Despite the success of smaller players across the NHL, the size bias that bigger is better still exists. The Montreal Canadiens, in particular, have been criticized for being too small and to combat that, they have drafted larger players in recent years such as Michael McCarron and Jacob de la Rose. However, Montreal has a knack for finding small and skilled players and implementing them in the lineup over the years. For Montreal to succeed going forward, do they need more size?
Too Small Still?
On Montreal’s current official roster, seven out of 16 forwards are under six feet tall. On the surface, the forward corps seems downright tiny. Of that seven, Tomas Plekanec, Torrey Mitchell and Mike Brown are 5′ 11″, which is the same height as Sidney Crosby. Someone like Brendan Gallagher is 5′ 9″ but he has excellent strength and has the will to succeed. He plays bigger than most larger players so as much as he is “small”, Gallagher uses his lack of height to his advantage. David Desharnais is the smallest on the roster at 5′ 7″ but unlike Gallagher, Desharnais can easily be bullied off of pucks and in the corners. Desharnais doesn’t have the elite skill of a Johnny Gaudreau and he doesn’t have the hard-nosed game of Gallagher.
With the recent signings of Artturi Lehkonen and Martin Reway, who are 5′ 11″ and 5′ 8″, the Habs’ prospect pool is brimming with small and speedy players. As talented as they are, all of them won’t make the roster especially with Sven Andrighetto looking to secure a more permanent roster spot and Charles Hudon, who has spent most of the last two years in the minors, ahead of them on the depth chart. As good as smaller players are, teams need balance which makes a player like Michael McCarron valuable. At 6′ 6″ and 230 lbs, he is a force on the ice. McCarron’s presence deters opponents from trying to take advantage of Montreal’s smaller players. The difference with McCarron is that he isn’t a goon. He has the skill and that’s the key. Every lineup needs a little bit of size but it can’t come at the expense of skill.
Skill And Will Win Out
With the game skewed heavily towards puck possession, big players usually have an advantage because they can use their frames to shield the puck and their bodies can usually withstand a more physical game. However, it’s one thing to be big but if you don’t use your size to your advantage, then it doesn’t really matter. Smaller players who make it tend to play big but there are a lot of bigger guys who don’t use their size.
In the playoffs in recent years, Montreal didn’t lose because they were too small. They lost because they didn’t score enough and some of Montreal’s best players aren’t great playoff performers. Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, and Andrei Markov don’t produce anywhere near their regular season numbers while it is a heart and soul player like Gallagher who makes more of a difference.
Two guys hustling out here.
Daniel Carr. Brendan Gallagher. It's not the size of the body that counts.
— Brian Wilde (@BWildeRecrutes) April 6, 2016
The Tampa Bay Lightning are an excellent example of a smaller team having playoff success, as three of their top five playoff point getters this season are under 5′ 11″ (Nikita Kucherov, Tyler Johnson, and Jonathan Drouin). The Lightning balance out their roster nicely with bigger bodied players like Alex Killorn and Brian Boyle but for the most part, Tampa Bay’s forward corps is not big. Instead, their smaller, skilled players elevate their games when it matters most.
The 2016 NHL playoffs have been dominated by smaller players. From the aforementioned Kucherov and Johnson, Joe Pavelski in San Jose and Robby Fabbri in St. Louis, they are turning the size narrative on its head with dominant performances.
Size Doesn’t Matter
Montreal could use some bigger bodied players in their lineup but more than anything, the Habs need to focus on getting more talent into the lineup. The Habs need players who can create offense and score goals. Obviously, it’s a bonus if a player is big and skilled but the team is better off having someone like Andrighetto or Hudon in the lineup ahead of someone like Stefan Matteau, who has size but has struggled mightily to produce at the NHL level. The size bias is not going to go away but there are more than enough examples around the league to show height doesn’t matter. If a player, big or small, wants to win badly enough, they will find a way to perform and not let limitations dictate whether they are good enough to play in the NHL.