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.

NHL schedule for First Round of 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

2020 nhl playoff schedule
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The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on Tuesday, Aug. 11 in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto. The league has released the 2020 NHL playoff schedule for the First Round.

The top four teams during the regular season in both conferences played a three-game round robin for seeding in the First Round. The eight winners of the best-of-5 Qualifying Round advanced to the First Round. The losing teams from the Qualifying Round have been entered into Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery.

Below is the 2020 NHL playoff schedule.

Note: Teams are re-seeded after each round.

EASTERN CONFERENCE (Scotiabank Arena)

No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens (PHI leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Philadelphia 2, Montreal 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Montreal at Philadelphia, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Philadelphia at Montreal, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Philadelphia at Montreal, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Philadelphia at Montreal – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD

No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Lightning 3, Blue Jackets 2 (5OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Blue Jackets 3, Lightning 1 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 7:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: Tampa Bay at Columbus, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 19: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Tampa Bay at Columbus – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Columbus at Tampa Bay – TBD

No. 3 Washington Capitals vs. No. 6 New York Islanders (NYI lead 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Islanders 4, Capitals 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: NY Islanders at Washington, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Washington at NY Islanders, 12 p.m. ET – USA Network
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Washington at NY Islanders, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Thursday, Aug. 20: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Washington at NY Islanders – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: NY Islanders at Washington – TBD

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 1-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WESTERN CONFERENCE (Rogers Place)

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks (VGK leads 2-0)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Golden Knights 4, Blackhawks 1 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Golden Knights 4, Blackhawks 3 (recap)
Saturday, Aug. 15: Vegas at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Sunday, Aug. 16: Vegas at Chicago, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Chicago at Vegas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Vegas at Chicago – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Chicago at Vegas – TBD

No. 2 Colorado Avalanche vs. No. 7 Arizona Coyotes (COL leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Colorado 3, Arizona 0 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Arizona at Colorado, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Saturday, Aug. 15: Colorado at Arizona, 3 p.m. ET – CNBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Colorado at Arizona, 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Arizona at Colorado – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Colorado at Arizona – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Arizona at Colorado – TBD

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames (Series tied 1-1)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Flames 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Stars 5, Flames 4 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Dallas at Calgary, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (VAN leads 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver 5, Blues 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

2020 nhl playoff schedule

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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.

NHL Bubble Wrap: Korpisalo, Heiskanen dominate; Golden Knights take control

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Columbus Blue Jackets 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 1 (Series tied 1-1)

Alexander Wennberg scored a highlight reel goal, Pierre-Luc Dubois had another big game with a pair of assists, and Joonas Korpisalo continued his magical postseason run as the Blue Jackets evened their First Round series with Tampa Bay in a 3-1 win. This was a great bounce back game for the Blue Jackets after losing that five overtime game earlier this week. It would have been easy for them to have nothing left, but they did what they have done all season and simply found a way to get it done.

Vegas Golden Knights 4, Chicago Blackhawks 3 (Vegas leads series 2-0)

The Golden Knights are 5-0 this postseason and new starting goalie Robin Lehner is 7-0 since joining the team at the trade deadline. Reilly Smith scored the game-winning goal in overtime to help the Golden Knights take a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Blackhawks. Vegas is looking like a force right now in the Western Conference and is 16-2-0 in its past 18 games dating back to the regular season.

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Boston Bruins 2 (Series tied 1-1)

Dougie Hamilton scored the game-winning goal against his former team late in the third period to help the Hurricanes even their first round series. Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen also continued their great postseason performances with goals, while James Reimer played great in goal to get the win. The big story in this one, though, was the fact superstar Boston winger David Pastrnak did not play. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game he will probably be a game-time decision for Game 3 on Saturday afternoon.

Dallas Stars 5, Calgary Flames 4 (Series tied 1-1)

This was probably the wildest game of the day. Jamie Oleksiak‘s game-winning goal with 39 seconds to play in regulation helped the Stars pick up a 5-4 win to even the series. That goal came just after the Stars had allowed a two-goal lead to slip away late in the third period. Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk was injured in this game after being sandwiched by Jamie Benn and Oleksiak early in the third period.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets. He is quickly becoming the story of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. After taking the tough-luck loss in a record-setting performance in Game 1, Korpisalo came back on Thursday and stopped 35 out of 36 shots in Columbus’ 3-1 win over the Lightning. In his six appearances so far this postseason he has a .962 save percentage.

2. Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars. The best player on the ice in the Stars’ big win. He scored a pair of goals, while the Stars held a commanding edge in shot attempts (19-10), shots on goal (14-5), and goals (3-0) in his 20 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time. The type of performance you want from a top defenseman in a playoff game. Games like this are why he seems to have a Norris Trophy in his future.

3. Reilly Smith, Vegas Golden Knights. Smith was outstanding for the Golden Knights with an assist, five shots on goal, and the game-winning goal in overtime. He was one of their expansion draft steals and been one of their best players from the very beginning. He has been outstanding this postseason and already has seven points in their first five playoff games.

Highlights of the Night

This is the goal of the day to help the Blue Jackets put the game away against Tampa Bay.

It came in a losing effort, but Patrick Kane had a huge day for the Blackhawks with three assists including this insane pass to set up Dylan Strome late in the second period to tie the game.

Smith gives the Golden Knights the 2-0 series lead with this overtime goal.

Oleksiak finishes a beautiful pass from Corey Perry to give the Stars the Game 2 win.

Factoids

  • Kirby Dach became just the sixth teenager to score a playoff goal for the Chicago Blackhawks in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • No goalie in NHL history has made more saves in the first two games of a playoff series than Korpisalo has for Columbus. [Sportsnet Stats]
  • Heiskanen is the fourth-youngest defenseman in NHL history to have a multiple goal Stanley Cup Playoff game. [NHL PR]

Friday Schedule

Game 2: Colorado Avalanche vs. Arizona Coyotes, 2 p.m. ET (Avalanche lead series 1-0)
Game 2: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Flyers lead series 1-0)
Game 2: St. Louis Blues vs. Vancouver Canucks, 6:30 p.m. ET (Canucks lead series 1-0)
Game 2: Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Islanders lead series 1-0)
Game 3: Calgary Flames vs. Dallas Stars, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Series tied 1-1)

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Stars win crazy Game 2 against Flames; Tkachuk injured

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The Dallas Stars and Calgary Flames wrapped up an exciting Thursday of playoff hockey with what was probably the wildest game of the day.

Even though they let a two-goal lead slip away with less than 10 minutes to play, the Stars were able to escape with a 5-4 win to even their series at one game each.

It was probably not the type of game you would have expected from these two teams given their offensive struggles throughout the season.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak scored the game-winning goal with less than a minute to play in regulation when he found himself alone in the Calgary zone, taking advantage of a blown line change. That goal came just minutes after the Stars had allowed the Flames to tie the game and was set up by a beautiful pass from veteran winger Corey Perry.

Perry also scored a goal of his own earlier in the game.

Oleksiak’s goal is a massive one because it helped the Stars avoid what would have been a devastating collapse that would have put them in a two-game hole in the series. It would have been extremely difficult to climb back out of it.

While leading by two goals with less than eight minutes to play, the Stars were on a power play with a chance to put the game out of reach. It was at that point that Tobias Rieder scored a shorthanded goal to bring the Flames within one. Just a few minutes later, the Flames tied the game on a Sam Bennett power play goal just after Dallas’ Alexander Radulov had been called for an offensive zone penalty.

At that point it appeared as if the game was going to overtime, until Oleksiak scored his winning goal.

He was not the only Stars defenseman that had a huge game on Thursday.

Miro Heiskanen was the best player on the ice for either team, scoring a pair of goals and looking like a future Norris Trophy winner on pretty much every shift.

The numbers paint a pretty striking picture as to how dominant he was in this game. With Heiskanen on the ice during 5-on-5 play (nearly 20 minutes), the Stars held a 19-10 shot attempt advantage, a 14-5 shots on goal advantage, and a 3-0 goals edge with Heiskanen himself scoring two of the goals.

This game also featured a little bit of controversy thanks to a disallowed goal early in the third period.

With the Flames trailing by two, they appeared to get back to within one when Andrew Mangiapane appeared to score a goal five minutes into the period. Upon further review, though, it was determined that Mangiapane had used to a distinct kicking motion to put the puck in the net. What made it such a controversial play is the fact he was being hauled down to the ice as his skate made contact with the puck. The officials saw it as a kick and took the goal off the board.

That play was especially damaging for the Flames because it also resulted in an injury to Matthew Tkachuk.

Just before the Mangiapane sequence, Tkachuk was sandwiched between Jamie Benn and Oleksiak on a play that left him clearly shaken up. He exited the game and did not return.

Game 3 of the series takes place on Friday night.

No. 3 Dallas Stars vs. No. 6 Calgary Flames (Series tied 1-1)

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Flames 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Stars 5, Flames 4
Friday, Aug. 14: Dallas at Calgary, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Dallas at Calgary, 2 p.m. ET – CNBC
*Tuesday, Aug. 18: Calgary at Dallas – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Dallas at Calgary – TBD
*Saturday, Aug. 22: Dallas at Calgary – TBD

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Hamilton’s late goal helps Hurricanes get even with Bruins

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Before Dougie Hamilton was injured earlier this year he was having the type of season for the Carolina Hurricanes that could result in a Norris Trophy.

When healthy, he is a difference-maker on the ice and his return to the lineup for the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a massive addition for a Hurricanes team that looks capable of going on another deep postseason run.

His goal midway through the third period on Thursday night was the game-winner in a 3-2 Hurricanes win as they evened their First Round series with the Boston Bruins at one game each.

Along with Hamilton’s third period tally, the Hurricanes also received a pair of quick goals from Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov just two minutes apart late in the second period.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Overall this probably wasn’t the Hurricanes’ best performance, but they were able to do enough to get the win out while also overcoming a few things along the way.

For one, Brad Marchand‘s game-tying goal with just three seconds to play in the second period could have been a backbreaker. The Hurricanes had just rallied to take the lead and were seconds away from going into the intermission with the lead.

In the third period, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour was unsuccessful on another coach’s challenge as a potential Hurricanes goal had been waived off due to goaltender interference. Brind’Amour challenged the play hoping to get the call overturned arguing that Bruins defense Torey Krug had pushed Teravainen into Tuukka Rask. The officials did not see it that way and upheld the call on the ice, sending the Hurricanes to the penalty kill. They successfully killed that penalty, setting the stage for Hamilton’s game-winning goal. Brind’Amour was extremely critical of a replay decision on Wednesday resulting in a $25,000 fine from the league.

Then, with just a few seconds remaining in regulation, Hamilton made what could have been a costly decision when he went for the empty net in the and was instead whistled for icing, giving the Bruins a late offensive zone face off. That face off ended up resulting in a prime scoring chance right before the buzzer that James Reimer had to turn aside.

Reimer, making his second start of the playoffs, stopped 33 out of 35 shots in the win.

The Bruins played this game without star winger David Pastrnak who was deemed unfit to play just 30 minutes before puck drop. He played 24 minutes in Game 1 of the series on Wednesday, scoring a goal and adding an assist in the Bruins’ double overtime win.

No. 4 Boston Bruins vs. No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes (Series tied 1-1)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 (2OT) (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 13: Hurricanes 3, Bruins 2
Saturday, Aug. 15: Boston at Carolina, 12 p.m ET – NBC
Monday, Aug. 17: Boston at Carolina, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Carolina at Boston – TBD
*Thursday, Aug. 20: Boston at Carolina – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Carolina at Boston – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.