Los Angeles Kings Rookies v Phoenix Coyotes Rookies

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.

Islanders agree to terms with Dennis Seidenberg

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 08:  Dennis Seidenberg #44 of the Boston Bruins skates against Mason Raymond #21 of the Vancouver Canucks during Game Four of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 8, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Word surfaced on Wednesday morning that the New York Islanders were expected to sign veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.

On Wednesday night, the team announced that it has officially agreed to terms with him on a one-year contract. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but according to TSN’s Darren Dreger earlier in the day the value is reported to be $1 million.

Seidenberg is currently playing a significant role for Team Europe, a surprise finalist against the heavily favored Canadians.

The 35-year-old defenseman was unexpectedly bought out by the Boston Bruins over the summer. He had two years remaining on his contract, with a cap hit of $4 million.

Seidenberg was a key part of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup champion team in 2011, but injuries limited him to just 61 games last season, and his average ice time fell below 20 minutes for the first time since he was with the Hurricanes in 2007-08.

He’ll likely take on a bottom-pairing role with the Islanders, below Nick Leddy, Travis Hamonic, Johnny Boychuk, and Calvin de Haan. He may even be the extra defenseman, pushing the likes of Thomas Hickey, Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech, and Scott Mayfield for a spot in the lineup.

Related: Seidenberg shocked by Bruins’ decision

Rieder’s agent thinks trade from Coyotes is best for both parties

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 02:  Tobias Rieder #8 of the Arizona Coyotes in action during the NHL preseason game against the San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 2, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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It seems that Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba isn’t the only unsigned restricted free agent that might be looking for a fresh start somewhere else.

Arizona Coyotes forward Tobias Rieder also seems to be ready to explore other options.

It’s already been known that Rieder is frustrated in his current negotiations with the Coyotes and will not attend training camp once he is finished playing for Team Europe at the World Cup.

On Wednesday afternoon, his agent, Darren Ferris, told Arizonasports.com’s Craig Morgan via email that he thinks it would be best for both parties if the Coyotes simply trade his client at this point, and that Rieder is “really disappointed” with the team.

More from Arizonasports.com:

“It’s unfortunate that a good kid gets treated this way. He never balked at the defensive role they made him play, and they don’t seem to value the intangibles he brings to the team.”

The Coyotes do not seem to have any interest in actually dealing Rieder at this point.

There’s a lot of rhetoric here, and that really should not be a shock considering the circumstances, but when looking at the numbers that are being talked about this doesn’t seem like a situation that should be beyond repair. A middle ground isn’t that far off.

According to Rieder’s agent, he is seeking a two-year deal worth $2.5 million per year. The team is reportedly holding strong with either an offer at $2.2 million per year, or a lower one-year qualifying offer. Again, that’s not a huge gap in terms of asking price. In actual salary it’s a total of $600,000 over two years, while the cap hit is only an extra $300,000 each year. For a young player that is already fairly productive and still has some upside to get better.

The middle ground in those two numbers would be a cap hit of $2.35 million per season.

The 23-year-old Rieder has played two full seasons in the NHL with the Coyotes and is coming off of a 14-goal, 37-point performance.

Originally a fourth-round draft pick by the Edmonton Oilers, the Coyotes acquired Rieder in a 2013 trade for Kale Kessy. Seeing as that Kessy has yet to play a single game in the NHL and only recorded 12 points in 56 AHL games a season ago it’s been a pretty good deal for the Coyotes.

Now they just need to find a way to make sure they can continue to benefit from it by trying to bridge this (relatively speaking) small gap in contract talks.

NHL odds: Coyotes biggest long shot to make playoffs in 2016-17

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 26:  (L-R) Christian Dvorak #18, Luke Schenn #2, Radim Vrbata #17, Dakota Mermis #43 and Max Domi #16 of the Arizona Coyotes celebrate after Schenn scored a first period goal against the Los Angeles Kings during the preseason NHL game at Gila River Arena on September 26, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Dylan Strome all in place, the Arizona Coyotes have an exciting core of young talent that should have a bright future in the NHL.

From a big picture outlook, there are plenty of reasons for optimism surrounding the Coyotes.

Vegas, on the other hand, isn’t a big believer in the Coyotes chances for the 2016-17 season.

The folks at Bovada released their playoff odds for the upcoming season and the Coyotes opened as the biggest long shot to make the playoffs (-600 to miss the playoffs; +400 to make them).

Here are the odds for every team, via Bovada.

Playoff Odds (From Most Likely to make the playoffs to least likely to make the playoffs)

Washington Capitals – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -1000 (1/10)
No +600 (6/1)

Tampa Bay Lightning – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -850 (17/2)
No +525 (21/4)

Chicago Blackhawks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -800 (1/8)
No +500 (5/1)

Pittsburgh Penguins – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -800 (1/8)
No +500 (5/1)

St Louis Blues – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -800 (1/8)
No +500 (5/1)

San Jose Sharks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -700 (1/7)
No +475 (10/4)

Los Angeles Kings – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -300 (1/3)
No +240 (12/5)

Dallas Stars – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

Florida Panthers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

Nashville Predators – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

New York Rangers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -280 (4/15)
No +220 (11/5)

New York Islanders – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -250 (2/5)
No +200 (2/1)

Anaheim Ducks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -180 (5/9)
No +150 (3/2)

Boston Bruins – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -165 (20/33)
No +135 (27/20)

Montreal Canadiens – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -165 (20/33)
No +135 (27/20)

Philadelphia Flyers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -150 (2/3)
No +120 (6/5)

Minnesota Wild – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -140 (7/5)
No +110 (11/10)

Winnipeg Jets – To make the Playoffs?
Yes -115 (20/23)
No -115 (20/23)

Calgary Flames – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +120 (6/5)
No -150 (2/3)

Edmonton Oilers – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +120 (6/5)
No -150 (3/2)

Detroit Red Wings – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +125 (5/4)
No -155 (20/31)

Colorado Avalanche – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +150 (3/2)
No -180 (5/9)

Vancouver Canucks – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +180 (9/5)
No -225 (4/9)

Buffalo Sabres – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +240 (12/5)
No -300 (1/3)

New Jersey Devils – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +250 (5/2)
No -325 (4/13)

Ottawa Senators – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +250 (5/2)
No -325 (4/13)

Toronto Maple Leafs – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +250 (5/2)
No -325 (4/13)

Columbus Blue Jackets – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +275 (11/4)
No -350 (2/7)

Carolina Hurricanes – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +300 (3/1)
No -400 (1/4)

Arizona Coyotes – To make the Playoffs?
Yes +400 (4/1)
No -600 (1/6)

If you’re feeling bold, the Coyotes aren’t the worst bet to make here. They are certainly not a lock to make the playoffs, but the biggest long shot seems like it is a little much as well.

Getting into one of the top three spots in the division is going to be tough because Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose had a pretty commanding lead for those spots. But the Coyotes still weren’t that far out of a playoff spot this past season, finishing in 10th place in the Western Conference, nine points out of the second wild card spot. It’s not like they were a bottom-feeder in the NHL. Plus, they made the move over the summer to bring in veteran defenseman Alex Goligoski to help on the blue line and should have Strome, the No. 3 overall pick from a year ago, ready to make his NHL debut.

Report: Ekblad cleared by Panthers doctors

NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 30:  Aaron Ekblad #5 of the Florida Panthers poses for a 2016 NHL All-Star portrait at Bridgestone Arena on January 30, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Sanford Myers/Getty Images)
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Aaron Ekblad has been medically cleared by Florida Panthers doctors, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger.

That’s a big relief for everyone involved after Ekblad was injured while representing Team North America in the World Cup. The injury was originally reported as a “mild” concussion, though it was later called a neck injury.

The 20-year-old has since been back on the ice working out.

“Ekblad is going to be fine,” Panthers coach Gerard Galant said. “You see him out there skating already. I think it was a little scary, but he feels real good. He’s going to skate and see how he feels, but everything looks good.”

The first overall pick in the 2014 draft, Eklbad had already dealt with at least one concussion during his playing career. He suffered one in an international exhibition game during the summer of 2014, just prior to his outstanding rookie season with the Panthers.