The 2015-16 NHL Small-Star Team

Two years ago, I compiled the first (as far as I can tell, anyway) NHL Small-Star Team, comprised entirely of players 5’11” and under. I did so to prove a point; namely, that the league is full of extremely talented players less than six feet tall. According to, 164 players 5’11” or smaller have played at least one game in the world’s premier hockey league this season. Despite the lengthy and successful careers of the likes of Pat Verbeek (5’9″), Theo Fleury (5’6″), Martin St. Louis (5’8″) and others, hockey scouts, pundits and fans continue to wonder aloud whether this or that prospect might be too small for the NHL. As I stated two years ago, hockey is a game of skill. If player size was the key to success, there would be no controversy surrounding the inclusion of John Scott (6’8″) on the All-Star Game roster. To re-emphasize my original point, I’ve selected a new Small-Star Team for 2015-16.


Johnny Gaudreau, CGY (5’9″) – Joe Pavelski, SJS (5’11”) – Patrick Kane, CHI (5’11”)

Artemi Panarin, CHI (5’11”) – Matt Duchene, COL (5’11”) – Nikita Kucherov, TBL (5’11”)

Mike Cammalleri, NJD (5’9″) – Vincent Trocheck, FLA (5’10”) – Kyle Palmieri, NJD (5’10”)

Mats Zuccarello, NYR (5’7″) – Ryan Spooner, BOS (5’10”) – Cam Atkinson, CBJ (5’8″)

Honorable Mentions: Max Domi, ARI (5’10”) – Mathieu Perreault, WPG (5’10”) – Brendan Gallagher, MTL (5’9″)

In selecting the players above, I deliberately omitted several high-powered 5’11” forwards, such as Claude Giroux, Sidney Crosby, Alex Steen and Pavel Datsyuk, in favor of shorter skaters. Going through the process, I was struck by the number of quality forwards in the NHL under six feet tall. I could assemble a second team of twelve forwards and still leave off some worthy players.

Future small-stars are in the pipeline: The AHL is stocked with prospects like the Florida Panthers’ Rocco Grimaldi (5’6″) and Kyle Rau (5’8″), future Dallas Star (and current AHL All-Star) Brendan Ranford (5’10”) and the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak (5’10”), among others. In addition, the 2016 NHL Draft Midterm Consensus Rankings feature Clayton Keller (5’9″) and Alex DeBrincat (5’7″) as projected first-round picks. There will be no shortage of undersized forwards in the NHL for the foreseeable future.


Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI (5’11”) – Tyson Barrie, COL (5’10”)

Brian Campbell, FLA (5’10”) – Ryan Ellis, NSH (5’10”)

Torey Krug, BOS (5’9″) – Anton Stralman, TBL (5’11”)

Honorable Mentions:  Alex Goligoski, DAL (5’11”) – Sami Vatanen, ANA (5’10”)

There’s a definite preference across the league for big, strong defensemen who can easily clear the goal crease of interlopers. That bias makes defensemen under six feet harder to find than similar-sized forwards. In spite of that, enough exist to form a second Small-Star team, including Calgary’s Kris Russell (5’10”), whose 156 blocked shots are second only to Francois Beauchemin of Colorado.

As with the forwards, a number of small, skilled defensemen are working their way up to the NHL, such as Dallas’ first-round pick in 2014, Julius Honka (5’11”), and New York Islanders prospect Mitchell Vande Sompel (5’10”). Agile defensemen who can skate or pass the puck out of danger with ease and work the point on the power play will always have a place in the NHL, regardless of size.



Jaroslav Halak, NYI (5’11”)

Jhonas Enroth, LAK (5’10”)

Sadly, the days of Darren Pang, Andy Moog and Arturs Irbe are gone. Scoring is down in today’s NHL largely because goalies are much more technically proficient than in generations past, but also because modern goalies are so large. As of the All-Star break, Halak and Enroth are the only goalies in the NHL under six feet. Only three others have played at least one game this season, and they’re all riding buses in the AHL now. Of the 82 goalies who have played at least one game in the NHL this year, 58 are 6’2″ or taller. The trend shows no signs of changing. Of the top 45 2016 draft-eligible goalie prospects ranked by NHL Central Scouting, just two are under six feet, and only just; they’re both listed at 5’11.75″. Future Small-Star teams may have to include goalies as tall as 6’1″, or else have no netminders at all.

Postscript: When writing this article, I couldn’t help but compare my 2015-16 Small-Stars to the original (2013-14) team. Some of the originals didn’t make the cut this time around because they’ve since retired (Martin St. Louis, Kimmo Timonen, Tim Thomas) or because their season has been diminished by injury (James Wisniewski, Nathan Gerbe). One honorable mention last time around, 5’11” defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, was ineligible this year because, according to the St. Louis Blues website, he’s now six feet tall. Conversely, Ryan Callahan was 5’11” as Captain of the New York Rangers and is now a 5’10” winger for the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s only a matter of time before a “Callahan Fails to Measure Up in Tampa” story appears.