All this talk about the Torey Krug hit, and Brad Marchand’s elite style of play got me thinking about the oldest underdog story in history: short athletes. We seem them in every sport, conquering their lack of height and exceeding expectations. It’s tiresome to act like being short is a death sentence in pro sports, but here we are. From Drew Brees and Russell Wilson to Isiah Thomas and Patty Mills, we love short guys. In hockey, we’re lucky, there are plenty of short NHL players, and a few superstars fit that criterion.
Today we’re here to talk about the best shorties (5’10” and smaller) in the hockey world, and boy do we have good ones. Without further ado, I present the Belly Up Sports Top-10 Short NHL Players.
10. Ryan Ellis, Nashville Predators – 5’10”
Considered one of the NHL’s better defensemen, Ryan Ellis is just the third best blue line player on his own team. With an unrelenting style of play, and his ability to distribute the puck, he beats out quite a few forwards on our short NHL players list. The 28 year old is coming off a career high in games played (82), assists (34) and points (41). While he’s struggled to stay healthy for parts of his career, that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the more sought after d-men in the league. Nashville doesn’t seem to want to move him, but he’s consistently included in possible trade scenarios every off-season. Most of all, his speed and precision have helped him overcome his lack of size playing a “big mans” position.
9. Mats Zuccarello, Dallas Stars – 5’8″
This dude is the definition of tough. I mean, if his cracked skull was his only injury he’s still tougher than anyone I know. After being traded from the New York Rangers to the Dallas Stars midway through this season, he suffered a broken arm that limited him to just two regular season games in the second half. Ask any Ranger player or fan and they’ll tell you he was the heart and soul of that team. His numbers don’t blow you away but he’s the stereotypical intangibles guy. End to end, he’ll skate with the biggest and best forwards, and use is small stature to gain the advantage in situations most vertically inclined. Mats might as well be 6’8 as far as the opponents forecheck in concerned.
8. Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets – 5’8″
While consistency isn’t his strong suit, he’s one of the the better 5-on-5 players on this list. He’s been with the Blue Jackets through the worst of times and finally saw that glimmer of success he’s worked so hard for in his eight seasons. His teammates put him on a pedestal and while Nick Foligno captains the Jackets, Cam Atkinson drives the ship. He may have peaked early, but nobody that plays as tough as he does at 5’8″ is going to miss anyone’s short NHL players list.
7. Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas Golden Knights – 5’9″
Florida fans, look away. My personal opinion is that Jonathan Marchessault is the single most important forward not named Mark Stone on a loaded Vegas team. He’s clutch beyond words, all while playing a full 200 feet every time he steps on the ice. His memorable rant after a heartbreaking game seven against the Sharks makes it hard to put him as low as seven quite honestly. He was on my radar late last season, and quickly became one of my favorite players. All the while proving he can be elite on both ends.
6. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins – 5’9″
Is Torey Krug higher on the list because of his bone shattering hit on Rob Thomas? Yes. As a result of that hit we were exposed to a myriad of hockey fans who don’t understand the charging rule. But Krug’s vicious play in his defensive zone is nothing new. Anyone watching a Bruins game understands the presence he has on the ice on every shift. Three straight seasons of 50+ points has earned him top ranks, on more than just this list. Expect to see Krug continue his rise towards being an elite defenseman as he reaches his prime.
5. Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks – 5’7″
I know how this looks, but I promise DeBrincat is objectively one of the top-5 short NHL players in the league today. The 21-year-old Michigan native is coming off a spectacular sophomore campaign in which he scored 41 goals and finished with 76 points overall. Does he benefit from playing with a certain someone wearing #88 that is also on this list? Sure. Although you can’t deny the kid has a knack for finding the back of the net. Given the opportunity to stay on his current line, we haven’t seen the last of his 40+ goal seasons. Possibly even approaching the 50 mark as he matures into the play-making style he seems so comfortable in.
4. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay Lightning – 5’10”
Whether or not Point remains on the star studded Lightning is still a question mark. What isn’t up for debate is his innate ability to be a standout player on a team loaded with a handful of the best players in the game. Anytime you can outshine Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos for any stretch of games, you belong in the conversation of best little guy in hockey. 92 points and 20 power play goals put him near the top of everyone’s “want” list, especially when the ability to pay him doesn’t seem very likely for Tampa. All I know is, wherever ends up, he’ll be a perennial all-star for years to come.
3. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames – 5’9″
Johnny Hockey. Almost a career point/game player, he’s become a fully formed superstar and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. A disappointing playoff performance will only stoke the fire (no pun intended) in the heart of a kid who has been nothing if not doubted his entire career. From Boston College to the NHL All-Star game, he’s been too small, too light on the puck. Today, he’s just too damn good. If you weren’t able to watch many Flames games this season, grab your popcorn and be ready for a show next time around. Johnny Gaudreau will absolutely be in the Hart Trophy conversation next year.
2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins – 5’9″
Oh boy. The Rat, the Little Ball of Hate, the Nose. However many nicknames we may have for him, one name will stick better than the rest: Phenom. A 100-pt season was just the beginning for Marchand. He’s been a Conn Smythe favorite since game one of the playoffs and has been a pest all along the way. You can hate him all you want, curse him up and down if you need to. But, if you aren’t putting him at or near the top of your best short NHL players list, you’re wrong. Can I tell you something else? I’m positive we haven’t even seen the best of Brad yet.
1. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks – 5’10”
The greatest American player of all-time stands just barely six feet tall on skates. Perpetual second chair to captain Jonathan Toews, we know Kane’s leadership is built on being a playmaker. Nine-time all-star, three-time Stanley Cup champion, Conn Smythe, Art Ross winner (first American to do so), Hart Trophy winner, and Calder Trophy winner and more. He’s 4th among active players in points/game and will likely finish his career as the overall leader in career points for American players. He’s electric, and given the name Showtime, he better be. Kane, 30, knows how to play his game without taking any unnecessary punishment. Therefore he’ll keep his crown at the top of this list for years to come. As far as the little guys go, he’s the best there is.
How does your list stack up? Let me know on twitter and make sure you’re following both halves of the Belly Up NHL Dream Team, myself and ZachMac. Also check out the best new hockey podcast around, Puck Puck Pass. Thanks for reading!