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 26 year-old has 176 career points (38 goals, 138 assists) in 322 career regular season games and 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 27 career playoff games. This season was Krug’s best season yet, as he earned 51 points (eight goals, 43 assists) in 81 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 a career year with 85 points (39 goals, 46 assists) in 80 games – finishing sixth overall in points in the NHL. Those 85 points added to his overall career total of 374 points (192 goals, 182 assists) in 534 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 earlier this season.
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 77 points (39 goals, 38 assists) in 142 games. This 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 four points (two goals, two assists) in eight games.
During the regular season, Arvidsson was successful in generating offense and led his team in a number of categories, including his Corsi for per 60 68.95, scoring chances for per 60 8.76, expected goals for per 60 of 2.88, and goals for per 60 of 3.47 (data is at 5v5 from Corsica.hockey).
Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild
Vital statistics: 5’9″, 164 pounds
Spurgeon is the smallest defenseman 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 168 career points (47 goals, 121 assists) in 448 games played. This season was his best yet, with 38 points (10 goals, 28 assists) in 76 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 56.84 Corsi for per 60, 32.29 shots for per 60, and 9.08 scoring chances for 60 are. He finished the season with the highest goals for per 60 of the Wild’s defense (3.04) and lowest goals against per 60 of 1.93 (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 23-year-old’s 232 game career, Gaudreau has 204 points (73 goals, 131 assists). His best season so far was in 2015-16 when he scored 78 points (30 goals, 48 assists). This season, he put up 61 points (18 goals, 43 seasons) and was re-signed by the Flames to a six year/$6.75 million AAV contract.
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 211 points (89 goals, 122 assists) in 308 career games with the Lightning. The 26 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″, 182 pounds
Atkinson was the 157th overall pick in the 2008 draft, by the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had a career year this 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). Those 62 points put his career total of points to 227 (121 goals, 106 assists), t through 382 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.
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 24 year-old has earned 63 points (30 goals, 33 assists), so far in his 105 game career. Due to injury, his last season was shortened to 61 games. Nonetheless, he earned 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists).
Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers
Vital statistics: 5’7″, 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 41 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 262 career points (86 goals, 176 assists) in 383 career games. This season, he scored 59 points (15 goals, 44 assists) in 80 regular season games and has continued his competitive play on both sides of the ice into the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
David Desharnais, Edmonton Oilers
Vital statistics: 5’7″, 176 pounds
Desharnais played in the QMJHL and CHL and impressed with his scoring abilities. However, he was overlooked and undrafted due to his smaller size. He was invited to the Montreal Canadiens training camp in 2007, but did not qualify for the NHL team. Instead, Desharnais played with their ECHL affiliate.
He attended the Canadiens’ training camp again in 2008 and earned a two-way contract with the team. Desharnais made his NHL debut in 2009-10, but only played six games and before being returned to their AHL affiliate. During the next season, he was again recalled and became a fixture in the Canadiens’ lineup until he was traded to the Edmonton Oilers at the 2017 trade deadline.
Even though Desharnais had a slow start to his NHL career, while putting up high scoring numbers throughout his juniors and AHL career, he has earned 254 career points (81 goals, 173 assists) in his 453 career NHL games.
And it was the Oilers’ smallest player, Desharnais, that had a big performance in their first round series against the San Jose Sharks this year. In Game 5, he earned two points––one of which was the overtime game-winning goal.
Honorable mentions: Brian Gionta, Stephen Gionta, Jonathan Marchessault, Michael Cammalleri, Tyler Ennis, Paul Byron, Frank Vatrano, and Brendan Gallagher.