BY MADELYN HEIMANN – http://arizonasports.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes were the second tallest and third heaviest team in the NHL last season, but there are several undersized players on the team’s roster that are making their presence felt — in a big way.
The average NHL player stands 6-feet-1 and weighs 201 pounds, according to hockey-graphs.com. And while size and strength can be advantages, there are many players that have found success despite falling well below the averages.
Forwards Anthony Duclair, at 5-11, 185 pounds and Max Domi, who measures 5-10, 198 pounds, fall under the average. But with 20 goals and 24 assists last season, and playing on 34 shifts through two games this season, Duclair has found a place on the Coyotes roster as a left winger and believes that undersized players should not give up on finding a spot in the NHL.
“You see a lot of undersized hockey players who are playing the game right now,” he said. “I mean if you’re undersized, it doesn’t mean you won’t make it to the National Hockey League. You have just got to work harder. And if you have a passion for the game, I suggest that you keep pushing forward no matter what anyone says.”
“I think time after time, year after year, you see undersized players just proving everyone wrong.”
As the son of former NHL forward Tie Domi, Max Domi saw just what it takes to make it as a professional. Still, many wondered if he might be too small to play at the NHL level.
The right winger had 18 goals with 34 assists in 2015-16 and has already tallied an assist in just two games this season. Domi has witnessed many players succeeding in hockey, despite being labeled as undersized.
“You look at Patrick Kane last year, who’s probably one of the best players in the NHL and in the world, he’s not the biggest guy,” Domi said. “So it’s easy for a guy like me or anyone that’s undersized to look up to that and know he did it, so we can make it, too.”
Not surprisingly, Duclair and Domi looked up to smaller players when they were younger. Both modeled parts of their game after Martin St. Louis. The 5-foot-8 forward, who was not drafted because of his size, played in 1,134 games and had 1,033 points in a 17-year NHL career.
“He was a guy growing up in my area, back in Montreal, he was one of the smaller players and now he has a shot at the Hall of Fame,” Duclair said. “I am not the biggest guy either. I’m 5-11, don’t weigh a ton. I just like to use my speed and my skating skills to avoid the bigger players.”
Domi grew up watching Kane and St. Louis.
“Marty was a guy that played big, and was always a main part of his team,” said Domi, “He was always a winner.”
He liked watching the smaller guys, and seeing how they made their way into the NHL.
Duclair and Domi have found their place in the NHL with the Coyotes and they’re paving the way for other undersized players, such as Coyotes prospect Conor Garland, who was trying to play his way onto the NHL roster.
Garland, a 5-foot-8 forward, believes that undersized players need a unique set of skills to succeed.
“You are going to need to have pretty good hands,” Garland said. “You’ve got to be able to get in and out of traffic and (have) quick feet. So if you’re quick and got good hands, you can usually move out of the way from the bigger players and make stuff happen for your team.”
He has made things happen for his teams in the past, putting up 39 goals and 89 assists in 62 games with the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2015-16. Garland showed progress throughout Coyotes training camp, but was sent to the team’s American Hockey League affiliate in Tucson and played in the team’s inaugural game against the San Diego Gulls on October 14th.
Duclair believes that, with hard work, undersized players will get their opportunity.
“You definitely need tenacity, make sure you are working hard,” he said. “If you are working on both ends of the ice, and doing all the little things right, you will catch the eye of the coaches for sure.”