Top 10 Undersized NHL Players

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 mould 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.

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Below are ten of the smallest hockey players, all under 5-foot-10 that have proven to be successful in the NHL, despite the challenge of being undersized.

10. Yanni Gourde, Seattle Kraken

Vital statistics: 5-foot-9, 173 pounds

Yet another diamond in the rough mined by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Yanni Gourde had to wait a few years before he caught on in the NHL. After a prolific junior career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) where he had an impressive 220 points (74 goals, 147 assists) in 199 games, he bounced around the American Hockey League (AHL) until the Lightning signed him in 2014.

After another three seasons flipping between the Syracuse Crunch and the Lightning, Gourde finally played his first full 82-game season in 2017-18, and what a season it was. He scored a career-high 25 goals and 64 points and has never seen the AHL since. Since that breakout year, he has recorded 70 goals and 162 points in 280 games.

Yanni Gourde Seattle Kraken
Yanni Gourde, Seattle Kraken (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Gourde also helped the Lightning win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021 where he joined Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow on arguably the best third line in the NHL. Through the two Cup runs, the trio scored 24 goals and 57 points and are one of the biggest reasons why the Lightning are a mini-dynasty right now. Unfortunately for them, they are all playing for different teams with Gourde, Coleman and Goodrow now members of the Seattle Kraken, Calgary Flames and New York Rangers respectively.

Related: Gourde’s Legacy as the Lightning’s Determined, Underrated Star

Gourde was selected by the Kraken in the 2021 Seattle Expansion Draft and is now one of their top centers. With two Stanley Cups on his resume, 101 goals and 16 games away from hitting 400 in the NHL, he has become a prime example of hard work and perseverance paying off.

9. Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild

Vital statistics: 5-foot-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 been a reliable defender that can be counted on to put up solid point totals.

Jared Spurgeon Minnesota Wild
Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Spurgeon hit career-highs in 2018-19 in goals (14), assists (29), and points (43). Since then he has continued to pile up the points to the tune of 29 goals and 97 points in 181 games. He’s consistently among the top-20 defensemen in the league in goals, power-play goals, blocked shots, and time on ice. He was also named captain of the Wild for the 2020-21 season, so leadership is a strength of his too.

8. Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens

Vital statistics: 5-foot-7, 166 pounds

Selected 15th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2019 NHL Draft, Cole Caufield has quickly become one of the best undersized players in the NHL. Bursting onto the scene as a 20-year-old during the 2020-21 season, he scored four goals and five points in 10 games and then was a key forward in the Canadiens’ improbable run to the Stanley Cup Final scoring four goals and 12 points in 20 games.

Going into the 2021-22 season, Caufield was almost unanimously predicted to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie based on his performance in the 2021 Playoffs and late in the 2020-21 regular season. Unfortunately, he got off to a horrid start and was eventually sent down to the AHL’s Laval Rocket to gain confidence and hone his game. The Canadiens were also off to a bad start, so bad in fact that head coach Dominique Ducharme was fired and replaced by Hall-of-Famer Martin St. Louis.

Cole Caufield Montreal Canadiens
Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

St. Louis getting hired behind the Canadiens’ bench was the best thing that could have happened to Caufield. Under St. Louis’ direction and leadership, he exploded to finish the season with 23 goals and 43 points in 67 games. His performance was so electric that he got back into the conversation for the Calder Trophy, which eventually went to Moritz Seider of the Detroit Red Wings.

Going into the 2022-23 season, Habs fans are hoping Caufield can continue where he left off and become the 50-goal scorer a lot of people envisioned for him after he was drafted. Blessed with a goalscorer’s mentality and a pin-point accurate shot, the dynamic forward from Stevens Point, Wisconsin should be part of this list for many seasons to come.

7. Viktor Arvidsson, Los Angeles Kings

Vital statistics: 5-foot-9, 181 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 and became a full-time NHLer in the 2016-17 season.

Viktor Arvidsson Los Angeles Kings
Viktor Arvidsson, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

After joining the Predators, Arvidsson emerged as a key player, putting up 61 points in both of his first two full NHL seasons. In 2018-19, he set a new career-high in goals with 34, despite playing just 58 games. He has regressed offensively in the last two campaigns recording only 25 goals in 107 games but has since turned it around in Los Angeles. Acquired by the Kings in the 2021 offseason for a couple of draft picks, he finished with 20 goals and 49 points, his best totals since that career season in 2018-19.

6. Cam Atkinson, Philadelphia Flyers

Vital statistics: 5-foot-8, 179 pounds

Atkinson was the 157th overall pick in the 2008 Draft, by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Like many others on this list, he had a career season in 2018-19, putting up 41 goals, and 28 assists for 69 points. He was also named an NHL All-Star.

Cam Atkinson Philadelphia Flyers
Cam Atkinson, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

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.”

Related: Flyers’ Cam Atkinson Is Having Career-Revitalizing Season

Atkinson has excelled in the NHL because of his explosive speed and skilled hands. And he learned from his friend and mentor, St. Louis, how to succeed in the NHL regardless of his size. Since that 41-goal season, he has regressed a bit to only 50 goals in 173 games. After the 2020-21 season, he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers after spending his entire NHL career with the Blue Jackets.

The Flyers had a disappointing season in 2021-22, but Atkinson did not. Finishing the season with his best goal total since that career year in 2018-19, he definitely was not the reason for his team’s downfall last season, that’s for sure. Now reunited with his old coach from Columbus, John Tortorella, he might be able to record another 30 or 40-goal season if the spark can be reignited between them.

5. Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild

Vital statistics: 5-foot-8, 179 pounds

Zuccarello started his professional hockey career in his home country of Norway, with Frisk Asker. 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 club, the Connecticut Whale. In his NHL debut, he scored a shootout goal for the Rangers. He played 42 games with them that season, over multiple stints with the NHL club.

Mats Zuccarello Minnesota Wild
Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Zuccarello returned to the Rangers in March 2013, after joining the Kontinental Hockey League (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 team, 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 breakout year, he maintained his level of play with the Rangers­­, earning 352 points in 509 games. He was then traded to the Dallas Stars, where he played just three regular-season games and 13 playoff games (three points and 13 points, respectfully). In July 2019, Zuccarello signed with the Minnesota Wild.

Since joining the Wild, he has continued to be a consistent source of offence. In three seasons he has 50 goals and 151 points in 177 games. Like most of the players on this list, he had a resurgent 2021-22 season. Finishing with a career-high 79 points, he helped key the Wild attack along with Kevin Fiala, Kirill Kaprizov and the surprising duo of Ryan Hartman and Marcus Foligno. Without Fiala in 2022-23, he will be expected to at the very least hit those same numbers again, maybe getting closer to 30-35 goals instead of the 24 he recorded last season.

Between his skill, heart, and fearless play, Zuccarello has become a fan favourite (from ‘Mats Zuccarello’s style makes him a fan favorite,’ Newsday, 05/03/2017) and a three-time recipient of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award (from ‘Rangers Tradition Takes On Added Poignancy With Loss of ‘a Hero’,’ New York Times, 04/09/2017).

4. Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights

Vital statistics: 5-foot-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 Rangers’ 2011 Traverse City tournament but was only offered an AHL contract with the 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 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.

Jonathan Marchessault Vegas Golden Knights
Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

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 Florida 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 a six-year, $5 million average annual value (AAV) contract.

Marchessault hasn’t matched the same point totals he put up in his first season with the Golden Knights, but he has continued to be a productive player. He already has four 20-goal seasons and has accumulated 122 goals and 291 points in 356 games since joining the team from Sin City. In fact, he recorded his first 30-goal season in Vegas in 2021-22 and his best overall point total (66) since 2017-18. Needless to say, a lack of size has not held him back from becoming an elite player in the NHL.

3. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Vital statistics: 5-foot-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.

Brad Marchand Boston Bruins
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Marchand seems to get better every season, with 2018-19 setting career highs in points, with 100. He collected 36 goals and 64 assists to hit the century mark for the first time in his career. He was a big part of the Bruins’ playoff run again in that campaign, helping the team reach the Stanley Cup Final and leading the playoffs in points (23) before the team fell to the St. Louis Blues. Since then, he has put up three more 20-goal seasons and has eclipsed the 60-point plateau three more times as well. In fact, he recorded his fifth 30-goal and 80-point season in 2021-22 when he finished with 32 goals and 80 points in 70 games.

Unfortunately for the Bruins, Marchand won’t be starting 2022-23 until December as he recovers from offseason hip surgery. As such, he will be hard-pressed to hit those totals again this season. Regardless, despite being undersized at 5-foot-9, he will probably go down as one of the most lethal goalscorers, not to mention pests in NHL history.

2. Johnny Gaudreau, Columbus Blue Jackets

Vital statistics: 5-foot-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.

Johnny Gaudreau Calgary Flames
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Gaudreau has become one of the best players in the entire league. In 2018-19, he set new personal bests in goals (36), assists (63), and points (99). He is still an elite talent in the NHL despite regressing to 58 points in 2019-20 and 49 points in 2020-21. Since debuting at the end of the 2013-14 season, he has never finished with less than 18 goals and continues to be a threat every time he’s on the ice, even skating around in a 5-foot-9 frame.

Related: 7 Cool Things About Johnny Gaudreau

In what ended up being his ninth and final season with the Flames, Gaudreau led the charge during their best regular season in years finishing with a career-high 40 goals and 115 points. He then surprisingly signed a gaudy eight-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets worth $9.75 million AAV in the offseason and will now be teaming up with Patrik Laine in the Eastern Conference. I think it’s safe to say “Johnny Hockey” is back, but that won’t make it any less weird to see him sporting the Blue Jacket rather than the Flaming C starting in 2022-23.

1. Alex DeBrincat, Ottawa Senators

Vital statistics: 5-foot-7, 165 pounds

The 39th-overall selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft impressed early in his career as a Chicago Blackhawk. Alex DeBrincat was a player who many said wouldn’t make it due to his height. It’s safe to say he’s proved them wrong.

He broke into the league for the 2017-18 season, scoring 28 goals, and adding 24 assists for 52 points. His sophomore campaign was even better, putting up 41 goals, 35 assists and 76 points. Then after a bit of a down season where he only recorded 18 goals, 27 assists, and 45 points, he put up his second 30-goal season in 2020-21 in only 52 games. If the season would have been the normal 82 games, he probably would have hit 40 goals for the second time in his career. Continuing his dominance in 2021-22, he matched his career-high of 41 goals and finished with two more points than his career season back in 2018-19.

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Like Gaudreau, DeBrincat will be sporting a new jersey in 2022-23 as the Blackhawks traded him to the Ottawa Senators in the offseason for a package of draft picks. He joins a burgeoning young core that includes Tim Stützle, Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris among others. Expect him to get near the 35-40 goal mark again as the diminutive 24-year-old just continues to get better with every passing season.

Honourable mentions: Brendan Gallagher, Conor Sheary, Tyler Johnson, Rocco Grimaldi, Torey Krug, and Vinnie Hinostroza.