In today’s NHL, players of smaller stature and physique are often shunned and even ignored due to a perceived lack of ability in a league of predominantly large players.
Of course, larger players have the ability to dominate those smaller than them physically, but those who are smaller tend to have greater speed, agility, and in many cases, determination.
In the 2014-15 NHL season, the average player height was 6 foot 1, while the average player weight was 202.7 pounds.
In terms of the biggest, that distinction belongs to Zdeno Chara at 6 foot 9, 255 pounds. On the other hand, the league’s smallest player was Nathan Gerbe at 5 foot 5.
As has long been the case, NHL clubs dream of landing players with good size as well as talent with the puck. Players with size who can produce offensively on a consistent basis are amongst the highest valued, and paid, players in the NHL.
However, in recent seasons, players of lesser stature have become increasingly significant and influential in the NHL game. In particular, the likes of Tyler Johnson (5 foot 9, 180), Jiri Hudler (5 foot 10, 185), Patrick Kane (5 foot 11, 180), and most recently, Johnny Gaudreau (5 foot 9, 150) have all become elite offensive players, while others such as Brendan Gallagher have earned league wide respect for their unrelenting play.
Due of the success of such players, a major shift has begun to take place throughout the NHL. Once neglected, smaller players have now begun to illustrate their importance to those who have provided them the opportunities to succeed at the NHL level.
With the NHL Entry Draft approaching, select young players of smaller stature look to continue this movement by smashing the negative stigma associated with players of lesser size.
Smashing the Stereotype
In the NHL, the belief by many that small players do not have the sufficient size to be relevant NHL players has long existed, especially so in recent years. However, as we have seen in recent seasons and through the play of particular players, such is simply not the case.
On June 26th, 2015, the increasing admiration of players of smaller stature will reach a new high, as a number of elite prospects available at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft are what many would consider to be “small”.
In particular, these highly touted players and likely first round draft picks are those such as Mitch Marner, Travis Konecny and Nick Merkley.
Mitch Marner was an offensive terror for the London Knights this past season who will very likely be made one of the first five selections of the first round.
Marner has elite skill, as witnessed in his four goal game this past season.
At 5 foot 11, 160 pounds, Marner is amongst the smallest, and lightest players available in the draft. Yet despite his lack of size, Marner scored an incredible 44 goals and 126 points in 63 games this season in London, finishing his year at a two point per game pace.
Subsequently, Marner was named the Smartest Player in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference, while he was also awarded the Jim Mahon Trophy as the OHL’s highest scoring right winger. His 126 points were second in OHL scoring only to Erie Otters prospect Dylan Strome.
Commonly known as a bulldog on skates, Travis Konecny is not only an elite offensive player, but he is also a physical force on the ice.
Check out this huge hit by Konecny, who levels fellow 2015 draft prospect Filip Chlapik.
Standing in at 5 foot 9, 175 pounds, Konecny is also one of the smallest players in the draft, yet projects to be drafted in the middle of the first round, in the 10-20th overall selection range.
Selected first overall in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection by the Ottawa 67’s, Konecny is the team’s current captain who finished the 2014-15 season with 68 points, 29 goals, in only 60 games played. Konecny has also represented Canada on the international stage on three separate occasions, having played in the Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament and, most recently, at the Under-18 World Championship.
Like Marner and Konecny, Merkley doesn’t have great size, but he does have amazing skill offensively. Merkley is only 5 foot 10, however he is a stronger player, weighing in at 190 pounds, allowing him to play a surprisingly physical game similar to Konecny.
Take a look at this awesome prospect profile of Merkley, which includes some thunderous hits.
A Memorial Cup finalist with the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, Merkley only scored 20 goals in 2014-15, however he added an incredible 70 assists. In fact, his 90 points led a loaded Rockets team in scoring this season.
On top of a terrific regular season, Merkley, who defines himself as a playmaker, was great on the road to the Memorial Cup, scoring five goals and 27 points in 19 playoff games, second only to Edmonton Oilers’ prospect Leon Draisaitl, who scored 28.
The Next Generation
These young, small players are ushering in a new generation and type of NHL player. Once rare, players of smaller stature are finding more and more full time roster spots with teams throughout the NHL.
Despite the perception that a lack of size leads to physical domination on the ice, the play of both current NHL players as well as top prospects in this year’s Entry Draft illustrate that such is not the case. In reality, those who appear weak and small to many are increasingly strong and perpetually determined hockey players.
Sure, their lack of size results in the increased probability of having to play a more physical game, however those such as Marner, Konecny and Merkley can dish out their fair share of physical play and are in no way afraid of opposing players, however large they may be.
Resulting from this disregard of fear alongside strong physical play and elite offensive prowess, we are witnessing the development of the NHL’s newest type of player, and, if the success of those such as Tyler Johnson and Brendan Gallagher are evidence of the potential of such players, one who will become increasingly dangerous in NHL over the coming years.