, notching 28 goals and 27 assists for 55 points along with an impressive +31 plus/minus rating in 76 games with the Boston Bruins. Playing on a line with young sensation Tyler Seguin and play-maker Patrice Bergeron, Marchand is a very good penalty killer and can play on the power play. The gritty left winger has made his mark already in the playoffs, scoring 11 goals and adding 8 assists for 19 points in 25 games for Boston to help them winning the Stanley Cup in seven games at home against the Vancouver Canucks.
3. DAVID DESHARNAIS, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Vital statistics: 5’6″, 177 pounds
Despite being a dominant player at every level of hockey since he was fifteen years old, David Desharnais went undrafted. Still, in 2008 Desharnais is invited to the Habs AHL training camp and signs a two-way contract (ECHL-AHL) with the team on his way to play his first full-AHL season where he would excel before getting his chance to graduate with the Canadiens in 2009-10. The following campaign, DD got called up after notching an impressive 10 goals and 35 assists for 45 points in only 35 games with the Bulldogs, playing alongside a certain Max Pacioretty. The native of Laurier-Station, Quebec, ended up playing 43 games in 2010-11, scoring 8 goals and 14 assists for 22 points despite playing only 12 minutes per game. Desharnais finally broke out last season when he recorded 16 goals and 44 assists for 60 points in 81 games with the Habs, playing with Max Pacioretty and Erik Cole.
4. JIRI HUDLER, CALGARY FLAMES
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 178 pounds
After a successful season with the Detroit Red Wings, Hudler opted for free agency and signed a four-year contract worth $16 million with the Calgary Flames. After playing in the KHL in 2009-10, Hudler came back to North America the following year struggling to regain his confidence and his scoring touch. In 73 games with the Wings, the 28 year-old Hudler recorded only 10 goals and 27 assists for 37 points. After a slow start in 2011-12, Hudler finally started producing in Hockey Town and finished the season with a respectable offensive production of 25 goals and 25 assists for 50 points in 81 games, making him an important piece of Detroit’s offense. Hudler will be counted on to carry the offensive load on a goal-starved Calgary Flames team.
5. TYLER ENNIS, BUFFALO SABRES
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 163 pounds
Another sophomore player, Ennis had a great first season with Buffalo, recording 20 goals and 29 assists for 49 points in 82 games. The shifty left-winger has been a key element of the Sabres since making his NHL debut late in 2009-10. Unfortunately, Ennis was bothered by injuries most of last campaign, playing only 48 games while recording 15 goals and 19 assists for 34 points with a good +11 differential ratio. The speedster finished fourth in scoring among rookies in 2010-11 and he has a very bright future ahead of him.
6. DEREK ROY, DALLAS STARS
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 185 pounds
Traded over the summer to the Dallas Stars in exchange for über-pest Steve Ott and journeyman defenseman Adam Pardy, Roy had the worst offensive season of his career last year, recording only 44 points in 80 games with Buffalo. The year before, the diminutive pîvot had managed to score 35 points in 35 games, an 82-point pace over a full season, despite missing 47 games with a torn left quadriceps muscle. Prior to his 2010-11 shortened season, Roy had averaged 25 goals and 41 assists for 66 points in 77 games over five campaigns. Thanks to great skating abilities and an excellent vision, he will be an important cog of the Stars’ offense along with Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson once the NHL lockout ends.
7. MICHAEL CAMMALLERI, CALGARY FLAMES
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 182 pounds
Cammalleri, who was traded in the middle of a game in Boston last season, had a down year for the Montreal Canadiens prior to the trade, scoring only 22 points in 38 games. Cammy fared a little bit better in Alberta, recording 11 goals and 8 assists for 19 points in 28 games. The undersized left winger has shown his clutch value over the years, scoring 3 goals and 7 assists for 10 points in 7 games in a seven-game series versus the Boston Bruins in 2010-11. The year before, the Toronto-native had registered 13 goals and 6 assists for 19 points in 19 games during the 2009-10 Habs’ surprising playoff run. He has scored 25 goals or more in a season four times. His wrist shot is one of the most accurate in the NHL when he actually uses it.
8. BRIAN GIONTA, MONTREAL CANADIENS
Vital statistics: 5’7″, 175 pounds
Named the Canadiens’ captain in 2011, Gionta scored 29 goals and added 17 assists for 46 points in 82 games that year despite playing on a line with unproductive center Scott Gomez. Last season, Gionta missed 51 games due to injury, recording only 15 points in 31 contests. Since the lock-out, the feisty right winger has averaged 29 goals and 28 helpers for 57 points in 75 games. He won the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils in 2002-03. Gionta leads by example and, despite his smallish size, Gio is always ready to drive the net with energy and grit to bury a lose rebound past the goaltender.
9. STEVE SULLIVAN, PHOENIX COYOTES
Vital statistics: 5’8″, 160 pounds
After an injury-marred campaign during which he only recorded 22 points in 44 games with the Nashville Predators, Sullivan signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The decision was wise as Sully notched 17 goals and 31 assists for 48 points (21 of which came on the power play) in 79 games. Since the lockout, the brisk winger had only played more than 70 games once in a season before the 2011-12 campaign. Sullivan, 38, has scored 60 points or more seven times, but because of all the injuries he sustained during his career, the lockout might prove to be his swansong if it lasts the entire season.
10. NATHAN GERBE, BUFFALO SABRES
Vital statistics: 5’5″, 178 pounds
The smallest NHL player plays big! The quick forward scored 16 goals and added 15 assists for 31 points in 64 games with Buffalo in his rookie season. He followed with a campaign of 6 goals and 19 assists for 25 points in 2011-12. The Sabres were 19-2-4 when he recorded a point in 2010-11. Mostly playing on a third-line in a checking role, Gerbe is looking forward to get more ice-time from head coach Lindy Ruff. If Gerbe is paired with the right offensive players, he could easily crack the 50-point mark next season as he has all the tools, except the size, to be a successful NHLer.
Honorable mentions: Mathieu Perreault, Cam Atkinson, Mike Weaver, Jared Spurgeon, Francis Bouillon, Jordin Tootoo, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Stephen Gionta, Andy Miele, Keith Aucoin, Andrew Ebbett, Scott Nichol
Think I missed someone or believe the above ranking is incorrect? Drop me a comment to express your opinion!
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