Hockey writers around North America are contractually obligated to compare every single hockey prospect under 5’10” to Martin St. Louis. It seems like when a player is small and talented, scouts are automatically trained to look for reasons the prospect will never make it to the NHL level. Sometimes, they don’t even need another reason; even if they’re productive against other prospects, scouts will shy away from a player because it’s so difficult to compete against the larger players of the NHL.
Here are five of the smallest prospects who were drafted this year. Each and every one of these players has been told they are too small; yet each and every one of them continues to succeed.
Rocco Grimaldi (5’6” – 163 pounds)
Florida Panthers – 2nd round, 33rd overall
Grimaldi is a first round talent who slipped to the Florida Panthers (#33 overall) on the second day of the draft because of his size. Perhaps the most electrifying player in the entire draft, International Scouting Services rated him as the best skater and one of the best puck-handlers available. In a telling comment, Harvey Fialkov of the Sun Sentinel explains: “the scouts agree that if he was 5-10 his skills would’ve made him the overall top pick ahead of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.” Next season Grimaldi plans on continuing his development at University of North Dakota. He may not be able to improve on his size, but if he can improve on his skills, the NHL won’t be able to ignore him.
Ryan Murphy (5’10” – 166 pounds)
Carolina Hurricanes – 1st round, 12th overall
At 5’10” and 166 pounds, Ryan Murphy would be undersized whether he played up front or back on defense. Since he’s a first round blueliner (and one of the smallest picked in the draft), he must have some spectacular skills to get scouts attention. He does. Murphy is one of the best skaters in the entire draft, he’s the best pure offensive defenseman, and has a booming shot from the point. The best NHL comparison for Murphy is that he’s like a smaller, faster Mike Green. He still struggles in his own zone, but he’s such a dynamic player, the Carolina Hurricanes were willing to overlook his shortcomings.
John Gaudreau (5’6” – 137 pounds)
Calgary Flames – 4th round, 104th overall
Selected in the 4th round by the Calgary Flames, Gaudreau was the smallest player selected in the 2011 Entry Draft. Not surprisingly, he’s a great skater who thrives when the game resembles a pond hockey game. He was able to score 36 goals in 60 games this season in the USHL; we’ll see if he can step up his game next season as he’s already committed to Northeastern University for the 2011-12 season.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau (5’9” – 163 pounds)
Ottawa Senators – 4th round, 96th overall
Pageau is a little different that most of the smallish prospects that catch the scouts’ eyes. Usually the undersized prospects have lightning fast speed that makes them impossible to ignore, but Pageau doesn’t fall into that category. He’s skating is good—not great, but certainly not bad. The quality that sets him apart is that despite his size, he’s willing to go into the dirty areas to do whatever his team needs to win. This year in the QMJHL, he managed 32 goals and 79 points in only 67 games. The Senators will let him continue to develop in Gatineau, but if he continues to produce he could be an exciting player that the organization takes a look at in a few years.
Shane McColgan (5’8” – 165 pounds)
New York Rangers – 5th round, 134th overall
McColgan is the quintessential example of a player who drops simply because of his size. He’s an elite playmaker who finished 2nd in the WHL Rookie of the Year voting in 2009, behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Even though he’s an undersized, electrifying player, he’s still strong on his skates and isn’t easily knocked off the puck. Not only that, he’s not afraid to mix it up when he’s protecting his teammates. If a player with all of McColgan’s skill and heart was in a 6’1” frame, he would have been selected at the top of the first round.
If you’re still looking around for more information about this year’s draft, check out our NHL Draft Headquarters.