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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.

Ex-NHLer Kevin Stevens pleads guilty in drug conspiracy

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 31:  Kevin Stevens #25 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Washington Capitals during the 2011 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game on December 31, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) A two-time Stanley Cup champion hockey player from Massachusetts has pleaded guilty to a federal drug charge.

The Boston Globe reports (http://bit.ly/2grdpkl ) 51-year-old Kevin Stevens entered the plea Thursday in a Boston federal court to a charge of conspiring with another man to sell oxycodone.

Prosecutors say Stevens and another man were involved in a scheme to sell the painkiller from August 2015 through at least March 2016 in several cities. A plea agreement says Stevens was responsible for 175 pills containing 30 milligrams each of oxycodone.

His attorney says Stevens has battled an addiction to painkillers for many years.

The Pembroke native played 15 seasons in the National Hockey League, winning consecutive Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992.

‘I’m going to stick up for myself’: Price has no regrets when it comes to incident with Palmieri

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Seeing Carey Price lose his cool in last night’s game against the Devils was pretty shocking given his calm nature, but the Habs goalie had no regrets after the game was over.

“I got run on the first goal and I wasn’t going to take another one,” Price said, per the Montreal Gazette. “I got fired up, I guess. I’m going to stick up for myself now.

“It seems to be the nature of the league, to go hard to the net, run the goalie and score the goal. You have to stick up for yourself once in a while.”

Price’s actions might seem a little crazy on the surface, but when you consider the amount of times he’s missed games with various knee injuries, you kind of understand his frustration.

Remember  this incident with Rangers forward Chris Kreider? Well, Price also took matters into his own hands with Kreider the next time they faced each other (it was a little more subtle than last night’s episode).

A knee injury also forced him to miss most of last season, and I don’t have to remind you what happened to the Canadiens while he was gone.

As for Palmieri, he saw nothing wrong with what he did.

“I mean, it’s just a hockey play,” Palmieri said after the game.

“I’ve done it probably 50 to 100 times in my career. You got to the net and whether it’s a trip or push, you lose an edge. It’s going to the net and that’s where you score goals.”

In case you didn’t know (Price admitted he didn’t), there is a rule about goalies using their blocker to target an opponent’s head.

Here’s the wording from the NHL rule book:

51.3 Match Penalty – If, in the judgment of the Referee, a goalkeeper uses his blocking glove to punch an opponent in the head or face in an attempt to or to deliberately injure an opponent, a match penalty must be assessed.

51.4 Fines and Suspensions – There are no specified fines or suspensions for roughing, however, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).

Price being suspended seems highly unlikely, but the league issuing a fine isn’t out of the question.

PHT Morning Skate: Ben Bishop loves chowing down on delicious carbs

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–Lightning goalie Ben Bishop is a creature of habit when it comes to his game day meals. One of the things that’s consistent in his diet is the overload of carbs. Bread, pasta and oatmeal, Bishop eats it all on game day. Here’s a deeper look into his diet. (Sports Illustrated)

–Speaking of carbs, did you know that Alex Ovechkin always dreamed of becoming a pizza delivery boy? Okay, maybe not, but this Papa John’s commercial of him failing miserably at being a delivery guy is still pretty funny. (Top)

–The Edmonton Oilers made a huge move last off-season when they shipped Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson. The Oilers are currently in first place in the Pacific Division, but that doesn’t mean the trade has worked out well for them. (Sportsnet)

–Wayne Gretzky will appear on an episode of the Simpsons on Sunday evening. NHL.com provides us with a look at his appearance. “People argue about a lot of things, but they never argue about who’s the greatest hockey player. It’s always him,” Al Jean, who’s an executive producer on the show. “I don’t think there is anybody better at anything than Gretzky is as a hockey player. He had a lot of great stories, and it was a real pleasure to meet him.” (NHL)

–Oilers sophomore forward Connor McDavid has been fantastic this season, but “The Great One” still doesn’t think he’s the top player in the NHL. “Is Connor a great player? Absolutely. Does Connor have an opportunity to be the next Crosby? Absolutely. Right now, Sidney deserves to be known as the best player in the game,” Gretzky told ESPN.com.

–Yesterday, we told you that Blackhawks emergency goalie Eric Semborski will be getting his own Topps hockey card. Now, Puck Junk gives us the inside story on how the idea for the card came about. “It all came together pretty quickly,” said Mike Salerno, App Producer of Topps Skate. “We saw the situation in Philadelphia unfold over the weekend and thought it would make for a fun and unique card.” (Puck Junk)

Video: Max Domi hurt after big hit, fight with Garnet Hathaway

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Dave Tippett insists that, even though he suffered an upper-body injury, Max Domi has to play with the sort of edge he showed tonight.

But, yeah, that edge left him bleeding this time around.

As you can see from the video above, Domi and Garnet Hathaway engaged in a fierce fight after a hit by Domi. The Arizona Coyotes forward left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury, and is now considered day-to-day. The price of doing business?

Domi grabbed an assist during the game, so maybe this will be the sort of thing that helps him get back on track.

Speaking of back on track, the Flames are now on a five-game winning streak while the Coyotes dropped their sixth in a row as Calgary won 2-1 in overtime. Chad Johnson remains brilliant, Mike Smith keeps getting Arizona points (they may or may not actually want in the long run) and, hey, Dougie Hamilton is still a Flame: