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Size doesn't matter

Pocket-sized forwards dispel NHL myths

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Posted: Friday December 22, 2000 4:20 PM

Storylines we're following

By David Harsanyi,

An enduring myth in the NHL is that size matters. Motivated by the success of the Flyers during the late 1990s, when 6-foot-5 Eric Lindros and 6-4 John LeClair terrorized opposing forwards, NHL GMs became obsessed with big skaters. Teams clamored to sign -- and usually overpay -- huge defensemen and slow-footed forwards, while using their high draft positions to pick massive teenagers like Joe Thorton, Chris Phillips and Vincent Lecavalier in hopes of uncovering the next Lindros, Mario Lemieux or Mats Sundin.

This season, however, the myth of size has been challenged. The league's top scorer to this point is the Rangers' Theo Fleury, who at 5-6 is the shortest player in the league. The feisty forward, who leads the NHL with 49 points in his first 35 contests, is on pace to score over 50 goals, which includes a league-leading five shorthanded goals. All of this accomplished in a conference once thought to be a black hole for diminutive, offensive-minded forwards.

Placing a close second to Fleury in the scoring race is the Kings' Zigmund Palffy. Dubiously listed at 5-10, Palffy has notched 46 points in his first 33 games. The Slovakian-born winger is already a three-time 40-goal scorer and a front-running MVP candidate early this season.

Avalanche center Joe Sakic, who stands 5-11 and is on his way to the Hall of Fame, ranks third with 45 points in 35 games. Thrashers forward Donald Audette, who at 5-8 is the second shortest player in the league, is tied for fifth in scoring, pacing the expansion franchise with an impressive 43 points in 33 games. The Oilers' Doug Weight, a 5-10 center, is in the midst of his most impressive season with 42 points in 36 games.

Other smallish players in the upper echelon of scoring include: Anaheim's Paul Kariya (5-9), Dallas' Brett Hull (5-10), Chicago's Steve Sullivan (5-9), Atlanta's Ray Ferraro (5-10), Calgary's Marc Savard (5-10) and Pittsburgh's Martin Straka (5-9).

And while many clubs still use their valuable high picks on larger-sized players, a lesson can be learned from some recent Calder Trophy winners. Last year's top rookie, for example, was 5-10 Devils forward Scott Gomez, who scored 71 points his first season. In addition, the league's leading rookie goal scorer last year was Rangers winger Mike York (5-10), a sixth-round pick in 1997, who notched 26 goals. Colorado's Chris Drury (5-10) won the Calder in 1999, a year after Boston's Sergei Samsonov (5-8) picked up the award. And Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson (5-11) was honored in 1996.

And don't think the fans haven't noticed. Through last week, Fleury was the second-leading vote-getter among wingers for the NHL's North American All-Star team. The former-50 goal scorer trails only Kariya, and is slightly ahead of Hull in voting.
Storylines We're Following

Super Mario

Eighteen months after buying the Penguins, Mario Lemieux will return from a 3 1/2 -year retirement when he faces the Maple Leafs next Wednesday.

"That was my target date all along when I started training on Nov. 1,'' Lemieux said. "I feel I'm much closer than I was."

Lemieux, who says he feels about 80 percent back, will give the Pittsburgh, which is two points out of first place in the Atlantic Division, an immediate emotional lift.

"The wind is good," Lemieux said. "The legs are a little weak. I know I'm going to have to be patient the next couple weeks."

Right place at the right time

Talk about luck. San Jose winger Todd Harvey scored an empty-net goal and had two other pucks hit him or his stick and bounce in for his first hat trick in more than five years in a 5-3 victory against the Capitals on Monday.

"Tonight I was lucky," Harvey said. "I shot it in the empty net, but other than that I didn't shoot the puck all night. I was fortunate to be there and the puck kept bouncing in off me."

With the trick, Harvey doubled his goal total to six and is on his way to matching his career high of 11.

Matthew Barnaby Second suspension for off-ice altercations, after Pens enforcer bravely challenged a senior citizen in stands.
Joe Sakic Broke three-game scoring drought by recording 10th hat trick of his career against the Kings on Thursday.
Philadelphia Flyers Improve to 3-0-3 under new coach Bill Barber with an impressive 4-3 victory over San Jose.
Atlanta Thrashers Will try to break .500 for the first time in the franchise's brief history this Friday against Coyotes.

Related information
Last week's WAAG: Mickey Mouse team
NHL Week at a Glance Archive
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