A common topic of discussion often with NHL personnel is “what wins in the playoffs?” when it comes to the draft and prospects. A lot is made, especially around this time of year, of drafting players who have success in the spring when the NHL undergoes noticeable changes in how the game is played. So today we tried to answer that question.
I took each team’s roster in the conference finals and identified the “core skaters” on each team, which to me meant the top-three centers, top-four wings, and top-four defensemen in ice time in the postseason. I then broke down the players into three qualitative categories: Skating, puck play and compete. Puck play I used to encompass skill and hockey sense; basically how much offense they create. Those categories are then ranked on a scale of zero to four based on my evaluation of the trait with four being the highest. The player’s height is also listed.
Skating average: 1.68
Puck play: 2.61
When James Mirtle did his most recent article sizing up the NHL, he showed the average NHL forward was 72.7 inches tall. So while these core playoff forwards are a bit taller, it’s not that noticeable of a difference.
I thought it was interesting how many forwards, in particular wings, I was giving subpar skating grades to, who in exchange were very strong in the other categories. Jason Robertson is the most glaring example of this as a huge wing with elite skill and hockey IQ whose skating leaves something to be desired. I gave no subpar compete or puck play grade to any forward. It’s a really noticeable part of watching the NHL playoffs — how few players have compete or physicality issues, even if they are average-sized.
In terms of small forwards, there were only four that were 5-foot-11 or shorter: Joe Pavelski, Jonathan Marchessault, Max Domi and Seth Jarvis. Jarvis and Domi are both excellent skaters who compete hard. Marchessault is the most fascinating example. He’s not a burner, but he’s very skilled and competitive, and has become a great NHL player after being undrafted. Pavelski has made a potential Hall of Fame career out of his skill, sense and compete.
In a 2023 NHL Draft where a lot of the top-rated players are that size — Connor Bedard, Matvei Michkov, Zach Benson, Oliver Moore, Gabe Perreault, Brayden Yager, Otto Stenberg, Bradly Nadeau and Gavin Brindley among others — it is notable those players would be the outliers on these playoff rosters, not the trend. In terms of undersized players like Michkov, Benson and Perreault (who are small and don’t skate very well), there is only one of those forwards left in the playoffs. Marchessault is my current player comparison for Benson. There are no small core forwards left who grade out as average skaters and competitors.
Puck play: 2.42
With the centers, what’s noticeable for me is the difference between them and the forwards as a…
Read More: How NHL teams can use playoff conference finalists as draft examples 2023-05-18 19:54:08