NHL: Over/Under – The Top Undersized Players

BIG LITTLE MEN: Tobias Enstrom is among the best under-sized players in the NHL

BY JEFF ANGUS

The lockout of 2004-05 brought with it many rule changes. One of them was a crack down on obstruction-related penalties (hooking, holding, interference). The game became more open, and because of that, size has become less important than it was during the ‘dead puck era’ of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Size still matters, as hockey is a physical sport, but we have seen a vast number of undersized players succeed in the NHL (especially in recent years).

What does undersized mean, exactly? There isn’t an exact cut off measurement (like on a rollercoaster, for example), but for my list below I went with players shorter than 5-10. With all of that being said, let’s take a look at the five best undersized NHLers (as well as some young guys who may unseat them in the near future).

5. Danny Briere – Philadelphia Flyers
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Briere (and his signature fist pump, one of the best – and most consistent – post-goal celebrations in hockey) has been a very productive NHL player for a long time. He started his career out in Phoenix, but he really flourished as a scoring star with the Buffalo Sabres. Briere signed a monster free agent deal with the Flyers in the summer of 2007, and he has lived up to the hype (unlike his former Sabre running mate Chris Drury, who was given an equally large sum of money by the Rangers). Briere is listed at 5-10 but he is likely an inch shorter. However, his lack of height has had no negative impact on his career. Briere is incredibly strong – he trains each summer with power lifters in the Montreal area, and he is fearless. All of the undersized guys on this list play fearless, as they routinely give up inches and pounds to any player they go up against.

After Tiger Woods, the best fist pump in sports:

4. Brad Marchand – Boston Bruins
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Marchand has not-so-quietly developed into a player every hockey fan outside of Boston (and Nova Scotia) loves to hate. He chirps, he throws dirty hits, and he does anything else necessary to get under the skin of the opposition. He also wins. Marchand was an integral part of Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup winning team. He is a great skater, and his offensive game has improved leaps and bounds over the past two or three seasons. He is listed at 5-9, but is an inch or two shorter (a common theme among players on this list, and probably any male under 6-0). Marchand plays a big man’s game, and he is on the right team for it. He doesn’t need to fight many of his battles with teammates like Adam McQuaid, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, and Shawn Thornton.

Marchand has also gained a lot of notoriety (in fantasy hockey circles, at least) for his versatile game. He scores goals and records assists. He hits, he takes penalties, and he is a sound defensive player (and on a strong even strength team like Boston that usually leads to a good plus/minus rating). Marchand is what fantasy hockey poolies call a “multi-category monster.”

3. Tobias Enstrom – Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg Jets at Buffalo Sabres (-162, 5.5)
Enstrom is the only defenseman on this list, as there are few blue liners in the NHL under 5-10 (there aren’t many under 6-0, for that matter). What Enstrom lacks in size and strength he makes up for in hockey IQ, mobility, and skill. He has been the number one defenseman in the Winnipeg/Atlanta organization for the past five years, and his quietly-efficient game doesn’t garner a lot of league-wide attention. But fans who are lucky enough to get to watch him to play on a regular basis know how good he is. 238 players were drafted ahead of Enstrom back in 2003, and since that time he has made many NHL teams look foolish for passing on him.

He has two 50+ point seasons to his name (not many defensemen can say that), and he currently has 13 points through 13 games with Winnipeg in 2013.

2. Martin St. Louis – Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning (-175, 6)
St. Louis’ success as an NHLer very likely paved the way for many other young players to get a look (and it likely played a huge part in the guy above him on this list going first overall at the 2007 NHL draft). St. Louis bounced around between the NHL and the AHL before finding a home in Tampa Bay. He is only 55 games away from number 1000, and he is only 127 points away from number 1000.

St. Louis is only 5-7, but he is built like a (small) fire truck. His legs are strong and powerful, and he uses his low center of gravity to make plays against much bigger defensemen. He is still going very strong at the age of 37, with an impressive 21 points in 14 games. It helps that he plays with Steven Stamkos, although the positive relationship goes both ways. St. Louis’ terrific playmaking ability has played a huge role in Stamkos’ emergence as the best goal scorer in hockey (a statement that isn’t even up for debate).

St. Louis has saved his best hockey for the postseason – he has 68 points in 63 career playoff games. For all of his abilities as a hockey player, the most impressive part of his game is how he can one-time a puck from anywhere. Not many players can do this, as they typically need to receive a pass in their “wheelhouse.” St. Louis can hammer pucks regardless of where they are – in front of him, late, behind him, jumping a bit – it doesn’t seem to matter.

1. Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks
Vancouver Canucks at Chicago Blackhawks (-138, 5.5)
Kane is one of the most skilled players in hockey, living up to the hype that comes with being a top overall draft pick (and then some). Kane is 5-9 and 185 pounds, but he came into the NHL as a 165-pound teenager. He gave up 50+ pounds against most NHL defensemen, but he still found a way to score 21 goals and finish with 72 points as a 19-year-old in 2007-08. He had 28 points in 22 postseason games during Chicago’s Stanley Cup run in 2009-10, and has embarrassed many NHL goaltenders during his six year NHL career.

Don’t be surprised to see Kane contend for an Art Ross Trophy or two during his NHL career. Like St. Louis, he has elevated his game in the postseason, with 52 points in 51 career playoff games.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)

Derek Roy – Dallas Stars
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Roy looks to have rediscovered his game after struggling in Buffalo (although to be fair, he wasn’t fully 100% after tearing a quad muscle a few years ago). He is a feisty two-way player who relies on his speed and smarts.

Tyler Ennis – Buffalo Sabres
Winnipeg Jets at Buffalo Sabres (-162, 5.5)
Ennis plays a “slippery” game, using his speed and agility to make opposing defensemen miss.

David Desharnais – Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens at NY Rangers (-175, 5)
Desharnais is only 5-6, but he plays a very involved game. Skating on a line with Erik Cole and Max Pacioretty, he emerged as Montreal’s top offensive center last season.

Ray Whitney – Dallas Stars
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‘The Wizard’ may be 42 years old, but he is still a very good offensive player. Whitney is currently out with a broken foot, but the Stars are expecting big things from him when he returns to the lineup. A lot of Whitney’s success came in an era where small players were ignored by many teams. And it is a shame many of them ignored Whitney, as 1009 career points speaks for itself.

FUTURE STARS

Brendan Gallagher – Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens at NY Rangers (-175, 5)
The former Vancouver Giant (pun intended) has made an immediate impact as a rookie in 2013. Gallagher plays a gritty game and he is known to draw a lot of penalties because of it. He is out with an injury right now after taking a hit from behind from Philadelphia’s Luke Schenn over the weekend.

Cory Conacher – Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs at Tampa Bay Lightning (-175, 6)
Conacher’s road to the NHL wasn’t an easy one. Undrafted, he played four years at Canisius College (bonus points if you know where that is) before turning pro back in 2011. Like many of the other undersized guys on this list, Conacher plays a very gritty/fearless game. He has 13 points in 14 NHL games as a rookie.

Jordan Schroeder – Vancouver Canucks
Vancouver Canucks at Chicago Blackhawks (-138, 5.5)
Schroeder’s NHL arrival was worth the wait. He has spent the past few years developing in the AHL, and after getting the call up to Vancouver back in January, he hasn’t looked back. Flanked by Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen, he is currently centering the fastest line in hockey.

Cam Atkinson – Columbus Blue Jackets
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Atkinson isn’t a household name in hockey yet, he is poised to become a scoring star very soon. He has been out for most of the season with an ankle injury, but he is set to return to the Columbus lineup in the very near future.