Los Angeles Kings Rookies v Phoenix Coyotes Rookies

Should size matter in the NHL anymore?


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.

Lower-body injury will keep Ryan Pulock out for 4-6 weeks

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 21: Ryan Pulock #6 of the New York Islanders skates against the Arizona Coyotes at the Barclays Center on October 21, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Well, this isn’t the start to the season Ryan Pulock was hoping for.

After playing six games with the Islanders during last year’s playoffs, many expected Pulock to make the team out of training, but that didn’t happen.

He didn’t spend much time in the minors (two games) because of the injury to Nick Leddy.

Pulock made his season debut in last night’s game against Arizona. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a lower-body injury after playing just 3:57.

On Saturday, the team announced that Pulock will be out anywhere between 4-to-6 weeks.

If Leddy can’t play on Sunday, the Islanders will have to recall another defenseman from the minors. Because they’re carrying three goalies, they only have room for six blue liners.

With Tuukka Rask banged up, Bruins recall Zane McIntyre on emergency basis

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Zane McIntyre #50 of the Boston Bruins makes a save against the Washington Capitals during the second period at TD Garden on September 22, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Boston Bruins recalled goalie Zane McIntyre on an emergency basis on Saturday morning.

The call up was necessary because it doesn’t look like starter Tuukka Rask will be able to suit up against the Montreal Canadiens tonight.

Rask missed Friday’s practice with what head coach Claude Julien described as “general body soreness,” but it might be a little more serious than that if he’s forced to miss multiple games.

According to Julien, Rask is feeling better, but the prefer giving him the night off.

The Bruins selected McIntyre in the sixth-round of the 2010 Entry Draft.

He’s never suited up in an NHL game before.

The 24-year-old turned pro last year, after spending three years at the University of North Dakota.

He had a 14-8-7 record with a 2.68 goals-against-average and a .898 save percentage with Providence in 2015-16. This season, he has a 0.44 goals-against and a .977 save percentage in three games.

It’s interesting to note that the Bruins preferred McIntyre to former first rounder Malcolm Subban.

Subban has an 0-3 record in the AHL this year and he’s been pulled in two of his three outings.

Guy Boucher won’t have ‘revenge’ on his mind during Saturday’s tilt against the Bolts

OTTAWA, ON - OCTOBER 12: Head coach Guy Boucher of the Ottawa Senators looks on from the bench against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Canadian Tire Centre on October 12, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

On Saturday night, Sens coach Guy Boucher will get his first crack at the Tampa Bay Lightning since they fired him during the 2012-13 season.

After being relieved of his duties, he had a hard time finding a head coaching gig in the NHL and was forced to move to Switzerland to stay behind the bench.

Despite the end result, Boucher says there’s no hard feelings between he and his old club.

“Maybe it’s the distance of the years, I’m very calm and almost cold about it,” Boucher said, per the Tampa Bay Times. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s been too long. I guess if it was last year, or two months ago, and it was all the people I worked with, all the players I had, but I only coached two players. That’s it.”

Boucher’s tenure in Tampa Bay wasn’t all bad. He helped them reach the Eastern Conference Final in his first year as coach in 2010-11, but failed to make the playoffs the following season.

After a 13-17 start in 2012-13, the Lightning decided to go in a different direction.

But for a guy who had no previous NHL coaching experience, Boucher insists he’s just thankful for the opportunity his first team gave him.

“That’s why I’d love to say, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s a revenge day,’ and the whole big story so you can get a great story. But for me, I’m so grateful… Steve Yzerman and Mr. Vinik, Julien (BriseBois), I owe them a lot. As a family we had four years down there, a really good life. I was very fortunate he gave me the reins of an NHL team.”

He’s off to a good start with his new team, as the Sens are 3-1-0 heading into tonight’s game.

Canucks look to remain unbeaten on tough weekend road trip

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 15: Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates his game winning goal against the Calgary Flames during a shootout of their NHL game at Rogers Arena on October 15, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)
1 Comment

The Vancouver Canucks were a popular preseason pick to finish the 2016-17 season as one of the worst teams in the Western Conference. Who knows, when all is said and done they still might end up closer to the basement. But for now, the Canucks are — quite surprisingly! — the NHL’s last unbeaten team thanks to a 4-0-0 start that has included a bunch of one-goal wins, including three overtime games.

Relying on overtime and come-from-behind wins every night probably isn’t the best long-term strategy when it comes to winning games, but for right now it has worked, and the wins in October count just as much as the wins later in the season.

Every point helps.

If they want to remain as the NHL’s only unbeaten team through the weekend they are going to have to do it on a tough road trip that features a set of back-to-back games in Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Any set of back-to-back games on the road is a tough situation, especially when you are talking about two teams that have been Stanley Cup contenders in recent years as the Kings and Ducks typically are. But this weekend swing may not be as daunting as it would have first appeared when the schedule came out.

They get a Kings team on Saturday that is off to a 1-3 start and has already given up 15 goals in four games. A lot of that is due to the absence of starting goalie Jonathan Quick. Backups Jeff Zatkoff and Peter Budaj have not played particularly well in his place. They didn’t get their first win until Thursday on a controversial overtime goal against Dallas.

Then on Sunday the Canucks make a visit to Anaheim to face the Randy Carlyle-led Ducks who are only 1-3-1 through their first five games while only scoring 10 goals.

In other words: Everything seems to be going Vancouver’s way right now. They are keeping teams off the scoreboard, finding ways to win, and even when they go on their first road trip of the season they are getting a pair of teams that are struggling. If they can somehow get through this set of back-to-back games they return home for another three-game home stand against Ottawa, Edmonton and Washington. So they have a great opportunity to get off to a fantastic start.