Size doesn't matter
Pocket-sized forwards dispel NHL myths
By David Harsanyi, CNNSI.com
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.