Los Angeles Kings Rookies v Phoenix Coyotes Rookies

Should size matter in the NHL anymore?

6 Comments

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.

Coyotes GM: Bolland ‘won’t be ready to play for the foreseeable future’ due to injury

Ottawa Senators v Florida Panthers
Getty Images
1 Comment

Arizona Coyotes fans anticipating Dave Bolland‘s debut for his new team will have to wait, and a long time, too, by the sounds of it.

On Thursday, the Florida Panthers traded the 30-year-old Bolland and prospect Lawson Crouse to the Coyotes in exchange for draft picks. Bolland, who has an annual cap hit of $5.5 million, played in only 25 games last season, scoring once with five points.

The move frees up plenty of cap space for the Panthers, while the Coyotes did well to pick up a young forward in Crouse, a former first-round pick who has yet to play in the NHL.

However, at the moment, Bolland is dealing with an injury that could keep him out of any lineup for quite a while. Perhaps the entire season.

Last season, Bolland was a healthy scratch on numerous occasions, which could be frustrating for any player or any organization, but he was locked into a massive five-year, $27.5 million contract.

And that massive contract, or Florida’s desire to move it along, has cost the Panthers a prospect forward.

Video: Pavel Datsyuk scores first goal since returning to KHL

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 11.50.36 AM
1 Comment

Pavel Datsyuk’s venture into the KHL has been official for a while.

This latest development might add salt in the wound of Red Wings fans who wish the skilled but aging center was still playing for the Original Six franchise.

He has now scored his first goal since returning to the KHL. Another former NHLer, Ilya Kovalchuk, set it up off the rush. Datsyuk finished off the play with a slick backhander coming down the right wing.

After it took weeks to decide his future with the Red Wings, Detroit finally unloaded his contract to Arizona at the draft in June.

 

Poll: Will Jaromir Jagr lead the Panthers in scoring again?

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 14:  Jaromir Jagr #68 of the Florida Panthers signals a teammate during the third period against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on March 14, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
3 Comments

This is part of Florida Panthers day at PHT…

At age 43 Jaromir Jagr was the oldest player in the NHL last season by more than four years.

You would have never known it when watching him play.

He was still a dominant top-line player and on many night was the best player on the team. His 66 points were more than any player in NHL history age 43 or older, and he finished as the team’s leading scorer.

While he has obviously slowed down from where he was during his peak years in the league when he was one of best players ever, he is still playing at a level that almost no other player in NHL history has been able to match at this age. And there doesn’t seem to be any sign of him dramatically slowing down in the near future.

Because of that, the Panthers are bringing him back in 2016-17 for at least one more year.

So with Jagr back in the mix for another year, will he end up leading the Panthers in scoring once again even though he will be 44 years old? Jagr is one of just three players in NHL history that has ever finished as his team’s leading scorer over the age of 40, a list that includes only him, Gordie Howe and Teemu Selanne. He is the only player that has done it over the age of 43 and the only one that has done it for two different teams (New Jesrey in 2013-14 and Florida in 2015-16).

The one player that seems to be a significant challenger is Aleksander Barkov. He finished just seven points behind Jagr in 2015-16 (in 12 fewer games) and spent most of the season playing on a line with Jagr and Jonathan Huberdeau, a trio that was one of the most dominant lines in the league when they were together. But given how Jagr still seems to be in great shape and was still a 60-point player a year ago he is not going to be easy to overtake.

Report: Rangers close to inking Pirri

ANAHEIM, CA - APRIL 01:  Brandon Pirri #11 of the Anaheim Ducks jumps over Ben Hutton #27 of the Vancouver Canucks during the first period at Honda Center on April 1, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Getty
11 Comments

One of the most intriguing UFAs left on the open market has reportedly found a new home.

Brandon Pirri, the 25-year-old forward that’s scored 36 goals over the last two seasons, is set to join the Rangers on a one-year, $1.1 million deal, per Sportnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Taken 59th overall by Chicago in 2009, Pirri’s always been high on offensive ability and shown a consistent knack for finding the back of the net, even with limited opportunities.

In ’13-14, he scored 13 times despite only appearing in 49 games.

In ’14-15, he scored 22 times despite only appearing in 49 games.

(This is not a typo. For some reason he hit that 49 game mark with regularity.)

Last year, Pirri had 11 goals in 52 contests before the Panthers flipped him to Anaheim. He proceeded to score three goals and five points in nine games as a Duck — missing a good chunk of time with a serious ankle injury — but failed to crack the lineup during an opening-round playoff loss to Nashville.

In New York, Pirri will be part of a remodeled forward group that includes GM Jeff Gorton’s other pickups this summer: Jimmy Vesey, Michael Grabner, Josh Jooris and Nathan Gerbe.

The group also got a new look via trade, as Gorton flipped Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad.