world not named Wayne Gretzky during the 1980’s when he was centering the
famed KLM line on the Soviet Red Army team. Generously listed at 5’11” and
only weighing 170 pounds, Larionov managed to put together a brilliant
international career before finally playing in the NHL in 1989 as a
29-year-old rookie. If he was an 18-year-old rookie today, he might not
have been given a chance to play in the NHL. With the trend in the NHL
towards big bodies, he probably would have been considered too small.
Many general managers today would rather take a 6’4” 215 pound center with
limited skills than a 5’ 9” 165 pound center who can skate and handle the
puck. The thought is that you can’t teach size, but you can’t teach skills
that a player just does not have the physical tools for, either. Players
like Theo Fleury, Pat Verbeek, and Larionov have proven that small players
can be top line NHL players.
decade, most of those players are not huge. Vladimir Konstantinov weighed
190 pounds. Mike Peca is not much bigger. Chris Chelios is listed at 6’1”
186 pounds, and yet he has sent more than his share of opponents to the
trainer’s table. “Terrible Ted” Lindsay, one of the toughest men ever to
play the game was only 5’ 10” and weighed 160 pounds! Compare them to the
passive 210 pound Larry Murphy or Mario Lemieux, who weighed 220 pounds, and
you have to wonder why is it that the small guys are the ones doing most of
the hitting instead of the bigger guys.
Maybe that’s true if teams continue to pass over smaller players in the
draft and refuse to even give them a chance. Out of the 111 players taken
in the first round since 1997, only seven were smaller than 6’0” 180 ponds.
Players like 165 pound Redwings draftee Niklas Kronval, 5’9” Lightning
forward Martin St. Louis, and 5’ 8” Montreal forward Francis Bouillion might
be part of a new breed of hockey player, where size isn’t the most important
factor in a draft. Maybe it is time so see which is more important, the
size of the body or the size of the heart.