MATTERS OF SIZE: RUNT IN, RUNT OUT

So, even if Ryan Nugent Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels is the most talented player available in the 2011 Entry Draft, the Edmonton Oilers shouldn’t take him with the first overall pick because they already have too many small forwards?

Here’s a thought: if stature is the biggest knock against Nugent-Hopkins and the collective size of Edmonton’s forward group is a concern — that is an argument with merit — then make room for him when his development dictates by getting rid of one of the other roster runts.

If Nugent-Hopkins, listed at six feet and 165 pounds, is deemed the best player available by chief scout Stu MacGregor and his staff — my guess is that’s the case as of today — then the Oilers should call his name at the podium in St. Paul on June 24.

If, at some point, that decision results in parting with a less talented member of the Sub-Six-Foot Club, be it Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Gilbert Brule or Linus Omark, so be it. The Oilers don’t necessarily have to get smaller, but they can get more talented.

Runt in, runt out.

BIG TALENT

Anybody who has been reading here for more than 15 minutes knows that, all things being equal, I’ll take a bigger player over a smaller player every time. In that context, size is a tie-breaker for me. Of course, "all things" are seldom equal.

Here’s an often-cited quote from Ken Hitchcock, from an interview with Jim Matheson at The Journal, regarding concerns about the stature and build of the slight Nugent-Hopkins.

"I wouldn’t pay two seconds attention to that if I was a coach. Remember what they said about (Wayne) Gretzky? He was the toughest player in the league because he always had the puck. Weight in a player isn’t relevant to me. Look at Pat Kane in Chicago. He plays at 165 pounds and nobody gets a piece of him and he’s always got the puck."

If you’re like me, you tend to roll your eyes when somebody mentions a raw kid who is just getting the hang of shaving in the same sentence as the greatest player who has ever laced on skates.

That said, let’s not lose the legitimate point Hitchcock makes in the hyperbole. Talent and willingness to compete are a potent combination, and they don’t necessarily have to be wrapped up in a hulking package to produce an elite NHL player. Talent and size without that willingness to compete gets you Dustin Penner.

LITTLE MEN WITH BIG RESULTS

Historically speaking, exceptionally talented players who happen to be slight or short of stature have fared just fine.

Gretzky, Joe Sakic, Steve Yzerman, Mark Recchi, Marcel Dionne, Stan Mikita, Bryan Trottier, Adam Oates, Doug Gilmour, Dale Hawerchuk and Jari Kurri, none of them standing over six-feet or weighing 200 pounds, occupy 11 of the top 20 spots in NHL career scoring.

I’m not citing Nugent-Hopkins as a comparable to the players above in terms of anything other than being "smallish," so keep the calculator in your pocket. Different eras, different teammates and linemates and blah, blah blah factor into why players put up numbers. That’s a given.

The bottom line for me is the argument that the Oilers should avoid taking Nugent-Hopkins with the first overall pick because they are already too small up front makes no sense. Take Zack Parise? No, we”re too small already. Let’s take Marc Pouliot. How’s that working for you?

The Oilers have size on the way in prospects drafted over the past two summers. If need be, GM Steve Tambellini has the option of ridding himself of a less-talented small players between now and when Nugent-Hopkins is ready to play. See ya, Sam. Adios, Andrew. Runt in, runt out.

If the Oilers regard Nugent-Hopkins as a game-breaker and a difference-maker — and I believe the people in the key decision-making positions do — then they should call his name June 24.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    I understand your point Robin and it certainly makes sense. To further your point of “Runts in and Runts out” this team is in full rebuild mode. Drating is a large part of it but can be hit and/or miss. That is why you try and collect as many assets as possible so you can develop some, trade some and turn loose the ones that were misses. To my point, you draft the best players (or who you project will be the best player). Each develop at their own pace and you make your decisions in training camp or as in the Oilers case for the last few years, when injuries provide the opportunity. I’m sure the Oilers have an organizational depth chart and can see the whole picture clearer then anyone. But the more you add in any position the more options and competition you have.

  • Oilers4ever

    Robin makes some good points (and I is usually bashing you a lot of the time). I’ve said before that living just north of Red Deer has allowed me the chance to see RNH play a lot. But I have to say, after watching his series against the Tigers, I really question if he is worth the 1st round pick. The Rebels were schooled in 5 games by the Tigers (boy am I glad that Bunz is our draft pick, his play was phenomenal).. anyways.. Other than the two points that RNH had in game 5, he was a virtual no show for the entire series. It makes me question his ability when the going got tough. Yeah, he got tons of points against the Oil Kings.. but the Oil Kings couldn’t have held Red Deer’s jock strap in that series. I’m all in favor of the taking the best player and if RNH is that they take him… I just have some questions on his competitiveness after watching his effort in the three playoff games against the Tigers compared to the Oil Kings. Again.. when the going got tough, he got going, stage left out of the rink going. You didn’t see that with Taylor Hall with the Spitfires and he’s going to be an ace. You look at Seguin in the series against Hall in those playoffs, he was a no-show and don’t tell me if Seguin had dominated and the Whalers had won that the Oilers brass wouldn’t have reconsidered on taking Seguin instead, especially since the need was a center (as it still is now). So if RNH did the same against a tough team, I dunno. I have questions about taking him. He could be a superstar or he could fold the tents. I wish we had crystal balls because everyone seems to be against Couturier was up there at the beginning of the season and I just wonder if he had a bad year at the worst time because he’s big, has toughness and grit and has offensive potential as well.

  • D-rek

    This article is bang on. So many terrific examples. I have this argument with people all the time, those who think the Oilers shouldn’t draft a player that isn’t 6′-2″ 200 pounds.

    Without even bringing up Gretzky, Sakic, Yzerman and all the others, you can just look at, as you mention Parise/Pouliot. A homegrown example. Nothing else really needs to be said. RNH is a game breaker. I hope the Oilers get it right, and take him with the #1 pick.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I don’t want this pick to be a mistake. Take the kid most worthy of the 1st overall pick and deal with the other issues later. Not picking RNH won’t change the fact that the Oilers are small up front. Changing the size of the forward ranks is up to Steve Tambellini and the pro scouts. Stu and his amateur scouts need to add the best valued asset available with each pick. If you had to turn around and trade Parise, you could ask for the moon. What are you going to get for Pouliot and Jacques…bag of pucks.

    I think we saw Cogliano become a player in the later half of this year. We have to try and get Brule back to where he was. Then deciding to keep them or trade them would be a luxury.

  • ubermiguel

    RNH has a few too many red-flags for a #1 pick. I’d love to see the Oilers trade down the #1 pick and trade up the LA pick to get two picks in the top 5. Some combination or Larsson, Hamilton, Landeskog, Huberdeau, Coturtier would be available.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      One of the few times I’ve ever agreed with you.

      Reddox is a good PK’er and Cogs seems like Reddox on steroids(hockey ability, not physical stature).

      • Quicksilver ballet

        Okay, i agree, this is awkward Obbie. I’m not good with these emotional things buddy.

        I’ll try and come up with another silly trade proposal and fix things, kay.

    • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

      and i could have 6 Playboy Playmates have their limo break down outside my front door and demand i comfort them…

      i dont know about others, but after the last 20 years im tired of “could be” and “what ifs”.

      • Cogliano falls somewhere between being a “premier” penalty killer and the spare part some fans see him as.

        He can be a useful bottom-six forward and a good penalty killer. The bonus is he can do it at a reasonable price.

  • Dan the Man

    @Raine Snow

    Gretzky would be the best player , by a wide margin, today just like he was when he played. Points may be less, but there is only one player close to his compete level in Crosby, and no one has his range of abilities.

    I don’t buy the 80’s argument sbout scoring to begin with, but he played in the 90’s as well, and scored well right up until the end, with his Gary Suter messed up back.

    He was so much better than his contemporaries, who were the world’s best players at the time, that it would be the same now.

    We all know the stats, but remember no one has ever dominanted their sport like he did hockey, not even close.

    A one of a kind player.

    It is dangerous to use him in considering any player.

    The Sedins are also a poor reference for players because they are twins who have played every hockey game they ever played together, save one.

    I would bet anything they would be nowhere near the same players if they were drafted to different teams. Good, but not this good.

    As for RNH, the value of offense creators can’t be overstated. Watching the games this playoffs, I really could see it. They can break systems like the Canucks and wings are so good at playing. If Hemsky could play enough and RNH is what the scouts say, imagine trying to contain Hall, RNH and Hemsky. Then Eberle. Yikes.

    I think Couturier will be an excellent player and contributor, but maybe not a game breaker. If RNH is, we have to take him because we don’t have a centre like that. I wish we could draft both and trade for the D we need. Rebuild complete.

    • In regards to Gretzky, I’m more less thinking that a player who reminds them of Gretzky doesn’t really hold much merit. People tend to say “Gretzky like passes” or “Gretzky like vision” when comparing someones skill set. I think it’s hogwash. There was something off with Gretzky, I don’t mean that in a bad way…but he was special and different (one of a kind in other words). He wasn’t your prototypical hockey player, he didn’t have the powerful skating or the booming shot – yet he could dominate a game.

      Which is why I don’t think there will be another, so when people say Gretzky did it – it doesn’t change my opinion on the player in question. I’d take a player who reminds me of Messier over a player that reminds them of Gretzky. Messier is realistic, Gretzky not so much. I’ve heard the Gretzky comparison’s too many times.

      Does that make any sense to you?

      In regards to the Sedin’s, Henrik did just fine winning the Hart trophy without Daniel by his side last season.

  • Good post Robin.

    I think you are right that is was over thinking that convinced Lowe and Pendergast to pass on Parise.

    I like to look at it this way. The most coveted skill in the NHL is goal scoring/point production.

    These are the toughest players to attain via trade and they cost a ton on the FA market.

    When you draft high its imperative to load up on point producers as high in the draft is where they are easiest to obtain.

    If down the road you have “too many” skill guys, they will bring an excellent return in trade for what you lack.

    Load up on the highest value players while you can.

    I was a big Larsson guy, but given the incremental cost of acquiring skill outside of the draft, it should be a no-brainer to take skilled scorers with your high picks.

    • CanaDave

      Well said, agreed. Sort of expands on post #60 above by Lochenzo. ADD VALUE AND TALENT that results in more goal scoring potential, deal with consequences later (like Robin says – runts out).

  • I read this proposal somewhere else..what about Hemsky + 1st overall to Colorado for 2nd and Stasny??

    I would say add if need be to make it happen….#1 centre plus maybe take a Landeskog or SC and seems like we shape up better. I dont think it is speeding it up at all as you have Stastny long term vs signing Hemsky long term but swapping their positions.

    If Phoenix to Winnepeg happens it would be trading within the conference but not division as Colorado would likely be moved to the Pacific.

    Feel free to slam me if I am crazy but why wouldnt this type of discussion take place?? If Avs resign Fleischman (he did perform will in Colorado when healthy) they would have their top 2 centres in duchense and Fleish.

  • Bucknuck

    I remember at this time last year biting my nails over the Hall/Seguin debate. It seems that was not something I needed to worry about, so I will just sit back and enjoy the ride.

    I just hope whoever it is has as much “jam” as Ryan Smyth, and wants to be an oiler.

  • misfit

    Does anybody know what Mr. Nugent-Hopkins looks like.If he is 6’0″ and 200 lbs. then there is nothing to worry about. Jr. should fill out to close to the same size.

  • Wax Man Riley

    I have done almost zero research on any of the prospects past reading news posts or youtube videos.

    My favorite player in this draft is Landeskog. Sure, he’s a winger, but he has size, grit, a mean streak, hockey smarts, 2-way play, and is Swedish, which could fit in with Lander, Pääjärvi, and Omark.

    He will be the new Iginla or Forsberg (other than the center thing with Forsberg).

    I think a D man can be traded or found later in the draft.

    As for RNH…. in Stu we trust.

  • Let's Rebuild

    Just a comment on the double teamed plan by the Tigers in the playoffs. RNH will not be the one double teamed, Hall will be. Hall will open up a lot of ice for RNH to operate and Eberle will clean up any messes. It will be beautiful and it will be all ours.

    Have they announced when training camp is yet?

    • Bingo.

      I’m all for getting rid of Gagner and Cogliano and any other “smurf” for that matter…as soon as we have better hockey players to replace them. And I don’t mean drafting someone we think will be better. I mean replacing them as someone shows up and actually proves to be consistently better.

      Brule has proven to be completely unreliable. He’s the employee that always calls in sick. He’s a good guy and someone you want to have a beer with but there’s a better chance of him coming down with a rare form of plague than showing up to 75+ games.

      Next up is Omark

  • Let's Rebuild

    Robin,

    I totally agree with you about the Runt In/Runt Out strategy. Based on the article you suggest taking the BPA, which I agree with, but I am curious as to what your opinion is as to whether or not the Oilers should keep the pick or make some sort of move with it to address their needs via trade.

    Thanks

  • CanaDave

    I think whoever the Oilers wind up drafting, it’s a win for the organization. I agree with both the runt in/runt out theory and think that when you finish 30th in the NHL 2 straight season, your NHL team needs more talent at all positions and that no one should be considered untouchable/unmovable when you are adding the #1 overall selection to your roster.

    I usually don’t read too much into what the scouts say about guys at this point in the draft process since I find that by this point the scouts are splitting hairs to give the talking heads on TV and the fans at their keyboards things to discuss. RNH, Larsson and Couturier have all been ranked at or near the top of the draft rankings all season long. The biggest difference to me between RNH and Couturier, besides 3 or 4 inches and about 30 pounds, is that Couturier has played 3 years of junior already and RNH has only played 2. I’m not sure how much that ultimately affected the decision the Oilers made last summer in Taylor vs. Tyler, but it might be more of an influence than people think.

    If they go in the direction of Larsson I wouldn’t be disappointed in the least, because even if he never wins a Norris Trophy and only reaches the levels of Jovo/Phillips/Hamrlik that’s still a player I certainly wouldn’t mind having on my team for 15+ seasons. Of course, I think there’s a NHL teams chance of succeeding in Phoenix that Oiler fans would be patient with his development, and if he didn’t have 55 points, a +25 rating, and to have been nominated for a Norris before he was 22 he’d probably be run out of town by the “loyal” Oiler fans.

  • Bucknuck

    I know that I grew 2 inches and 40 pounds (of muscle) between the ages of 17 and 20, so if RNH is already six feet tall I don’t know if I would be worried about his size so much.

    That said, I can’t help but wonder if maybe they shouldn’t pick the most gritty of the skilled forwards available (Landeskog). Elite Centres are hard to find so it would be difficult to pass on RNH if the skill is there. Just make darn sure the drive is there as well as the skill. We don’t need another powder puff who doesn’t have that playoff drive, no matter how skilled they might be.

  • Bucknuck

    There are red flags for every prospect in this top 10.Larsson had a poor offensive season,Landeskog was injured and knocked out in first round,Huberdeau is skinnier than RNH and so on and so on.
    I guess we will just have to rely on the Oil making the right choice

  • Grumpy OM

    I don’t get to watch a lot of WHL hockey because of where I live. However I did have an opportunity to watch RNH play three games in his rookie WHL season. They where in the early part of the season so I believe he would have only been 16.

    I watched the Rebels play Saskatoon, Brandon and Calgary. RNH stood out like a sore thumb. He would not hesitate to go into the hard areas of ice against much larger opponents and more times then not , come out with the puck. His play making skills are almost Gretzky like and he has an above average shot. He quarterbacked the Rebels power play and if I’m not mistaken killed penalties also. He is a gamer and a competitor from what I saw, and a leader on the team as a 16 year old.

    There is no doubt in my mind that he will be an above average player in the NHL, if not an elite player.

    I can only hope that the Oilers make the right move and call his name 1st at this years draft.

  • Mitch

    @Brownlee

    Yes I would pick Hopkins #1, I would give him the prospects camp and exibition season to make judgement on Hopkins, if he looks like he can handle the NHL at least give him the 8 or 9 games. I would not hide Hopkins in the lineup, he will have elite level finishers flanking him, so he must produce.
    Yes I’m all for moving out the other small guys, Gagner and Cogliano have had plenty of opportunitys, I don’t feel there any better than they were in there rookie seasons. When Ken Hitchcock speaks those words of RNH someone better be listening. There is no need to rush RNH, if needed Tambi can get more answers to the overall team questions. What is most important to me is Hopkins comes out and makes it very clear he wants to be here same thing Hall did, as we later seen in Oil Change. Pick the small guy everyone says he’s the best, we can not afford another Mikanov, Pouliot, or Ninnimaki. The #1 allows you to have complete control of who is picked take advantage of that. Could the same be said about the bust picks, were they the best players available?

  • Mitch

    @Brownlee

    On another note go out and get Smyth back, he loved it here. Edmonton doesn’t have to worrie about cap space. Then he can sign a lesser contract and retire here. Only do this move if your serious about making the playoffs.

  • OilFan

    Runt in, runt out? How about runt in two or three runts out? The overabundance of small ‘tweener’ forwards is likely to hamper team structure in the near future if it hasn’t had an impact already. I don’t see how the Oil can accomplish the goals of bigger, faster,tougher and more skilled with three diminutive non-difference makers already in the line-up.

    I sure wouldn’t want to see them pass up high first round centres in the draft to accomodate Munchkins who have big gaps in their games already.

    Someone may have to come to the conclusion that some of their former draft picks are not going to get it done long term.

  • RaineSnow

    The Sedins are good, now, but could they have become like this apart – I don’t think they would have.

    And speaking of good, they are good at reg season hockey, play offs, not so much. The wrong awards won.

    I want to see Oilers with jam galore, we have a few now, but we need a team full to get where we want to go.

    I would also like to see normal sized players who can skate well, playing smart and finishing checks that actually mean something to opponents.

    Not wishing that a bunch of guys who are really pushing the limits of too small for the NHL pull off miracles and become dominant play off performers, against all odds.

    I preferred the old way where we were fast talented tough and strong, except one who didn’t need to be.

    This is an unpleasant way to live as an Oiler fan, forever waiting, waiting for a tomorrow that never comes.

    There are no valid excuses left Tambelowe.