Boom or Bust with Small Men

By Darryl Dobbs

Do you ever see any small men have a successful career spent entirely on the fourth line as a grinder? Of course not. Even Stu Barnes had his offensive years where he was an upper-tier pool pick! The small hockey player does not get a second look unless he forces scouts to take a second look. His defensive checking abilities aren’t what grabs the attention. It’s his dazzling moves, his brilliant hockey sense, and his off-the-charts offensive numbers. Even then, it doesn’t guarantee a shot at the big time. When you draft a smaller player, and by that I mean a player that weighs in at under 185 pounds and stands less than 5’9, there are three certainties. First, you can add a couple of years to the norm to when he will break out offensively. An average player might be 23 or 24 when he breaks out, and a smaller player would be closer to 25 or 26. Second, it is boom or bust. A small player can’t prove himself on the fourth line with eleven minutes of ice time. He needs first line ice. Steve Sullivan put up decent numbers playing with Toronto when he was up on the first line with Mats Sundin, but as soon as he was placed with Tie Domi and Kris King he understandably faltered.

In Chicago and Nashville, Sullivan is strictly first line, and thus performs very well. Did Paul Kariya break in with the Mighty Ducks as a fourth-liner? We saw how Martin St. Louis did in Calgary on the third line, just imagine if he was thrown out there for twenty minutes a game with Jarome Iginla! Unfortunately for Calgary fans, they only tried something like that in Tampa Bay. The latest small player to break out is 5’7, 175 pound Brian Gionta of the New Jersey Devils. He has ten points in his last six games, and 27 points in 24 games overall.

My hunch on the next big small man? Simon Gamache. I’ve been wrong before, but my hunch on this guy has all the tools and is in the right situation. He has been lighting up the AHL for the last three years, and has only had cups of coffee in the NHL. This season’s numbers in Nashville: eleven games, no points, and eight minutes of ice time per game. He was a healthy scratch seven times. He was waived this week and picked up by the St. Louis Blues. A team that is probably the most desperate of all NHL teams to add some offensive depth to the lineup. He will get all the ice time in the world, and if he can put up a few points in his first ten games there, then he will have taken advantage of his best shot at stardom. Like all small-sized prospects, he’ll either be a star or he’ll disappear into the netherworld we call the minor leagues…

Farm Report: The Los Angeles Kings are really on a role with their offensive prospects. Not only have Michael Cammalleri and Dustin Brown fit in seamlessly and another home-grown talent has busted out in a big way (Alexander Frolov), but there are others in the pipeline. Jeff Tambellini picked up 20 points in 12 games for Manchester of the AHL and was named rookie of the month. That earned him a recall to the big club…

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