Traditionally, the game of hockey has been a big man's sport with players clearing 6-foot-2 targeted as more favourable assets at the draft. Over the past decade, the emphasis on size has shifted quite a bit with 'smaller' players getting more kicks at the can as they attempt to break into the world's greatest league. With the modern day game focused on possession, skilled undersized players with high-end hockey intelligence have continued to show an ability to compete against competitors significantly larger. Chalk it up to a Napolean Complex, or short man syndrome, or just a hunger to prove their skill sets worthy but competitive, smart and skilled forwards are finding ways to become impact players at the NHL level and the game is benefiting from their arrival. With Marty St. Louis (5-8) leading the way for budding young undersized stars such as Mats Zuccarello (5-7), David Desharnais (5-7), Tyler Johnson (5-9), Brendan Gallagher (5-9) and Mikael Granlund (5-10), the group is setting a precedent for many future smaller talents to follow suit.
The 2014 draft crop is a unique group in a way that it appears to have a substantial number of small forwards hoping to have their names called when hundreds of prospects convene at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center. Look to the following brotherhood of undersized forwards to lead the pack of potential big time impact players.
Robby Fabbri, C (Guelph, OHL)
5-10, 165 lbs
Dating back to his minor midget days as captain of the Mississauga Rebels, Robby Fabbri has been proving to scouts that his offensive prowess was rare in nature as the diminutive pivot rallied off a league-leading 57 goals and 105 points topping GTHL peers such as Sam Bennett, Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang and the under-aged prodigy Connor McDavid. He led his Rebels squad to an OHL Cup Championship and has stamped out a winning pedigree in the process. Robby Fabbri eventually landed with the Guelph Storm with the 6th pick and just two years later, Fabbri was the playoff MVP and an instrumental piece in the Guelph Storm's march to a 2014 OHL Championship.
Fabbri most certainly won’t be drafted based on his stature but he did post the lowest body fat percentage (6.1%) at the NHL Combine which is an indication of how fit yet slight he actually is. He will need to add mass to his slender frame but based on his on-ice performance, working on that shouldn’t be an issue as he hits the gym hard. Like most successful smaller players, Fabbri relies on his astute hockey sense, crafty puck skills, poise and patience to dominate possession and generate scoring chances on a shift-to-shift basis. Fabbri was already high in Youngblood's preliminary rankings but even he exceeded our expectations launching him to new heights and a potential top 10 selection.
Kasperi Kapanen, RW (KalPa, FIN)
5-10, 174 lbs
Not many teenagers can say that they played professional hockey alongside their father but Kasperi Kapanen can hang his hat on that exact claim. The son of former Philadelphia Flyer winger Sami Kapanen, Kasper is a smooth quick skater who cuts, zags, and slashes around defenders towering over him by more than a foot at times. He is an extremely intelligent and instinctual winger who dictates the pace of the play with his deceptive puck skills. Although small in stature (a trait he shares with his father), Kapanen is realistic about his development time admitting that while his hockey sense and offensive skills are close to NHL-ready, he also understands that he needs to get bigger and stronger before crossing the pond. Regardless of the wait time, Kasperi Kapanen enters the 2014 version of the draft as the top-ranked European skater on NHL Central Scouting's Final Rankings.
Kevin Fiala, LW (HV71, SWE)
5-10, 185 lbs
It speaks volume to how much of a special player Swiss winger Kevin Fiala is after this hard-working forward outperformed expectations as a 17-year-old playing in Sweden's top league (SHL). Fiala posted 11 points in seventeen games for HV71 topping all players under 18-years-old and added another 10 goals and 25 points (27 games) with the HV71 Junior squad. He was nominated for the SHL Rookie of the Year and won a gold medal in the J20 league. Fiala's season was a lengthy one with the 5-foot-10 forward competing in four international tournaments for his native country tallying three goals (four games) at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, five points (five games) at the 2014 Under-20 World Junior Championship, nine points (5 games) at the 2014 Under-18 World Championships and then picked up a pair of points in the Men's World Championships to end the season. Kevin Fiala joins Fabbri as one of the feel-good draft stories and their similar rise up the rankings is a testament to their work ethic and transferable skill sets. Switzerland is surely proud of its emerging hockey star in that sports crafty hands, strong hockey instincts and explosive skating but Fiala is a name that will soon be recognized around the world.
Sonny Milano, C/LW (USNTDP, USHL)
5-10, 176 lbs
The kid from Nassau County with the YouTube worthy magic hands is one of the most exciting offensive talents in the draft and he is not going to last long when teams start riffling off names. While Sonny Milano isn’t as small as some of these other prospects, he will be tagged with the 'undersized' label as he competes at sub 5-foot-11 and a few meals less than the 180-pound mark. Milano's puck skills are elite even when compared to current NHLers and in a draft with few game-breaking dynamic players, he will be desired. Adding to his dangerous offensive attack is an extremely explosive skating stride that’s able to reach top speed in just a few strides causing defenders to play catch-up. Milano had the luxury of playing alongside 2015 NHL Draft stud prospect Jack Eichel but he is a tremendous talent in his own right and his high selection will soon reflect that skill set.
Brayden Point, C (Moose Jaw, WHL)
5-9, 160 lbs
No player skating with Moose Jaw could get a whiff at Brayden Point's 91 points as the Warriors' next best scorer registered just 55. He’s not an overly flashy player but he’s very intelligent and has an ability to make accurate instinctual reads in all three zones. Point is quick to jump on loose pucks showing good puck skills and a finisher's touch around the net. He’s a relentless forechecker and owns all of offensive elements you want in an undersized forward – elusiveness, competitiveness, good puck skills and tremendous patience under pressure. Disregard Point's lack of size and we are likely looking at a mid-to-late first round selection.
Daniel Audette, LW (Sherbrooke, QMJHL)
5-8, 180 lbs
The smallest of the group, Daniel Audette can point critics of his size to his father's successful NHL career after Donald suited up in over 700 games as an undersized forward. Like his father, Daniel oozes strong offensive skills including a set of hands worthy of a cameo appearance on Alex Kovalev's YouTube stickhandling video. The pint-sized forward was the Sherbrooke Phoenix's first overall pick in their expansion draft in 2012 and finished atop his team's scoring charts in his sophomore campaign, clearing the next best player by 30-plus points. For NHL teams looking to add skill through the middle rounds, Daniel Audette will be waiting eagerly with something to prove.
While many professional athletes are built like trucks to support their even-bigger egos, these undersized hockey forwards have been battling critics for most of their careers. With a focus on proving people wrong and etching out their own place in the sport they love, it's become apparent to the Fabbris, Ho-Sangs, Fialas, Points and Audettes of the game that their destiny will only be attained through hard work and determination and these undersized competitors have that in spades.
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