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Meltzer's Musings: Undersized Skill in 2014 Draft, Flyers Quick Hits

June 18, 2014, 6:51 AM ET [792 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT

There is an old adage in boxing that says a good big man will always beat a good little man. A skilled and crafty little guy can make a so-so big guy look foolish and slow but, in a battle between relative equals, size prevails.

The same belief applies to modern-day hockey, especially where the NHL Draft is concerned. Undersized players can still find a place in the top rounds of the Draft -- and, more important, an eventual role on an NHL roster -- but they need to be significantly better than a larger-framed player to get that opportunity. Meanwhile, regardless of puck skills, undersized players who are not blazingly fast skater more or less start out with two strikes against them in their quest to be recognized as top prospects for the NHL.

That is just the reality.

Part of the reason why the 2014 Draft is considered to be an "average" crop is that there is a significant number of players who will be taken in the first 50 picks or so whose frames are on the small-to-average size. Even a player listed at 6-feet and projected to play at about 190 to 195 pounds is considered of slightly less-than-ideal size nowadays, especially if he is a defenseman. For goaltenders, it has gotten to the point where anyone under 6-feet tall virtually need not apply for NHL consideration and even a 6-foot-1 goalie is considered to be of average size.

In this year's Draft, there is a good chance that highly skilled forwards like Halifax winger Nikolaj Ehlers (a potential top 10 pick), second-generation Swedish and Finnish prospects William Nylander and Kasperi Kapanen, USNTDP product Sonny Milano, Guelph center Robby Fabri, Windsor forward Joshua Ho-Sang, and Swiss forward Kevin Fiala will either be taken in the first round or by the early second round. All of these players are listed at less than six feet tall. Ditto undersized by gifted defensemen such as Julius Honka and Anthony DeAngelo.

Contrary to popular belief, the Flyers do not disqualify smaller-to-average size prospects for consideration for first-round picks. If the club believes the player's upside is high enough to make him the best available player for the long-term, they will take him regardless.

The ultimate example of recent vintage was the selection of Claude Giroux with the 22nd overall pick of the 2006 NHL Draft. Once big defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti was off the board -- as it turned out in the long run, the Rangers unwittingly did Philly a favor by taking the New Jersey product with the 21st pick -- Giroux became the highest pick on the Flyers' scouts list.

Another example of semi-recent vintage: The Flyers took agitating 5-foot-11 forward Steve Downie with the 29th overall pick of the 2005 Draft. Downie was not even projected as a first-round pick by any of the major pundits. While other players picked slightly after him have turned out to be bigger impact players in the NHL, the main point here is that the Flyers regarded Downie's ability to "play big" above his height and weight chart.

The same thing was also the case in 2012. Scott Laughton, while of average size in terms of height, was rather frail of build. He's filled out a bit since then but his frame is never going to remind anyone of Eric Lindros. It didn't matter, because the Philadelphia scouts liked his competitiveness, grit and two-way game enough to take him with the 20th overall pick. Only time will tell how good of an NHL player Laughton becomes, but the relevant fact here is that the Flyers weren't simply looking for the biggest kid on their draft list.

The 2014 Draft is one that has quite a bit of parity in it. There is a handful of players with good size as well as skill and, as such, the odds favor their selection if the Flyers' scouting department views their upside as otherwise being comparable to a smaller prospect. However, if the scouts believe that one of the smaller players on the board for the 17th pick is a cut above the rest, no one should be surprised if the Flyers call his name.

For whatever it's worth (not much), some of the potentially available forwards whom I think have "Flyers-like" qualities include the likes of Dylan Larkin, Alex Tuch, Brendan Perlini, Kapanen and Adrian Kempe. Kempe's offensive game reminds me a tad of young Mikael Renberg at the time that Renberg's frame was still in the process of filling out from the 185 pounds he carried in his 1990 Draft year to the 215 or so muscular pounds he played at in the NHL.



* According to a Twitter post from Capgeek, the Flyers will have to absorb roughly $345K of bonus-related overages from the 2013-14 cap ceiling onto their 2014-15 cap. This is a relatively minor cap penalty, but every little bit matters. More significant estimated overage penalties for next season were incurred by the Boston Bruins (estimated at $4.75 millon), Detroit ($3 million) and the New Jersey Devils ($2.25 million). Come the 2015-16 season, the Flyers could have upward of $2 million worth of overage penalties applied to their cap figure depending on what their final cap-related spending is for the 2014-15 season and how much of Kimmo Timonen's bonuses are triggered in excess of the cap ceiling.

* June 15 was the deadline for NHL teams to sign players contracted for European teams next season without incurring transfer fee penalties. The Flyers' signing of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare last week was made ahead of the deadline. NHL teams can still sign European leaguers after the deadline but fees apply to get the players released from their contracts to come overseas. I am not sure of the KHL contract status of Jiri Sekac for next season.

* Alumni Birthday: Former Flyers goaltender Antero Niittymäki, now a scout for the organization, turns 34 today.

* Today in Flyers History: On June 18, 2007, the Flyers traded the Nashville Predators first-round pick in the 2007 NHL Draft (acquired a few months earlier as part of the trade that sent Peter Forsberg to Nashville) back to the Predators in exchange for the rights to impending free agents Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen. The Flyers then immediately announced the signings of both players to six-year contracts. In effect, the Flyers traded a two-month rental of Forsberg to the Predators in exchange for the delayed acquistion of Timonen and Hartnell and the immediate acquisitions of forward Scottie Upshall and then highly regarded defense prospect Ryan Parent.

* Rugged defenseman Larry "The Rock" Zeidel, an original member of the Flyers during parts of their first and second seasons as an NHL expansion team passed away yesterday at age 86 after a lengthy illness. A colorful and tough character who was one the only Jewish player in the NHL during his career, the well-liked Zeidel was born in Montreal but lived most of post-hockey life in the Philadelphia area. Late in life, he went through considerable struggle, both financially and in terms of both his physical and mental health. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi wrote a thoughtful obituary recalling the Rock's life and times.
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