What does the future hold for small players?

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Like speedboats among freighters, the majority of undersized hockey players who made it to the NHL did so because they were quicker and more agile than their larger, more powerful counterparts.

But what does the future hold for those that hope to emulate the likes of Tyler Ennis, Jeff Skinner, Steve Sullivan, Cory Conacher, Brian Gionta, and Nathan Gerbe?

Because according to Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, the freighters of the NHL aren’t so slow and cumbersome anymore.

“The difference that I’ve seen in the last three years is, all the big players can skate like the little guys,” said Hitchcock, per Sportsnet’s Mark Spector.

And as if that wasn’t troubling enough for diminutive types, at least one general manager believes the way the game is played (and called) has started once again to favor the bigger player, as it did before the 2004-05 lockout.

“When I took this job, we decided on a style of play that resulted in great success,” said Canucks GM Mike Gillis last week after his team was swept out of the playoffs. “And clearly, the landscape has changed and we have to address those changes. We don’t have a choice. It’s not something I necessarily agree with. But that’s what we face, and that’s what you have to do.

“We have to make the changes and adjustments necessary to compete for a Stanley Cup. It’s my intention to do it and recognize what’s going on and make sure we have a team that’s better equipped.”

Gillis knows better than anyone that the last two teams to win the Stanley Cup did it with size and strength, since both the Bruins and Kings beat Vancouver.

Not that Boston and Los Angeles are bereft of skill; obviously, they aren’t. But there’s no question they favor a heavier, more physical game.

The worry for Canucks fans is that Gillis is overreacting based on a small sample size. What if the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup this year? Chicago finished the regular season ranked 30th in hits. Patrick Kane isn’t a giant. Neither is Jonathan Toews. The ‘Hawks are a great team because they have the puck all the time, and they know what to do with it.

Of course, Kane was drafted first overall, while Toews went third. They aren’t your typical players. Nor, for that matter, is Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis, the league’s top scorer. The reason he’s such a great story is because not many small, undrafted players do what he’s done.

Perhaps Gillis feels that, absent a blue-chip draft position, getting bigger and stronger is his best option in an NHL where big and strong doesn’t have to mean big and slow anymore.

PHT Morning Skate: Melnyk denies Senators sale; Kopitar has Hart

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Eugene Melnyk denied rumors that he was selling the Ottawa Senators. “Let me set the record straight. I have no idea how a reporter fabricated a fiction about my selling the team. These stories pop up out of nowhere probably from someone ‘hearing something’.” [Ottawa Sun]

• A fascinating oral history of the inaugural season of these Senators. [Sportsnet]

• The KHL initially announced they would be allowing its players to participate in the PyeongChang Olympics, then retracted it. So for now, we still wait to see what will happen. [NBC Olympics]

• Will the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” hockey team wear new jerseys? That’s still a question that lingers. “There’s a discussion around the [Russia] uniform,” said Roman Rotenberg, the Russian federation’s senior vice president. “It’s been produced already and there are certain technical questions.” [NBC Olympics]

Anze Kopitar, now healthy, is playing his way into the Hart Trophy discussion. [FanRag Sports]

Marc-Andre Fleury on facing his old team tonight: “The Cup champs, it’s a good challenge for our team. I’d like to do my part to beat them.” [Post-Gazette]

• The board game that NHL players love to play on the road? Risk, just like Kramer and Newman. Ukraine not weak! [Sports Illustrated]

• Read this important story on former NHLer Matt Johnson, who is now homeless and missing. [TSN]

• How a young girl from Barbados became a huge Florida Panthers fan. [Miami Herald]

• A really cool graphical look at the history of Indianapolis hockey jerseys. [The Sin Bin]

• How the PyeongChang Olympics will affect NCAA hockey. [College Hockey News]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

The Buzzer: Senators win, Subban from center, Lehtonen notches 300th win

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Players of the Night: 

Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators: It’s been a struggle for Ryan this season. He came into the game with just as single goal in 21 games but left with two in 22 while also adding an assist to help the Senators avoid a six-game losing streak.

Tyler Pitlick, Dallas Stars: Pitlick scored twice, bookending Dallas’s five goals in a 5-2 win against the New York Islanders.

P.K. Subban, Nashville Predators: If you continue reading (and you should) you will see Subban’s goal that came from quite a distance. The defenseman notched two in a ___ win against the Vancouver Canucks, powering the Preds to their ninth win in their past 12 games.

Highlights of the Night: 

Brad Marchand fought off Mike Green, and then did this to win in overtime:

Dylan Larkin. Breakway. Shorthanded. Backhand.

Blunder of the Night: 

Yikes, Anders Nilsson. Bravo, P.K.

Factoids of the Night: 

Dallas Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen killed two birds with one stone on Wednesday:

Filip Forsberg accomplished an impressive feat for the second time in his career.

MISC: 

Scores: 

Senators 3, Rangers 2

Stars 5, Islanders 2

Bruins 3, Red Wings 2 (OT)

Predators 7, Canucks 1


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Stone-cold man wins car, reacts appropriately

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Has anyone ever remained so calm after winning a car?

This Vancouver Canucks fan, introduced as Aaron, won a brand new Toyota tonight, hitting a shot from center ice through a hole barely wider enough to fit the puck.

We should have seen this coming.

Aaron’s stone-cold demeanour reared its head long before he took his first shot.

“Do you like to drive?” Canucks in-game and TV host Hannah Bernard asked.

“Of course,” Aaron said.

“Could you use a new car?” Bernard followed.

“Always,” he replied, stoically.

“Are you nervous?” Bernard asked.

“Yeah,” Aaron said, presumably lying.

Aaron, again presumably, began to troll those at Rogers Arena. He missed wide left on his first attempt, then wide right on his second.

Then he calmly sent the third arrow-straight down the middle.

“I said I’d win it,” Aaron said. “It’ll be a long drive home, but it will be worth it.”

He certainly showed P.K. Subban the way. The Predators defenseman scored his own goal from center ice in the same game.

Bravo, Aaron. Simply incredible.

Marchand, Pastrnak come through in Bruins’ 3-2 overtime win against Red Wings

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The Boston Bruins mounted two successful comebacks in the third period on their way to a 3-2 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday.

The Bruins, who have been surging as of late, won for the 10th time in their past 12.

The Red Wings, in quite the opposite scenario, lost their third straight and for the 11th time in their past 12 contests.

By all accounts, the Red Wings deserved a better fate, at least until the third period.

They limited the high-flying Bruins to just two shots in the first period and clawed out a 1-0 lead midway through the second frame, with Tomas Tatar‘s wrist shot finding twine after a perfect screen from Justin Abdelkader.

Boston found the equalizer they needed early in the third frame, and from an unlikely source.

Noel Acciari tied the game 1-1 with his second of the season after getting a couple whacks at a loose puck in front of Jimmy Howard, capping off a solid shift from the Bruins fourth line at 3:02.

Detroit took the lead for a second time, this time short-handed after David Pastrnak got caught pinching, allowing Dylan Larkin to get behind the Bruins rearguard, scoring a beauty on a breakaway to make it 2-1.

Scoring for Boston had been a strength coming into the game.

David Pastrnak, Boston’s top point-getter, came into the game sporting an eight-game point streak. Brad Marchand, sitting just behind Pastrnak in terms of points, have a five-game heater of his own going.

The dynamic duo wouldn’t be denied; the streaks would continue.

Marchand picked out Pastrnak with a perfect back-door feed to tie the game 2-2 with 1:26 remaining in regulation, forcing overtime.

Marchand, now running with good karma, took a backhand pass from Torey Krug and turned it into a partial breakaway, fending off Mike Green, and putting his backhand in the top shelf behind Howard.

Tuukka Rask extended his win streak to five games. Rask, who struggled out the gate to start the season, stopped 31 shots and continues to look like the goalie of years past.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck