The annual rookie tournament in Traverse City, Mich., which was won by the Chicago Blackhawks, featured many highlights of forward Alex DeBrincat. With more people than ever jumping on the DeBrincat Express, it seems like a good time to discuss the one downfall of the Blackhawks’ “savior of a prospect”: his size.
It’s no secret that Alex DeBrincat is the most exciting and hyped-up Chicago Blackhawks prospect since Teuvo Teravainen. As you can remember, throughout the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, any time the Blackhawks went through even a mere scoring drought, fans were calling for Teuvo to be recalled from Rockford.
“Teuvo Time” became a household phrase when he broke out at the end of the 2014-15 regular season and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The hype surrounding Teuvo before his NHL arrival is similar to that of DeBrincat right now, as many fans are expecting him to make an immediate impact upon NHL arrival — and to be 2LW, replacing Artemi Panarin and playing with Patrick Kane.
While opinions among NHL executives, Blackhawks beat writers and fans all may differ, the general consensus is that he will start the year in Rockford and be called up some time around January/February. Yet again, this is similar to how the Teuvo situation was handled.
The main issue: height
The main question mark surrounding DeBrincat is also one of the many differences between him and Teuvo, and that’s size. While DeBrincat’s numbers in juniors definitely speak for themselves, his 5-foot-6 frame makes many wonder whether his success at other levels can carry over to the NHL, and it is also why it is widely believed that he will start the year in Rockford.
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The average height of NHL players has risen minimally since the start of the NHL, and it has plateaued at 6-1 in the last 20 years. With players as tall as 6-9 (see: Zdeno Chara), it’s understandable that there’s questions surrounding a player like DeBrincat, who is an astounding 15 inches smaller. But, fear not Blackhawks fans, as players of a small stature have had success in the NHL before. Below, we take a look at some of these players:
Examples of shorter NHL players
(Note: I’m not saying DeBrincat will pan out like any of the players discussed. I am comparing his height to the height of other players, and looking at the production level of those players.)
First, it makes sense to look at recent Blackhawks players with a smaller stature. Looking at the team last year, it’s surprising to see that Jordin Tootoo slots in at 5-9. While it’s a stretch to call his Blackhawks tenure successful, we have seen how he plays much bigger than his size.
Vinnie Hinostroza is listed at the same height, as is ex-Blackhawk Tyler Motte. Lastly, current prospect Anthony Louis is listed as 5-7, but we don’t hear his height discussed as often as DeBrincat’s. Other than that, all players in the recent Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks era have had some decent size to them.
The first player from another franchise that comes to mind is obviously Martin St. Louis, an undrafted 5-8 player who eventually became a legend for the success he had in Tampa Bay.
A retired star of three NHL franchises (Calgary, Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers), Martin won one Stanley Cup in 2004. He also had his number retired by the Tampa Bay Lightning in January 2017.
Da Windy City
I actually had a chance to attend the ceremony at Amalie Arena, and the love and thanks he received from fans, coaches and league executives was very impressive. Other than the traditional “Bettman Boo,” love was flowing throughout the entire building. The moral of the story is, a player smaller than most still has the opportunity to be a generational-type player.
Johnny Gaudreau is another name that comes to mind, measuring 5-8 as well. His success in relation to his age has earned him the nickname “Johnny Hockey,” and his production backs that up. He has found a nice role on the powerplay, and has scored at least 60 points in all three of his NHL seasons.
Nathan Gerbe might not be considered a household name — I only know of him because of this hilarious picture of him standing next to 6-9 Chara. At 5-4, Gerbe is the only player on this list who is significantly shorter than DeBrincat.
He was more of a depth player in his career, never playing a full 82-game season. In two of his eight NHL seasons, he hit at least 30 points, and he had one in which he hit 28. It’s encouraging that he was able to produce even a little given his skill set, and a player like DeBrincat should be able to produce a good amount in comparison.
Lastly, just for fun, the shortest player to ever play in the NHL was Roy Worters. A shocking 5-3 and 135 pounds, the goaltender (yeah, he was a goalie) won 171 games and drew 83 times in a 12-year NHL career. How he was able to have success as an NHL goalie at that weight and height is beyond me. Could you imagine if Ben Bishop had those proportions when the ’Hawks played Tampa in the 2015 Final?
With the start of the hockey season around the corner, the dry months of no Blackhawks hockey leading to endless speculation are finally almost past us. Pretty soon, all of our questions will be answered.
When will DeBrincat play his first NHL game? Can he play 2LW? What will a DeBrincat/Kane duo look like? What will his production look like? If the production of players like St. Louis and Gaudreau tell us anything, DeBrincat should be just fine.