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