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Should size matter in the NHL anymore?

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Around hockey circles, there’s a saying: “Small players need to prove that they can play, big players need to prove that they can’t.” Look around the NHL and the first round of any draft and you’ll find that’s as true today as it’s ever been. A huge, semi-productive prospect is given the benefit of the doubt, while a small superstar will have more question marks around his name than Matthew Lasko. But as general managers and scouts slowly get acclimated to the anti-obstruction rule changes in the post-lockout era, those talented players who used to be passed over are starting to get their shot.

Guys like Nathan Gerbe, Brian Gionta, and Scott Gomez are proving that players of any size can thrive in the NHL if they’re good enough. Dave Joseph from ESPN Radio in Los Angeles saw the 5’8” Martin St. Louis at the University of Vermont and says he was clearly the best player on the ice—yet he went undrafted. The prospect who had been dominant at every level had to catch on as a free agent with the Calgary Flames. Take the exact same player on the exact same team and put him in a 6’3” body—he’s undoubtedly a Top 5 pick. In 2004-05 (pre-lockout), he proved the scouts wrong when he earned the Hart Trophy, Art Ross Trophy, Lester B Pearson Trophy, and Stanley Cup en route to one of the best individual seasons in recent memory.

Maybe it’s because of St. Louis’ success. Maybe it’s because of the rule changes. Either way, NHL teams are slowly starting to give all talented players an opportunity. No team better exemplifies that than the Los Angeles Kings with their recent draft picks.

Linden Vey was a smaller prospect and even went undrafted the first time around, yet last season he put up 116 points in the Western Hockey League. For a point of reference, it was the best single season in the WHL in 11 seasons. The Kings drafted him in the 4th round with the 96th pick in the draft his second time around. He understands that his size and the scouts perception isn’t something he can worry about if he wants to be successful. Vey explains his outlook:

“All you can do is control what you do on the ice and how you prepare. That’s what I try to focus on. All of those other things, those aren’t up to you. You just have to make sure to stay focused—my dream is to play in the NHL one day and I just have to make sure to keep working one day at a time.”

Kings head coach Terry Murray has been around the block a few times and sees the shifting landscape as well.

“The game has changed. The smaller player today… we’re looking back before I played as a player. But you go back into those teams you look at on tape in the 1950’s. You have a lot of smaller guys who are very skilled, very fast. The game now with the rule changes, the style that we’re playing, and the way we’re looking at things as coaches, there’s lots of room for the smaller players that have great skill and speed.”

There’s more to it than just a shifting landscape though. St. Louis thrived even before the rule changes, so there was proof that smaller players could perform given the chance. Some of the traits that have helped St. Louis become so successful are his quickness and his ability to visualize the game. Another Kings prospect, Jordan Weal, knows he may not have the body to match up with other players, so like St. Louis, he takes a different tact to neutralize his size disadvantage.

“[I use] quickness, for sure,” Weal explained. “Moving my feet in the offensive zone because it’s a lot harder to hit a moving target than someone who is standing still. If I keep my feet moving and think the game a couple of steps ahead of the other guy, then I can stay on top of that and create chances.”

Sounds like good advice for any player in the NHL—regardless of size. But just as important as size and on-ice intelligence; it’s heart, grit, and determination that will separate the players who can play in the NHL and those who cannot. The best of the Kings diminutive bunch of offensive prospects may be Calgary Hitman alum Brandon Kozun. Kozun tore up the Western Hockey League by putting up the first back-to-back 100-point seasons the WHL had seen since 2001. But even with all of his success, he’s still had to overcome repeated comments about his size.

“I’ve heard everything,” Kozun revealed. “It doesn’t affect me. I’ve heard every small joke. Or you can’t play here, you can’t play there. I just don’t even listen to it anymore.”

Despite having a reputation to favor bigger players, Murray likes the potential in Kozun—but not for the obvious reasons you may think. “[Brandon Kozun’s] got some real determination,” Murray beamed. “[He has] some real heart to play the game hard, you’re going to play. You’re going to play in high traffic areas and you’re going to generate a lot of offense because of his ability to create that separation. Kozun’s that man. He’s put up a lot of numbers on his resume over his junior career.”

To recap: A player needs to be quick, gritty, and smart to make the NHL? Who knew? It sounds so simple, but for years scouts and NHL organizations have looked the other way when it came to productive players under 6’.

Murray summed up the challenges for all prospects. These aren’t challenges that only small prospects, marginal prospects, or late round picks face—these are challenges that all draft picks face.

Despite tough fight, Stars hand Wild their sixth straight loss

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The Minnesota Wild put together the kind of effort that would beat a lot of NHL teams on Tuesday. Unfortunately for that beleaguered group, it wasn’t enough to edge the Dallas Stars.

Despite generating 40 shots on goal and generating 1-0 and 2-1 leads, the Wild lost to the Stars 4-3 in overtime. With that, they’ve lost six straight games.

(The view doesn’t get much prettier if you pull away a little further, either, as Minnesota’s only won once in the last month, going 1-9-2 in their last 12.)

Ultimately, the Stars’ big guns were too powerful. Tyler Seguin generated two assists and so did Jamie Benn, who set up John Klingberg‘s overtime game-winning goal.

Again, the effort sure seemed to be there for the Wild, even if they’re far beyond the point of accepting moral victories.

As frustrating as this must be, Minnesota’s not that far from a playoff spot. Still, it has to sting to see “Close, but not good enough” as a prevailing theme as of late.

Royal beating: Lucic, Kings crush Bruins 9-2

As Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron (37) looks on Los Angeles Kings' Milan Lucic waves to the crowd after a tribute to him was played on the screen during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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The Boston Bruins welcomed Milan Lucic back on Tuesday. Maybe they shouldn’t have extended such a warm welcome to the Los Angeles Kings overall, however.

You won’t see many games as lopsided as this one, at least in 2015-16, as the Kings walloped the Bruins by a humbling score of 9-2.

Lucic wasn’t just there, either, as he scored a goal and an assist in his quite triumphant return to Boston.

Tuukka Rask had a short night in Boston’s net, yet it wasn’t as if Jonas Gustavsson enjoyed his time. It was a pretty sound beating by all accounts.

This dominant win is a heck of a way for the Kings to begin an imposing seven-game road trip, which continues against the New York Islanders on Thursday. The Bruins probably want to burn the tape on this one themselves, as they’re about to head on a six-game road trip.

Video: Evander Kane believes he won his fights vs. Alex Petrovic

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The Florida Panthers are beating up the Buffalo Sabres where it counts – on the scoreboard – but Evander Kane was happy to highlight his perceived victories in a couple bouts.

Buffalo’s power forward fought Alex Petrovic twice on Tuesday, and Kane wasn’t shy about holding up a “2-0.”

You can watch the second fight above, and the first one below, via Hockey Fights by way of MSG:

This GIF might just say it all, really:

Update: Apparently they fought again moments after this post went up.

Probably safe to call it a rivalry between the two, right?

The Panthers ultimately won 7-4.

Fight video: Yes, a visor-breaking punch

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Some hockey players resist the urge to wear a visor, at least if they’re given that choice.

Perhaps a few will say “Hey, Nathan Beaulieu will just punch it off anyway.”

Maybe not, but Beaulieu provided a rather unique moment in his fight with Cedric Paquette during the Montreal Canadiens – Tampa Bay Lightning game. You can watch that bout in the video above, and see a cut on the Lightning pest’s face from that blow.

Want it in GIF form? OK then: