This week we’re paying homage to those players who were repeatedly told they were too small to play big-time hockey. The one’s who were passed over and pushed aside (figuratively) before making it to the best league in the world. This is THN.com’s Top-10 NHL Little Guys.
Now, before people start screaming about this player or that player, let it be said that we used a strict criterion: All the players here are listed at 5-foot-9 or less in the 2009 NHL Official Guide & Record Book. So, please, if you think Brian Rafalski or Andrew Cogliano should be on the list, take it up with the NHL, because they’re listed at 5-foot-10.
10. Nigel Dawes, Left Wing, New York Rangers, 5-foot-9
The diminutive Dawes is having a disappointing sophomore season, but is one of just four players with a positive plus-minus on the Blueshirts. He’s on pace to put up almost the same totals as last season, but his points-per-game pace is down.
9. Sergei Samsonov, Left Wing, Carolina, 5-foot-8
Samsonov is both maddening and tantalizing. Maddening in that his play is so up and down; tantalizing in that he has always had above-average scoring talent. The eighth overall pick in 1997 is sitting on nine goals and 25 points, good for fifth on the Canes.
8. Brett Lebda, Defense, Detroit, 5-foot-9
The 27-year-old Illinois native is in his fourth NHL season and on pace to set career highs in goals and points. Lebda only plays about 13:30 a game for the Wings, but any player who can make that roster deserves to make this one.
7. Jordin Tootoo, Right Wing, Nashville, 5-foot-9
Tootoo has made some dangerous in-game decisions during his five-year career, leading some of us to question his playing style. But Tootoo does fill the agitator role better than any other little guy in the league.
6. Francis Bouillon, Defense, Montreal, 5-foot-8
Believe it or not, Bouillon began his NHL career in 1999-2000. In 46 games this season, he’s tallied three goals and six points, while averaging 16:19 of ice time. He’s not flashy, but he’s feisty for a Canadiens team that can use it.
5. Jiri Hudler, Center, Detroit, 5-foot-9
Hudler made last week’s Top 10 as one of the NHL’s best Czech players. This week he represents a big step up in the talent level from the bottom five. Hudler has already surpassed his career high in goals with 17 and his 39 points are just three away from his best ever in that category, too.
4. Brian Gionta, Right Wing, New Jersey, 5-foot-7
The 30-year-old is on pace for the second-best season of his career. His goal total is low at 11, but his 30 assists represent an up-tick in production. He may never approach 50 goals again, but Gionta is a top-six forward on one of the best teams in the league.
3. Derek Roy, Center, Buffalo, 5-foot-9
Roy is a perennial slow starter, but lately he’s been on a hot streak and should record his second-consecutive point-per-game season. The 32nd pick in the 2001 draft has seven game-winners this season and does it all for the Sabres, averaging 21:43 of ice time per game.
2. Mike Cammalleri, Left Wing, Calgary, 5-foot-9
Drafted 17 spots behind Roy, Cammalleri has always been a scorer and his 26 goals this season have him on pace to best the 34 he put up for Los Angeles in 2006-07. Although not ‘the man’ in Calgary – Jarome Iginla will hold that title for the foreseeable future – ‘Cammo’ does have more power play goals (13) and game-winners (4) than Iggy.
1. Martin St-Louis, Right Wing, Tampa Bay, 5-foot-9
Was there ever any doubt? Whether he’s actually 5-foot-9 is up for discussion – he looks smaller, doesn’t he? – but there’s no disputing St-Louis is one of the best players in the league. His 2003-04 season earned him the Art Ross, Hart and Pearson Trophies, as well as the Bud Light Plus-Minus Award for good measure. He’s topped 100 points in the past and this season he’s leading the Lightning in scoring again, playing more than 21 minutes per game.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.
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