Often deemed too small by NHL scouts and executives, undersized players frequently have a harder time breaking into the National Hockey League. Many are overlooked and go undrafted since they do not fit the traditional mold of a professional hockey player. However, smaller players have found their way into the NHL and made history. Smaller players like Martin St. Louis, Theo Fleury, Rod Gilbert, Marcel Dionne, Ted Lindsay, and Henri Richard were all of smaller stature, but pushed the boundaries and became essential to their teams and transformed NHL standards.
Below are ten of the smallest hockey players, all under 5’10’’ that have proven to be successful in the NHL, despite the challenge of being undersized.
Torey Krug, Boston Bruins
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 186 pounds
Krug played his college career at Michigan State University. There, he demonstrated his dominant play as an offensive defenseman, which led to him being named a Hobey Baker Award finalist. Although he was undrafted, after his college career he was a highly sought-after free agent. The Boston Bruins ultimately signed Krug in 2012.
Joining the Bruins in the Spring of 2012, he played in two regular season games. The following season he played with the Providence Bruins, and only played one regular season game in Boston. However, he made his playoff debut that spring and scored his first NHL goal in his first game. He went on to play 15 games of the Bruins Stanley Cup run that year.
Since then, he has been a key part of the Bruins blue line. The 27-year-old has 235 career points (52 goals, 183 assists) in 398 career regular season games and 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists) in 38 career playoff games. This season was Krug’s best season yet, as he earned 59 points (14 goals, 45 assists) in 76 regular season games.
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 181 pounds
Brad Marchand was drafted 71st overall by the Boston Bruins in 2006 and joined the team in 2008. He played a significant part in the Bruins 2011 Stanley Cup win, as he scored 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) in 25 playoff games during those playoffs.
This season, Marchand had another career year with 85 points (34 goals, 51 assists) in only 68 games – this was after finishing sixth overall in points in the NHL last season. Those 85 points added to his overall career total of 459 points (226 goals, 233 assists) in 602 games played. Marchand’s impressive season only emphasized his worth to his team, as he re-signed with the Bruins to an eight year/$6.125 million (average annual value) contract in Sept. of 2016.
The 28-year-old winger has been suspended a number of times for his edgier plays. But by no means has this two-way forward changed his game due to his smaller stature.
Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville Predators
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 180 pounds
Arvidsson was drafted by the Predators 112th overall in 2014 after playing with Skellefteå AIK of the Swedish Hockey League. He signed his entry-level contract with the Predators that July, which expires at the end of this season.
He was first recalled to the Predators from their AHL affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, in 2015. Since joining the Predators, he has emerged as a key player and accumulated 138 points (68 goals, 70 assists) in 220 games. Last season was a break out year for the 24-year-old, as he scored 61 points (31 goals, 30 assists) and has continued to contribute in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 22 games.
He followed that up with another productive season scoring 61 points again (29 goals, 32 assists). During the regular season, Arvidsson was successful in generating offense and led his team in a number of categories, including his goals per 60 of 1.12, individual corsi for per 60 of 19.48, and individual shots for for per 60 of 11.42 (data is at 5v5 from Corsica.hockey).
Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 168 pounds
Spurgeon is one of the smallest defensemen in the NHL in terms of height and weight. Even without the size of the traditional defenseman, Spurgeon has found a place in the league thanks to his impressive skating and puck movement.
Drafted 156th overall in 2008 by the New York Islanders, Spurgeon signed with the Minnesota Wild in 2010 after the Islanders did not sign him. Since joining the Wild, Spurgeon has scored 205 career points (56 goals, 149 assists) in 509 games played. This season was one of his best yet, with 0.61 points per game (9 goals, 28 assists) in 61 games.
Spurgeon was consistently the Wild’s best offensive defenseman this season. If his scoring was not indicative enough of his offensive contributions, his high 57.25 Corsi for per 60, 33.89 shots for per 60, and 53.84 scoring chances for percentage are. (data is at 5v5 from Corsica.hockey).
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 157 pounds
Throughout his hockey career, Gaudreau has been doubted due to his appearance, but has consistently proven himself, despite his small size.
Before joining the Calgary Flames, who drafted Gaudreau 104th overall in 2011, he played college hockey with the Boston College Eagles. In his sophomore year, he was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Although he did not win in 2013, he was awarded the Hobey Baker Award after his junior year.
Gaudreau joined the Flames after his junior year season ended with the Eagles to play the final game of the regular season. On his first shot on goal in his NHL debut, he scored his first goal. He played his rookie season the next year with the Flames and earned 64 points in 80 games (24 goals, 40 assists). He was named a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy due to his impressive rookie season.
Through the 24-year-old’s 312 game career, Gaudreau has 288 points (97 goals, 191 assists). This was his best season so far scoring 84 points (24 goals, 60 assists). He was re-signed by the Flames to a six year/$6.75 million AAV contract in Oct. of 2016.
Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning
Vital statistics: 5’8″, 183 pounds
Johnson went undrafted, which may have been due to his smaller stature, but was signed to an entry-level contract by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011. In his first season he played for the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, which then was the Norfolk Admirals, and contributed to their Calder Cup victory.
He was recalled by the Lightning in March 2013 and has since been member of the Lightning. During his rookie season in 2013-14, he scored 50 points (24 goals, 26 assists), and was Calder Memorial Trophy finalist.
The following season Johnson had his best season yet, 72 points (29 goals, 43 assists) in 77 games and put up an impressive performance in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs with 23 points (13 goals, 10 assists) in 26 games.
Overall, Johnson has accrued 261 points (110 goals, 151 assists) in 389 career games with the Lightning. The 27-year-old has been vital to the Lightning and has made a name for himself even with all of the young talent developing simultaneously on his team.
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets
Vital statistics: 5’8″, 179 pounds
Atkinson was the 157th overall pick in the 2008 draft, by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had a career year last season, in his sixth season with the Blue Jackets. Atkinson played through the Blue Jackets entire regular season and scored 62 points (35 goals, 27 assists). Adding his 46 points this season that put his career total of points to 273 (145 goals, 128 assists), through 447 career regular season games.
As a smaller player, he was accustomed to hearing doubts about his career as a hockey player, which he explained to NHL.com, “Everyone at every single age, every single level, told me I wouldn’t make it to the next level. So I think that’s kind of fueled my fire, for sure. Obviously being a smaller guy, you have to have a little arrogance to your game. That’s what’s made me the person, the player, I am today.”
Atkinson has excelled in the NHL because of his explosive speed and skilled hands. And he learned from his friend and mentor, Martin St. Louis, how to succeed in the NHL regardless of his size.
Conor Sheary, Pittsburgh Penguins
Vital statistics: 5’8″, 175 pounds
Sheary played college hockey at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst before signing an amateur-try out with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre Penguins.
He spent his first professional season in the AHL. During his second season, the Pittsburgh Penguins fired their head coach Mike Johnston. Wilkes-Barre Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan was promoted to the NHL. With Sullivan coaching the NHL Penguins, Sheary was recalled in December.
Often playing on Captain Sidney Crosby’s wing, Sheary has become an important part of the Penguins’ top line. Although many assume that Sheary’s success is solely because of Crosby, his key contributions, including his playmaking and vision, have made him an integral part of the Penguins back-to-back Stanley Cups.
In his first NHL season, he helped the Penguins win the 2016 Stanley Cup. He contributed 10 points (four goals, six assists) in the Penguins 23 playoff games last year. The next season, he had seven points (two goals, five assists) to help the Penguins win the 2017 Stanley Cup. The 25-year-old has earned 93 points (48 goals, 45 assists), so far in his 184 game career.
Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers
Vital statistics: 5’8″, 179 pounds
Zuccarello started his professional hockey career in his home country of Norway, with Frisk Asker in GET-ligaen. Next he played in Sweden with Modo Hockey before signing with the New York Rangers as a free agent in 2010.
To adjust to the North American style, he originally played with the Rangers AHL, the Connecticut Whale. In his NHL debut, he scored a shootout goal for the Rangers. Ultimately he played 42 games with the Rangers that season, over multiple stints with the NHL club.
Zuccarello returned to the Rangers in March 2013, after joining the KHL during the lockout. He finished the season with the Rangers and played through all of their postseason games. In 2013-14 he emerged as a top player for the Rangers, earning 59 points (19 goals, 40 assists) in 77 regular season games and was a key part of their Stanley Cup run that season.
Since his break out year, he has maintained his level of play with the Rangers – earning 315 career points (102 goals, 213 assists) in 463 career games. This season, he scored 53 points (16 goals, 37 assists) in 80 regular season games.
Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 174 pounds
Marchessault played in the QMJHL and CHL and impressed with his scoring abilities. However, he was overlooked and undrafted due to his smaller size. He skated with the New York Rangers’ 2011 Traverse City tournament, but was only offered an AHL contract with the Connecticut Whale.
After scoring 24 goals and a team-high 40 assists in his rookie pro season, Marchessault signed a three-year entry deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He scored 108 points in 130 games for their AHL affiliate, while only appearing in two NHL games with Columbus before being moved again.
The Tampa Bay Lightning finally gave Marchessault his first real NHL shot by playing him in 47 regular season games and seven postseason games in two and half seasons. His play in the 2015-16 season earned him a two-year contract with the Florida Panthers.
His one season in Floria put him on the NHL map, scoring 30 goals and 51 points but wasn’t enough for him to be protected in the Expansion Draft. The Vegas Golden Knights were the beneficiaries as he scored a career-high 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists) and was rewarded with an six-year/$5 million (average annual value) contract in January.
Honorable mentions: Brian Gionta, Alex DeBrincat, David Desharnais, Yanni Gourde, Paul Byron, and Brendan Gallagher.