Does Size Matter in the NHL Draft?

Corey S.
June 08 2012 01:57PM

photo by Hockeybroad, via Wikimedia Commons

 As we get closer to the NHL Draft, you will see even more bloggers and media pundits continue to breakdown prospects and determine which player is the right fit for each team. They will look at stats, game tape and video packages to get the full lowdown on the players they are targeting, but asset that seems to be valued more than others is how big a player is at draft time.

Size and “big body presence” are things that are praised by a lot of hockey observers, especially around draft time. The idea is that it will take more effort to keep the puck away from bigger forwards and that they can provide room for their linemates by adding a physical edge. Being concerned about size makes sense when looking at defensemen because they are expected to be involved physically if they play big minutes. What about forwards, though?

There have been bigger forwards such as Rick Nash, Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Kovalchuk who have gone on to be top-tier players in the NHL, but just how big of a factor is size if you plan on drafting a forward? Let’s say that you are an NHL general manager and your first round pick comes down to two forwards with similar numbers. One player is 5-10 and 190 lbs. and the other is 6-3 210 lbs. but has slightly worse numbers than the first forward. Which player should you take and how much of a role should size play in your decision?

To see how big of a role size plays in success at the NHL level, I looked at every forward drafted in the top 100 since the 2000 Draft and examined how successful they were based on their point-per-game total.

There are a few ways we can go about this, the first of which is seeing if there is any correlation between a player’s weight/height and their point total. For weight, there isn’t much.

 

This is every forward drafted since 2000 and has played at least one game in the NHL. You can see here that there isn’t much relation between a player’s size and their ability to score in the NHL. Both big and small players have succeeded and failed at the pro level. Height paints a similar picture.

 

 

Like the weight graph, you can see here that the results are scattered all over the chart, but there is a slight correlation between a player’s height and how much points they put up. Some of the higher point-getters appear to be above six feet tall but not enough of them that we can say that taller players are more likely to succeed in the NHL. There have been plenty of large players who haven’t amounted to much (see: Hugh Jessiman) just like some smaller players haven’t been able to make it in the pros. Conversely, there have been plenty of players who are short in stature who have developed into solid contributors.

 

Just for fun, let’s take a look at the biggest and smallest players drafted and how they performed at the NHL level.

 

Smallest by Height

 

 

There are a few players here who have fizzled out (Chris Bourque) but there are also some players who have been very productive during their careers along with a couple who have promising careers in the making (Ennis, Schwartz & Marchand). Although, one thing that is worth pointing out is that a couple of the longer tenured players on here have had a history of injury problems. Derek Roy and Mike Cammalleri being the two big ones.

 

Smallest by Weight

 

There are some pretty good players on this list and a good few of them are still in their first few years in the NHL, so they have time to grow and develop.

 

Largest by Height

 

Either Martin Hanzal or Blake Wheeler is the best player in this sample, which isn’t a bad thing but the quality of talent drops significantly after that. That could change depending on how Joe Colborne and Matt Kassian develop as their career goes on, though. The rest of the pack isn’t too impressive, though.

 

Largest by Weight

 

All but two players have been though at least two seasons in the NHL but most of them haven’t been the most productive. Ben Eager, Evgeny Artyukhin, Brad Winchester and Mike Rupp weren’t known for being much more than fourth line plugs and Brian Boyle has never been known for being a scorer either. It’s pretty obvious that Alex Ovechkin is the big outlier in this group because the next highest scorer is Guillaume Latendresse, who has battle serious injury problems the last couple of years.

The most important thing that you can take from this data is that a player with a big frame might give him an advantage over others, it doesn’t mean that he is more likely to be successful than a smaller player. For every Martin Hanzal, there is a Hugh Jessiman. That is something to keep in mind when you are evaluating prospects. 

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Corey runs the Carolina Hurricanes blog www.shutdownline.com where he tracks scoring chances and writes about all things related to the Hurricanes and the Southeast Division. He is also a staff writer at www.canescountry.com and is a regular on the NHL Numbers Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @Shutdownline
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#1 mody
June 08 2012, 04:50PM
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Interesting. I think that you don't see a correlation between NHL performance and size precisely because size has already been adjusted for through scouting and drafting. By looking at players who are already drafted, you're not comparing players that are equivalent but for size, you're comparing guys that suck at hockey but are big with guys that are amazing at hockey but are small - and everything in between. Players don't get drafted if they're under 5'9" unless they're really, really good. And even then some get passed over - e.g., Marty St. Louis or David Desharnais.

Size obviously matters for success in hockey in general (e.g., getting drafted) - we know that from comparing the average size of a hockey player with a civilian. But your analysis show that once a player is drafted size doesn't mean much.

Thanks.

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#2 Derek Jedamski
June 10 2012, 08:32AM
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Nice work, interesting stuff. A couple things though:

1) I'm not sure it's quite fair to say Derek Roy has a history of injury problems. He suffered a somewhat freak injury last season (by freak I mean it's not an injury that you would expect to happen again) but outside of last season, he's only missed 27 games in his 6 other NHL seasons and only 8 games in his last 4. He's quite reliable from a health standpoint outside of the injury he suffered last season.

2) Not sure the plan is for Matt Kassian is to develop into anything more than he is now, a 4th line banger (not sure if you were thinking Zack?). Which leads me into my 3rd point...

3) For obvious reasons, that "biggest" list (by height and weight) is littered with Kassian-types, 4th line grinders...guys who aren't paid to score. It would be interesting to come up with some kind of "scorer" criteria to pick out guys that are top 6 guys (based on ice-time and PP time maybe) and then go with the data from there. I feel like some of the data we're seeing here is skewed by players who are just big and weren't drafted to be anything more than 4th line bangers. It would be interesting to see if size has any correlation to scoring for guys who are paid to do the scoring.

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#4 Derek Jedamski
June 10 2012, 03:14PM
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@Corey S.

Yeah, he's not related to Zack. I guess I was just merely pointing out that Kassian is 25 now and career high of 18 points in juniors and 8 points in the AHL. Just saying that it's a pretty safe bet that his development won't skew those numbers much. Pretty much irrelevant to your overall point haha.

I suppose you're right, taking players from the Top 100 probably weeded out a lot of those big 4th line banger types. It might to be interesting to see what kind of difference it makes.

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#5 soulcrusher
June 11 2012, 11:00AM
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It would be interesting to see how bigger players help line production. As in the creating more room for the other players on the ice theory. Though as seen many of these guys don't play on traditional scoring lines.

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