It’s a question that has been debated a lot over recent years. It seems that every year, the pace of the game gets faster and faster. When you look at guys like Connor Mcdavid, Nate Mackinnon, and Dylan Larkin, speed is such a big part of their game and their success. Scouting is a large part of the NHL and they are finally adjusting to the new game. Skating has become arguably the most important aspect of a player’s game. As younger players continue to breakout into superstars, older guys struggle to keep up at the 20 miles per hour speeds. To see how much size of a factor size has become when it comes to finding talented skaters, we’ll look back 18 years to the 2000 draft, and how it compares to the 2018 draft.
Boston Bruin's Zdeno Chara, 6'9, and Former NHLer Brian Gionta, 5'7
The 2000 draft was a pretty solid draft, headlined by Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik. With 30 picks in the 1st round, 28 of the teams selected skaters. The average height of the 1st rounders was about 74 inches or 6’2”. The tallest player being Nikita Alexeev at about 6’6”, and the shortest being Raffi Torres at 6’0. Raffi Torres however was a known Power-forward/Enforcer hybrid especially in the latter half of his career. He was widely known as one of the dirtiest players in the league, racking up 497 penalty minutes through 635 games AND over 60 games suspended on top of almost $450,000 in fines. You wouldn’t see guys like Cale Makar and Erik Brannstrom going in the 1st round back then, especially with the lack of physicality they exhibit. As goalies have become rare selections in the 1st round nowadays, all 31 1st round picks in the 2018 draft were skaters, with an average height of 6’0. Compared to 0 1st rounders in 2000 under 6’0, there were 9 in 2018. The success of Connor Mcdavid has highlighted the quick youth movement that has become so evident in games. Success comes from skill. Even the taller guys have become better skaters than ever, just look at Tage Thompson of the Buffalo Sabres.
Cleveland Monster's Nathan Gerbe, 5'5 and Winnipeg's Tyler Myers, 6'5
Another thing that height affects is hitting. Hitting still has its role in the game and hit totals haven’t changed much, but velocity of a player is significant in making shoulder to shoulder contact and knocking a player off the puck. Smaller guys have good enough skating ability to lower their center of gravity and make a big hit every once in a while. Even with the low hit totals of stars, the famous “checking line” has been almost eradicated. It’s now just a few players who are used as depth players or guys who can go hard to the net and hold a position in front while the skillful guys work to find a lane.
Predator's Ryan Hartman, 5'11, and Blackhawk's Alex Debrincat, 5'7
The ideology of size in hockey has evolved from bodyguard, to a rebounder. The game has introduced a role in which guys move like a Center in Basketball, getting in front of net, using their body to gain a better position in front of the goal, and looking for those rebounds. Guys like Pat Maroon aren’t known for making plays, but he earned himself some looks from around the league because he was able to go to the net and open himself up for passes from Connor Mcdavid. Guys over 6’3 have become almost complete role players. Coaches almost always send those guys out with one purpose only, go hard to the net.
Conclusion: Size is still important in hockey but has become a very minor attribute compared to what it was 20 years ago. Skating overrules size.