There has always been a place for highly skilled, height challenged hockey players in the NHL.
The number of them varies from year to year, but smallish guys have made their mark offensively and defensively over the 100-year history of the league.
Typically, the actual height of some players has been padded to give them their “skates on” size, but they don’t fool anyone in street clothes.
But, it doesn’t matter when these pint-sized pucksters buzz around the ice, scoring goals, setting up plays and making life generally miserable for their more sizeable brethren.
The two teams who will start fighting it out for Stanley Cup supremacy Monday feature a couple undersized players, including Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary (5’8″) and Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson (5’9″).
They are the exception on teams that average 73″ in height (Pittsburgh) and 72.7″ (Nashville).
A player doesn’t have to tower over his peers to achieve greatness. Here are 15 little guys who left an indelible mark on the NHL.
15. Roy Worters
Compared to the giant goalies of today, Roy Worters was an absolute sprout, his head barely sticking above the crossbar. Nicknamed “Shrimp”, Worters was the shortest goalie to ever suit up in hockey’s best loop, measuring 5’3″. The Toronto born netminder was a star in the early years of the NHL, winning the Hart Trophy in 1928-29 with the New York Americans and the Vezina with the Americans in 1930-31. The year he won the Hart, Worters posted an astounding 13 shutouts in just 38 games, along with a 1.15 goals against average. In his Vezina-winning season, he had a league low 1.61 GAA and eight shutouts. For his Hall of Fame career, the tiny puckstopper played in 484 games, recording a 2.27 goals against average and 67 shutouts. Worters played in just 11 playoff games, winning three games and registering three shutouts.
14. Dennis Maruk
On just 39 occasions in NHL history has a player scored 60 or more goals. Toronto-born Dennis Maruk, all 5’8″ (ahem!) of him, was one of them, firing 60 for the Washington Capitals in 1981-82. The short centerman had scored 50 the season previous, giving him an admirable two-season total of 110 in 160 games. Maruk broke into the NHL with the California Golden Seals after a standout junior career with the Toronto Marlboros and London Knights, where he scored 66 goals in 65 games his last season in London. Maruk finished third in Calder voting with the Golden Seals in 1975-76, scoring 30 goals and adding 32 assists in 80 games. His 888-game career took him from California to the Cleveland Barons, Minnesota North Stars and Washington. He finished with 356 goals and 522 assists for an average of just under a point per game.
13. Theoren Fleury
There were, and aren’t, many pint-sized players in the NHL who played with the fire and intensity of Theoren Fleury. Theo, from Oxbow, Sask., is very generously listed at 5’6″, but didn’t let his lack of size deter him. In fact, in his last junior season with the Moose Jaw Warriors, he scored 68 goals, added 92 assists and logged 235 penalty minutes in 65 games. Even with his considerable offensive prowess and willingness to mix it up, the Calgary Flames didn’t draft him until the eighth round, 166th overall in 1987. He rewarded them handsomely for their seeming lack of faith, scoring 34 points in 36 games during the 1988-89 season and then adding 11 points in 22 games as the Flames won the Stanley Cup in the spring of ’89. Fleury would play in 1,084 regular season games, mostly with Calgary, scoring 455 goals and 633 assists. He is one of just 53 players either retired or currently playing, to have over a point per game, career.
12. Rene Robert
One third of the famed “French Connection” line didn’t equal one third of that trio’s height. Rene Robert, of Trois Rivieres, QC, is listed at 5’9″, while his linemates in Buffalo, Gilbert Perreault and Rick Martin were 6’1″ and 5’11” respectively. His lack of size did not hamper his offensively ability, though, as Robert scored 284 goals and 418 assists in 744 games with Buffalo, Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Rockies and Toronto Maple Leafs. By comparison, Perreault recorded 1,326 points in 1,191 contests and Martin finished with 701 points in 685 games. Of note, Robert was the first player in Sabres’ history to total 100 points in a season and was twice was named to the NHL All-Star Game. During Buffalo’s first run to the Stanley Cup final in 1975, Robert scored five times and added eight assists in 16 games.
11. Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion
For a wee man, Bernie Geoffrion had one heck of a shot. The future Hall of Famer earned his “Boom Boom” nickname for using all of his 5’9″, 166 lb. frame to lean into hellish slapshots. The late Geoffrion joined the Montreal Canadiens in their 1950s heyday, when the team featured greats Elmer Lach, Maurice Richard, Dick Gamble, Bert Olmstead, Dickie Moore and Doug Harvey. Geoffrion quickly made a name for himself at the old Forum, racking up impressive goal totals, starting with 30 in his first full season, 1951-52. He would score 50 in 64 games during the 1960-61 campaign and finish his illustrious career with 393 goals and 429 assists in 883 games. Geoffrion was an 11-time all-star, two-time Art Ross Trophy winner, a Hart Trophy recipient and six-time Stanley Cup champion.
10. Martin St. Louis
Little guys seldom get any respect for their ability and at an early age, Martin St. Louis was shunted aside. Passed over for a provincial midget hockey team — despite being the province of Quebec’s top scorer — Martin St. Louis was later ignored by major junior clubs too. But, he plugged away in Ontario provincial Junior A with Hawkesbury and after one year and 87 points in 31 games the University of Vermont came calling. And then, after four superb years in NCAA DI hockey, no NHL team, other than Ottawa gave him a fighting chance. Eventually, the Calgary Flames signed him to a free agent contract, but he never caught on there either. The Tampa Bay Lightning, though, found his skills undeniable and in his fourth season with them, 2003-04, he led the league in scoring with 94 points, winning the Art Ross, Hart and Pearson trophies. He was integral to a Stanley Cup in 2004, scoring 24 points in 23 games. He retired in 2015 with 1,033 points in 1,134 games and should be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
9. Rod Gilbert
At 5’9″, the odds were stacked against Rod Gilbert making a career out of pro hockey. And then, while playing in the OHA (predecessor to the OHL) with the Guelph Biltmores during the 1959-60 season, he slipped on some garbage on the ice and broke a vertebra in his back. Doctors thought they were going to have to amputate his legs when clots ensued. But, he recoverd and finished his junior career in 1961. As property of the New York Rangers (there was no draft), Gilbert went on to be a star in the Big Apple, despite having to undergo a second spinal fusion surgery in 1966. As a member of the GAG (Goal A Game) line with Jean Ratelle and Vic Hadfield, Gilbert would scored 406 goals and 615 assists in 1,065 games, all with New York. He never did win a Stanley Cup, but was on the 1972 Summit Series winning Team Canada, chipping in four points in six games. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1982.
8. Johnny Bower
Height challenged goaltenders have to play even harder in a league dominated by big men with big shots and none were scrappier than the “China Wall”, Johnny Bower. Before his career even got rolling, Bower served in the Canadian Army between 1940 and 1943 and was discharged after developing Rheumatoid Arthritis. Post-war, Bower played a handful of junior games in Saskatchewan and then 13 seasons in the American Hockey League, mostly with the Cleveland Barons, with one year in the NHL (New York Rangers, 1953-54) mixed in. He finally caught on full time with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1958-59, when he was already 34 years old. He played 11 seasons with the Leafs, winning two Vezina Trophies and four Stanley Cups, before retiring in 1969 at the age of 45. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976 and then the AHL Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 2006.
7. Yvan Cournoyer
The only way for a tiny hockey player to avoid being leveled by their more sizable opponents is to out-skate them. Yvan Cournoyer, who stands just 5’7″, was one of those guys and earned the nickname “The Roadrunner” for his small stature and blinding speed. In fact, by the time he was 18, his piston-like legs were so muscular he needed specially tailored pants just to fit them in. A graduate of the Montreal Jr. Canadiens of the OHA, he transitioned right to the big club in 1963 (again, there was no draft; players were property of affiliated NHL teams) and would play well for the Habs, despite the fact coach Toe Blake considered him a defensive liability. Once the legendary bench boss retired in 1968 after a Stanley Cup, Cournoyer fluorished under new coach Claude Ruel, posting a then career high 43 goals the following season. Cournoyer would score 40 or more goals three more times and tally 428 times (along with 435 assists) in 968 games. The Roadrunner won eight titles with Montreal and the Conn Smythe in 1973 by scoring 15 of his career 64 playoff goals in 17 games. He was enshrined in the HHOF in 1982.
6. Bob Baun
Playing defence at the NHL level is difficult. It’s even more so if a player is under 6′ tall. Bob Baun, a native of Lanigan, Sask., is just 5’9″ and during his playing days was built like a brick. He won two Memorial Cups with the Toronto Marlboros of the OHA in 1955 and 1956 and after just 46 games in the AHL with Rochester in 1956-57, was promoted to the Maple Leafs and never looked back. Baun, a stay-at-home defenceman who never scored more than 21 points in any of his 17-year career, was a feared hitter and a players’ advocate for higher salaries before there was any union (holding out for a better deal before the 1965-66 season). He became part of hockey lore in 1964, when he fractured his ankle during game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals against Detroit. He had it bandaged and returned in overtime to score the game-winning goal. The Leafs then won game 7 by a count of 4-0. Baun was never inducted into the Hall of Fame, but did win four Cups.
5. Dave Keon
Often, team executives will pad a player’s height, often listing them about two inches higher, or about the height of hockey blades. Dave Keon, from Noranda, Quebec, was the benificiary of that bit of trickery, with 5’9″ added beside his name. It mattered little, however, how tall he was since Keon was a junior star first with the St. Michael’s Buzzers of the OHA Jr. B league and then with the St. Michael’s Majors Jr. A squad in the late 1950s. He played on game of Sr. A hockey in Kitchener with the Dutchmen and four games of minor league (EPHL) hockey in Sudbury before being called up to the Maple Leafs in 1960. Keon won the Calder Trophy that season after scoring 20 goals and 25 assists in 70 games. He would have a long and illustrious career — later marred by a feud with owner Harold Ballard — scoring 986 points in 1,296 NHL games and another 291 points in 301 WHA games. The Hall of Fame forward was a great two-way player, too, winning the Conn Smythe during the last Leafs’ Stanley Cup run in 1967, despite scoring just eight points (he was responsible for shutting down Montreal superstar Jean Beliveau).
4. Rogie Vachon
Hockey legend has it that Toronto coach Punch Imlach called rookie netminder Rogatien “Rogie” Vachon a “Jr. B goalie” in a bid to rattle him during the 1967 playoffs. Pressed into action after taking over for injured starter Gump Worsley. All of 5’7″, Vachon played well in nine total playoff games that freshman season, even though the Habs didn’t win the title. He made Imlach eat crow a year later, winning the Vezina trophy as the league’s best goalkeeper, followed by a Stanley Cup, the first of three (1968, 1969 and 1971). Vachon’s Hall of Fame career would span 16 seasons and four teams, including the Los Angeles Kings, Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins. It was with the Wings that he would become the first $1 million dollar goalie in NHL history, too. In 795 games, Vachon won 355, along with 51 shutouts. He was enshrined in the HHOF in 2016.
3. Ted Lindsay
Easily one of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players of all-time, Terrible Ted Lindsay was a tough customer who had to battle hard with his 5’8″, 163 lb. frame. As a member of the famed “Production Line”, Lindsay was a full three inches shorter than linemate Sid Abel and four inches below Gordie Howe’s six feet. He was no less effective than his famous linemates, either, scoring 379 goals and 472 assists in 1,068 games, mostly with Detroit. He won an Art Ross in 1950, four Stanley Cups and was a nine-time all-star in 17 seasons. His lasting contribution to the game, though, was his role in creating the NHL Players Association. It cost him the captaincy in Detroit, where the Norris brothers ruled with an iron fist (like many owners of the time) and was subsequently traded to the Chicago Blackhawks before the 1957-58 season. In honor of his efforts to get players a fair deal going forward, the Lester B. Pearson trophy (for the league’s most outstanding player as voted by the NHLPA members) was renamed the Ted Lindsay Award.
2. Henri Richard
Henri “Pocket Rocket” Richard literally and figuratively had to come out from under the giant shadow cast by his superstar brother, Maurice “Rocket” Richard. Born 15 years after his famous older brother and a full three inches shorter at 5’7″, Henri was a right shot (compared to Rocket being a lefty) and played center, while his big brother played wing. Maurice would lead the league in goals five times, but wouldn’t tally over 1,000 points like his his little brother, who finished his own Hall of Fame career with 1,046 points in 1,256 games. Henri was a nine-time all-star with Montreal, as well as a Masterton Trophy winner and 11-time Stanley Cup champion. Ranked 29th on the Hockey News list of the 100 Greatest Players of all-time in 1998, Richard also had his number 16 retired by the Canadiens in 1975, the year he officially retired.
1. Marcel Dionne
Pound for pound, and inch for inch, Marcel Dionne was the greatest offensively gifted short player in the history of the NHL. Listed generously at 5’8″, Dionne played one season in the QJHL with Drummondville before departing for the St. Catherines Black Hawks of the OHA in 1968. He was a tiny scoring machine with that club, firing 154 goals and adding 221 assists in 148 games. The Detroit Red Wings picked him second overall in 1971, but after four great offensive seasons, he was tired of losing and wanted to make more money. Los Angeles Kings’ owner Jack Kent Cooke listened and offered $300,000 per season, unheard of money then. A deal was struck and Dionne was traded to L.A. to become their franchise player. He and the famed Triple Crown Line that included Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor were a scoring scourge for many years. Dionne recorded an astounding 1,307 points in 921 games with the Kings and overall tallied 1,771 points in 1,348 NHL games. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.