Sunday Special: The Power of Petite Players

On Friday, while I sat in a sushi restaurant craning my neck to see the television, Marty St. Louis scored his 1000th point in the NHL. Not bad for a 5’8″, undrafted 39 year old.

The traditional line of thought in hockey is that bigger players are better. They’re stronger, more physical, more dangerous just by virtue of their size. There have always been exceptions — no one can claim that Wayne Gretzky, occasionally described as “willowy,” was a massive — but you hear it often when a player is small: that they’re doing well despite their size, or that they’re playing like a larger man.

Look, I may be biased because I am of below average height, but I love it when smaller players make the cut and make a name for themselves. So in honor of St. Louis’s 1000th point (that makes him 5th among active players!) and Brendan Gallagher’s new contract, here are my list of Top 6 Petite Players currently in the NHL. For the sake of argument I am going to say that short means anyone listed as 5’9″ or less, so no Patrick Kane though we all know that dude is like 5’8″, not this 5’11” nonsense.

6. Danny Brière (Colorado Avalanche), 5’9″

One of my favorite facts about Danny Brière is that he full-on admits to having rounded up his height during his early days in the league (that article is all about short players so naturally I read it with great interest). While he’s bounced around from team to team, playing for the Coyotes, Sabres, Flyers, Canadiens, and Avalanche, it can’t be denied that he is tenacious, still trying to make a living at hockey at age 37. Fun fact: he has passed the 600 point mark in his regular season career, but probably his hallmark is how he improves during the playoffs. In the regular season, he’s at a .73 points per game; during the playoffs, he’s at .935.

5. Nathan Gerbe (Carolina Hurricanes), 5’5″

Nathan Gerbe is currently the shortest player in the NHL. There is a sixteen inch height difference between him and the league’s tallest player, Zdeno Chara:

chara-gerbe

This is genuinely one of my favorite photographs in the world.

Gerbe was actually drafted 142nd overall in 2005, which makes him like five years younger than I thought he was. I have no idea why I thought he was in his thirties, but I have thought that for ages, even after his birthday in July when I realized he is actually about the same age as Sidney Crosby.

Gerbe is a tenacious player — something that is often the case with smaller players, no doubt because they’re used to having to fight off larger opponents — and he even fought another member of this list, Brendan Gallagher:

4. Mats Zuccarello (New York Rangers), 5’7″

“Mats Zuccarello, who is only five feet seven inches,” might be one of the most commonly heard phrases in any New York Rangers broadcast. This tiny Norwegian — the only Norwegian currently playing in the NHL — was first noticed by the Rangers (and Henrik Lundqvist) during the 2010 Olympics. After going in and out of the line-up, even spending time in the KHL playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk (Evgeni Malkin’s team) during the lockout season, he led the Rangers in points last year despite being sent down at the beginning of the year.

And he loves scoring on Lundqvist.

@matszuccarello scores… Taunts @hank30nyr and then Dorsett protects Henrik. #NYR

A post shared by New York Rangers (@nyrangers) on

3. Brad Marchand (Boston Bruins), 5’9″

Brad Marchand, sometimes called the Honey Badger, is one of those love him or hate him players. In recent years he’s gotten a reputation as a diver, which isn’t helped by the fact that the Boston Bruins are…shall we say, not popular around the NHL. Currently, he’s 3 goals away from 100, and 3 points away from 200, and while he’s not an all-star, he’s certainly a serviceable player.

I would like to reiterate that he is Not Popular:

2. Brendan Gallagher (Montreal Canadiens), 5’8″ probably 

A favorite of recently-departed Pat Quinn, the twenty-two year old was a 5th round draft pick and recently signed a six-year contract for 22.5 million. Personally, I think 3.75 mil a year is pretty good value for Gallagher, who loves to go to the net and bend the rules. Since his rookie year in the 2013 season, Gallagher has routinely been among the top forwards in scoring for the Canadiens, which is especially impressive given his comparatively low ice time. He is also completely fearless:

My favorite Gallagher quote: “I don’t chirp, I just smile.”

1. Martin St. Louis (New York Rangers), 5’8″ 

Martin St. Louis says he’s 5’8″, but he’s always seemed smaller to me. (For the record, I don’t believe 95% of the self-reported heights on NHL.com.) St. Louis is perhaps the prototypical small player, making up for his short stature with incredible strength. I mean, look at this guy:

BH5PZfTCIAA6ZNOfull

This is from two years ago. He would have been 36 or 37. 

Marty St. Louis is one of the classic long-lived players as well. He’s 39 now and shows no signs of slowing down significantly. He won the scoring trophy two years ago and is second on the Rangers in scoring. He’s on pace to score 30 goals this season! Almost everyone else on this list cites St. Louis as an inspiration, and it’s no wonder why.

Honorable Mentions

Cam Atkinson (Columbus Blue Jackets), 5’7″, currently 4th on the team in scoring! Also trains with Marty St. Louis.

David Deharnais (Montreal Canadiens), 5’7″, trails Gallagher by one point.

Tyler Johnson (Tampa Bay Lightning), 5’9″, came in third for Calder voting last year.

Torey Krug (Boston Bruins), 5’9″, beloved of the Boston media and came to prominence during the playoffs.

Brian Gionta (Buffalo Sabres), 5’7″, former captain of the Canadiens and very close to 500 points, although he plays for the Sabres now so who knows when that will happen. His brother, who is also small, plays for the Devils.

Mike Cammalleri (New Jersey Devils), 5’7″, currently second in scoring on the Devils to the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr.

Jared Spurgeon (Minnesota Wild), 5’9″, currently tied for second in defense scoring on the Wild.

Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames), 5’9″, also known as Johnny Hockey and currently second in rookie scoring to Filip Forsberg.

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