The 25 Greatest Short Players in NHL History

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IAugust 16, 2012

The 25 Greatest Short Players in NHL History

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    While some scouts think that being short is an obstacle to playing at the NHL level, there are plenty of players throughout NHL history that have proven those skeptics wrong.

    This list takes a look at the 25 best "short" players in NHL history.

    Let's clarify what "short" means, at least for purposes of this list. To qualify, a player has to be less than 5'10". They also had to be at least below-average in height during the time they were playing.

    Obviously, the more successful a player was, the higher he will be on this list.

    As always, your comments are most welcomed. Feel free to suggest any players you feel I've overlooked or make a case for why a player should have a higher or lower ranking.

Honerable Mentions

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    Since this is an all-time list, I thought I'd take a moment to mention many of the smaller players in the league today who are not among the best little men in NHL history, but are worthy of consideration.

    Among the great smaller players of today are Brad Marchand, Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe, Mike Cammalleri, Derek Roy, Jordin Tootoo, Francis Bouillon, Stephen Gionta, Steve Sullivan, Scott Nichol, Jaden Schwartz (who will be starting his NHL career this season), Marc-Andre Bergeron and Keith Aucoin.

    Some of these players could find themselves included on this list by the time their careers are over.

    There is still certainly room for smaller players in the NHL today if they have the heart and talent to compete.

25. Stan Jonathan

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    Stan Jonathan had the difficult task of being an NHL tough guy despite standing just 5’8”.

    Despite giving up a sizable advantage in height, reach and weight, Jonathan took on all comers playing with the Bruins in the late 1970s.

    Jonathan had some offensive ability as well and scored 27 goals in 1977-78.

    His toughness and never-say-die attitude made him one of Don Cherry’s favorite players and the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup final in 1977 and 1978 with Jonathan in the lineup.

    He later played for the Pittsburgh Penguins before retiring in 1983.

    Jonathan scored 91 goals and 201 points in 411 career NHL games. He also totaled 751 career penalty minutes.

24. Garry Howatt

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    Howatt was just 5’9” and 170 pounds, but he had the heart of a lion and never backed down from a confrontation with players who were bigger, stronger, and heavier than he was. 

    His size and toughness earned Howatt the nickname “The Toy Tiger.”

    Howatt won a pair of Stanley Cups with the Islanders. He finished his career with stints with the Hartford Whalers and New Jersey Devils.

    In 720 career NHL games, Howatt scored 112 goals and 268 points while racking up 1,836 penalty minutes and a lot of respect around the league.

23. Glenn "Chico" Resch

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    Glenn “Chico” Resch was the exciting and talented goalie of the New York Islanders during their incredible playoff run in 1975.

    The Islanders overcame a 3-0 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins before coming back to win the series in seven games including a 1-0 shutout by Resch in the deciding game in Pittsburgh. The Islanders then fell behind the defending Stanley Cup champion Flyers 3-0 before forcing a seventh game at the Spectrum where they finally fell short.

    Resch played on the Isles' first Stanley Cup-winning team in 1980 before being traded to the Colorado Rockies. He later played for the Devils and Flyers before starting a successful career as an NHL broadcaster.

    Resch was generously listed at 5’9”. He played in three NHL All-Star Games and was one of the first NHL goalies to wear a mask with a painted design on it.

    Resch earned his famous nickname from his resemblance to Freddie Prinze, the star of the popular TV show “Chico and the Man.”

22. Bob Baun

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    Although Bob Baun was only 5’9” tall, he was considered one of the hardest hitters in hockey when he played and earned the nickname “Boomer” for the smashing checks he so often delivered to opponents.

    Baun is best known for scoring the game winning goal of Game 6 in the 1964 Stanley Cup final in overtime. Earlier in the game, Baun was removed on a stretcher after breaking his leg but he returned to action in the overtime to score the game winner.

    He was later named the first captain of the Oakland Seals franchise and had a brief stretch with Detroit before returning to Toronto to finish his career.

    Baun scored only 37 goals and 224 points in 964 career NHL games, but was considered one of the top defensemen of the 1960s and played a major part in the Leafs' success throughout that decade.

21. Howie Meeker

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    Howie Meeker has done it all in the sport of hockey, spending time as a successful player, coach, and broadcaster.

    The 5’9”, 165-pound Kitchener, Ontario, native broke into the NHL with the Maple Leafs in 1946-47 and won the Calder Trophy after scoring 27 goals in 55 games. That season he also set an NHL rookie record by scoring five goals in one game.

    Meeker played in three-straight NHL All-Star Games and won four Stanley Cups as a player before retiring. He only played in 346 career NHL games but scored 83 goals and 185 points.

    He later coached the Leafs for one season before beginning a Hall of Fame career as a hockey broadcaster. 

20. Roger Crozier

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    At 5’8” and 160 pounds, size was never the reason Roger Crozier was a successful NHL goalie.

    Crozer was pegged as a rare talent at a young age and made a big splash in the NHL right away when he won the Calder Trophy as rookie-of-the-year in 1965 and was named as the league’s First-Team All-Star in goal that same season.

    The following year, he became the first player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy despite playing for a team that did not win the Stanley Cup. 

    Crozier was slowed throughout his career by pancreatitis and a bad case of nerves.

    He later joined the Buffalo Sabres who he helped reach the Stanley Cup final in 1975.

    Crozier briefly played for the Capitals before retiring in 1977. He finished his career with a 3.03 GAA and winning record in 518 career NHL contests.

    Today, the goalie with the best save percentage in the league is awarded the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award.

19. Brian Gionta

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    Brian Gionta is a scrappy hockey player despite his 5’7” frame. His diminutive size does not prevent him from scoring goals from the “dirty areas” in front of opposing goal creases.

    Gionta holds the New Jersey Devils franchise record for goals in a single season with 48.

    He played on the Devils “EGG Line” along with Scott Gomez and Patrick Elias and helped lead New Jersey to a Stanley Cup title in 2003.

    Gionta joined the Montreal Canadiens in 2009 and a year later became only the second American-born player to be named captain of the NHL’s most storied franchise. 

    Gionta has scored 209 goals and 404 points in 616 career NHL games and at 33, still should have several productive years of hockey ahead of him.

18. Danny Gare

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    Danny Gare spent 14 seasons in the NHL and despite being only 5’9”, was one of the scrappier players of his era. Six times Gare accumulated more than 100 penalty minutes in a season and he finished his career with 1,285 minutes in the sin bin.

    Gare tied for the league lead with 56 goals in 1979-80 and also scored 50 goals in 1975-76.

    He was also part of the Sabres club that went to the Stanley Cup final in 1975, his rookie season in the NHL.

    Although Gare later played for the Red Wings and Oilers, he played his best hockey in Buffalo. Twice he was named to the All-Star Game to represent Buffalo.

    The Sabres retired Gare’s number in 2005. He finished his NHL career with 354 goals and 685 points in 827 games.

17. Ron Ellis

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    Ron Ellis spent 15 seasons playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs and was a steady producer and very respected all-around player throughout his career.

    Ellis stood 5’9” tall. He played in four NHL All-Star Games and represented Canada in the 1972 Summit Series against the USSR.

    Ellis topped the 30 goal mark in a season twice in his NHL career and finished with 322 goals and 640 points in 1,034 games.

    He was a member of the Leafs' last Stanley Cup winning team in 1967.

    Former Leafs star Ace Bailey had so much respect for the way Ellis played the game, he asked the Lindsay, Ontario, native to wear his retired number six, which Ellis did for the rest of his NHL career.

    After his retirement, Ellis went to work for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

16. Dennis Maruk

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    Dennis Maruk was generously listed at 5’8”, but his quickness and anticipation made him one of the more dangerous scorers of his day.

    Maruk broke into the NHL with the California Golden Seals in 1975-76 and scored 30 goals as a rookie. He teamed with Bob Murdoch and Al MacAdam to form the “3M Line” which remained together for three seasons after the Seals franchise moved to Cleveland.

    Maruk had his best years with the Washington Capitals where he scored 50 goals in 1980-81 and 60 goals and 136 points the following season. He became the first Caps player to top 100 points in a season and helped lead the team to the postseason for the first time in franchise history in 1982-83.

    The Toronto native finished his career with the Minnesota North Stars and totaled 356 goals and 878 points in 888 career games.

15. Rene Robert

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    Rene Robert stood just 5’9” and weighed only 165 pounds, but was a part of the most dangerous unit in Sabres history, the famed “French Connection Line.”

    Along with Gilbert Perreault and Rick Martin, Robert helped strike fear in opposing goalies in the 1970s and helped lead the Sabres to the Stanley Cup final in just their fifth season since joining the league.

    Robert was the first player in Sabres history to total 100 points in a season and twice was named to the NHL All-Star Game.

    He later served as captain of the Colorado Rockies before finishing his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Robert scored 284 goals and 702 points in 744 career NHL games. The Sabres retired his number in 1995.

14. Johnny Bower

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    After a lengthy stint in the AHL with the Cleveland Barons, it seemed that Johnny Bower would never establish himself as an NHL goalie.

    He played with the Rangers for a few seasons, but didn't really find NHL success until he was dealt to the Maple Leafs in 1958, and the rest was history.

    “The China Wall” stood only 5’9”, but he won two Vezina Trophies and four Stanley Cups with the Leafs in the 1960s.

    He finished his NHL career with a 2.51 goals-against average and a record of 250-195-90 and 37 shutouts. Bower retired at the age of 45 and actually lied about his age for most of his NHL career  for fear he would lose his job if his employers really knew how old he was.

    Bower was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976.

13. Pat Verbeek

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    Pat Verbeek’s rough-and-tumble style of play earned him the nickname, “The Little Ball of Hate.”

    Although he stood just 5’9”, Verbeek wouldn’t back down from anybody and was always willing to dig for the puck in the corners or do some dirty work in front of the opposing team’s goal.

    The Sarnia, Ontario, native went on to score 522 goals and 1,063 points in 1,424 games for the Devils, Whalers, Rangers, Stars, and Red Wings.

    He served as captain of the Whalers and later won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999.

    Verbeek presently serves as the assistant GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

12. Shrimp Worters

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    Roy Worters is the shortest goalie ever to play in the NHL. He stood only 5’3” and weighed just 135 pounds which earned  him the nickname, “Shrimp,” but he went on to set several records and to become a Hall of Fame goalie while playing for the New York Americans, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Montreal Canadiens.

    Worters' career goals against average was 2.27. He won both the Hart and Vezina Trophies and was the first ever NHL goalie to record back-to-back shutouts. Worters went on to blank opponents 66 times during his NHL career. 

    He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.

11. Rogie Vachon

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    Rogie Vachon became the first star-player in the history of the Los Angeles Kings franchise and was one of the best goaltenders in the NHL in the 1960s and 70s.

    Vachon played on three Stanley Cup winning teams with Montreal and was co-winner of the Vezina Trophy in 1968, but he didn’t really establish himself as the starter in Montreal. He was traded to Los Angeles in 1971 and quickly became the best player on the team.

    Vachon played in three NHL All-Star Games and was named to a pair of postseason All-Star Teams while with the Kings. He also shined while playing for his country in the 1976 Canada Cup.

    Vachon stood only 5’8” but he had great reflexes and one of the quickest glove hands in the league.

    He retired in 1982 after stints with the Red Wings and Bruins and later went on to serve as coach and GM of the Kings.

10. Martin St. Louis

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    Martin St. Louis has been a model of consistency since breaking into the NHL in 1998.

    After a brief stint with the Calgary Flames, St. Louis joined the Tampa Bay Lightning where he quickly became one of the most creative passers and most productive offensive players in the game.

    The 5’8”, 176-pound native of Laval, Quebec, has played in six NHL All-Star Games and won the Hart, Art Ross and Lady Byng Trophies. 

    In 2004, he helped lead the Lightning to the franchise’s first ever Stanley Cup title.

    In 931 career NHL games, St. Louis has scored 323 goals and 852 points. He shows few signs of slowing down at the age of 37 as he still scored 74 points in 77 games in 2011-12.

9. Gump Worsley

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    Lorne “Gump” Worsley was a great NHL goalie but he was also one of the league’s most colorful characters and clever quipsters.  

    Worsley was generously listed at 5’7” and 155 pounds but that didn’t stop him from becoming one of the league’s best goaltenders. 

    Worsley won the Calder Trophy in 1952 as the NHL’s best rookie but often struggled early in his career playing for a woeful Rangers team. When he was asked by a reporter which team gave him the most trouble, he quickly replied, “The Rangers.”

    He was later traded to the Montreal Canadiens where he played on four Stanley Cup winning teams and twice won the Vezina Trophy for playing on the team that allowed the fewest goals that season.

    Worsley finished his career in 1974 with the Minnesota North Stars. The veteran net-minder didn’t put on a mask until the final few games of his career, making him one of the last goalies to play in the NHL without facial protection. “My face is my mask,” Worsley once said.

    The Gumper was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1980.

8. Dave Keon

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    Dave Keon stood just 5’9” and weighed a mere 163 pounds, but it never stopped him from becoming one of the best players of his era.

    Keon won four Stanley Cups with the Maple Leafs as well as the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie-of-the-year in 1961. When Toronto won their last Stanley Cup in 1967, it was Keon who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

    During his NHL career, the native of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, scored 396 career NHL goals and 986 points and then added another 291 points in 301 career games in the WHA. 

    He was considered one of the fastest skaters of his era and despite his lack of size, was also one of the best defensive forwards in the league as well. 

    Keon was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1986.

7. Rod Gilbert

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    Rod Gilbert overcame several career-threatening injuries to become the most productive scorer in New York Rangers history.

    At 5’9”, Gilbert wasn’t big, but he became a dangerous goal scorer as the right wing on the Rangers famous “Goal-a-Game” or GAG line in the late 1960s and early 70s along with Vic Hadfield and Jean Ratelle.

    In addition to his offensive production on the ice, Gilbert became one of the Rangers' first celebrities off the ice during his time on Broadway.

    Gilbert finished his career with 406 goals and 1,021 points in 1,065 career NHL games, all with the Rangers. He helped lead the Blueshirts to the 1972 Stanley Cup final and represented Canada in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviets.

    In 1979, Gilbert became the first player in the history of the Rangers franchise to have his jersey number retired. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.

6. Theo Fleury

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    Theo Fleury may have stood only 5’6” tall, but it never prevented the gutsy right winger from mixing it up with larger players throughout an NHL career that mixed great accomplishment with great tragedy.

    Fleury scored 455 career goals and 1,088 points in 1,084 games. He helped lead the Calgary Flames to their only Stanley Cup title in 1989 and scored a career-high 51 goals two seasons later.

    But Fleury struggled with drug and alcohol addictions off the ice and they eventually caused his career to enter into a tailspin. After stints with the Avalanche, Rangers and Blackhawks, Fleury took time away from the game to overcome his addictions and get his life back on track.

    Fleury later wrote his life story which showed how the anger and pain of sexual abuse at the hands of former coach Graham James helped fuel many of his later problems. 

    Fleury played the game with passion and never let his size become a handicap. He became one of the great players of his generation before his career came to a premature close.

5. Yvan Cournoyer

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    If you don’t have a lot of size, it helps to have great speed since even the largest players can’t hit what they can’t catch. Few players in his era had more speed than 5’7” Canadiens' winger Yvan Cournoyer.

    Nicknamed “The Roadrunner,” Cournoyer played for Montreal from 1963 until 1979 and served as captain of the Habs from 1975 until his retirement.

    Cournoyer played on 10 Stanley Cup winning teams as a player and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 1973. 

    “The Roadrunner” scored 428 career NHL goals and 863 points in 968 games and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982.

4. Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion

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    "Boom-Boom” Geoffrion earned his nickname for his hard slap shot but the Canadiens star packed a lot of power into his shot despite standing just 5’9” tall.

    Geoffrion was one of the first players to successfully use the slap shot and was just the second player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a single season when he accomplished that feat in 1960-61.

    "Boom-Boom" was a part of six Stanley Cup winning teams in Montreal and finished his career with 393 goals and 822 points in 883 NHL games.

    After his playing career was over, Geoffrion served as coach of the New York Rangers, Atlanta Flames and Montreal Canadiens. 

    He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972.

3. Ted Lindsay

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    It’s hard to believe that a player with as tough a reputation as “Terrible Ted” Lindsay was just 5’8” and 163 pounds, but even though he was small in stature, Lindsay fought, hit and was tougher than almost any hockey player of his generation. Lindsay essentially battled his way to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

    Lindsay won four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings and was instrumental in the formation of the NHLPA which led to his trade from Detroit to Chicago later in his career.

    Lindsay finished his career with 379 goals and 851 points in 1,068 NHL games. Eight times Lindsay was named a First-Team All-Star. 

    After his playing career was over, Lindsay became a successful hockey broadcaster.

    He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966.

2. Henri Richard

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    No player in NHL history has won more Stanley Cups as an active player than “The Pocket Rocket,” Henri Richard’s 11.

    The younger brother of Maurice Richard spent his entire NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens and finished with 358 goals and 1,046 points in 1,256 career games.

    Richard served as captain of the Habs from 1971-1975 and scored the Stanley Cup winning goal in 1966.

    He accomplished all of this despite his 5’7” height and a playing weight of 160 pounds.

    Richard was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979.

1. Marcel Dionne

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    Marcel Dionne stood only 5’8”, but he never let his lack of size stop him from becoming one of the most prolific scorers in NHL history.

    Dionne centered the Kings famed “Triple Crown” Line in the early 1980s, along with wingers Charlie Simmer and Dave Taylor.

    “The Little Beaver” finished his career with 731 goals and 1,771 points in 18 NHL seasons with the Red Wings, Kings and Rangers which leaves him fourth all-time in goals and fifth all-time in total points scored.

    Dionne was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992.