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.

Ben Bishop shows off his new Team USA World Cup mask

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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Ben Bishop enjoyed plenty of success during the 2015-16 season and it didn’t go unnoticed. That’s why the veteran was selected to be part of Team USA for this fall’s World Cup of Hockey.

Team USA is loaded in goal, as they’ll be bringing Bishop, Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick and New Jersey’s Cory Schneider. It’ll be interesting to see how the coaching staff approaches this situation heading into the tournament.

Even if Bishop doesn’t start every game for Team USA, he can still say he has a pretty cool goalie mask for the occasion.

On Saturday, Bishop took to Twitter to show off his new piece of equipment:

That’s a pretty sweet mask!

With arbitration hearing looming, Corrado and Leafs aren’t that far apart

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 5:  Frank Corrado #20 of the Toronto Maple Leafs waits for a puck drop against the Ottawa Senators during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on March 5,2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Senators defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Frank Corrado should be used to waiting by now. He had to wait 28 games before the Leafs inserted him into the lineup for the first time last season and now he’s waiting for a new contract.

There’s still a gap between the two sides, but it doesn’t appear to be very significant. Corrado and the Leafs will head to arbitration on July 26th unless the two sides can agree to a new deal before then.

According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, The Leafs have two different offers on the table. One is a two-way contract, while the other is a one-way deal that would see him make less money if he sticks in the NHL. Corrado is looking for a one-way deal worth $900,000.

Toronto scooped Corrado up off waivers from the Canucks prior to the start of the 2015-16 season. Despite waiting a while to actually hit the ice as a Leaf, Corrado finished the season with one goal, six points and a minus-12 rating in 39 games. He averaged 14:27 of ice time.

Splitting the difference would result in Corrado making roughly $737,500 next season.

The Maple Leafs are also scheduled to go to arbitration with forward Peter Holland (July 25) and defeseman Martin Marincin (Aug. 2).

Blues GM: We may take ‘half a step back,’ while young veterans grow into leadership roles

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 12:  Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues celebrates with Jaden Schwartz #17 of the St. Louis Blues, Dmitrij Jaskin #23 of the St. Louis Blues and Jori Lehtera #12 of the St. Louis Blues after scoring the game-winning goal against the Dallas Stars in overtime at American Airlines Center on March 12, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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After a few early exits from the Stanley Cup playoffs, the St. Louis Blues were finally able to make a long run. Granted, they didn’t win the Stanley Cup or make it to the final, but they did manage to reach the Western Conference Final.

Unfortunately for the Blues (and a lot of other teams), the NHL’s salary cap number didn’t increase very much and it forced the organization to part ways with a number of key veterans. Gone are captain David Backes, winger Troy Brouwer and goalie Brian Elliott.

There could be even more change between now and the start of the year, as Kevin Shattenkirk could find himself elsewhere.

Those key departures mean that the Blues will need some of their younger players to step up and take on more of a leadership role starting this fall. How will the team respond? Nobody knows, not even GM Doug Armstrong.

“It’s going to be an interesting case study on how quickly this group takes up the leadership,” Armstrong said, per the Boston Globe. “Can they do it in September? Or does it take them a year? There’s certainly a faith that over time, they’re going to pick it up without any issue. Obviously you want them to pick it up as quickly as possible. We don’t want to take any backwards movement in our organization. But sometimes you do expose yourself to maybe taking half a step back to take a couple steps forward.”

Young leaders like Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo will need to “step up” in the leadership department, but the Blues aren’t completely out of veterans. Jay Bouwmeester, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen are all still on the roster. Still, it’ll be interesting to see if the Blues take that “half step back” that Armstrong was talking about.

Related:

Jake Allen still needs to prove he’s a ‘legit’ number one goalie

Blues sign Schwartz to five-year deal

Backes doesn’t want to ‘sling mud’ at Blues on his way out

Newest Coyote Schenn is looking forward to playing in a market with no ‘outside added pressure’

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 20:  Luke Schenn #52 of the Los Angeles Kings looks back at Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks after Schenn was called for roughing in Game Four of the Western Conference First Round during the NHL 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 20, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Since coming to the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2008, Luke Schenn has had the opportunity to play in Toronto, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Playing in cities that love hockey is great, but it also comes with a certain amount of pressure.

Schenn, who is a former fifth overall pick, hasn’t lived up to his lofty draft status and when you underachieve in Toronto and Philadelphia, the fans and media make sure you know it.

On Saturday, Schenn signed a two-year deal in Arizona, which is a non-traditional hockey market. It sounds like it may have been done by design.

“I’m looking forward to coming to a market where I can just worry about playing hockey and not outside added pressure, and hopefully growing with the team,” Schenn said of signing with the Coyotes, per the team’s website. “I know they have a lot of upside and I still feel like I’ve hopefully got some upside, too. (I’m) still at a good age where I can continue to grow with them and evolve.”

The Coyotes have Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski who are more than capable of moving the puck up the ice and players like Schenn and Zbynek Michalek will be counted on to provide some defensive stability.

“They’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot the puck and move the puck well and (who’ve) got a good offensive instinct for the game, so I just want to try to play solid defensively and help out in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill and play physical,” added Schenn. “Obviously, the way the game is now there’s a lot of skating so you’ve definitely got to pick your spots to be physical, but I still think there’s definitely still a need for that.”

Arizona still needs to work out deals with restricted free agents Michael Stone and Connor Murphy. Even if both players return next season, Schenn should still have a role as a four, five or six defenseman with the ‘Yotes.