OHL prospects shrinking, but ...
This year’s OHL draft class was the smallest — shortest and lightest, that is — in at least a decade, even though the league’s goaltending prospects are getting larger.
The Spectator found that players chosen in last month’s priority selection were just over five-foot-11 and 167 pounds on average, or roughly half an inch shorter and four pounds lighter than the 10-year norm.
Forwards and defencemen were also the smallest they have been in any year since at least 2008 (at around five-foot-11 and 164 pounds and six feet and 171 pounds, respectively), while goalies were bigger than usual at just north of six feet and 176 pounds.
The size of players in this year’s draft is just part of a larger trend. After remaining relatively stable between 2008 and 2014, the average height and weight of forwards and defencemen has ticked downward. The size of goaltenders, however, has been growing for 10 years or more.
Steve Staios, the Hamilton Bulldogs president and general manager, said he wasn’t surprised. Since the NHL lockout in 200405 (and the rule changes to promote scoring that followed), the game — including the size of its players — has been changing.
“I think you see now the emphasis on skill and ability,” he added. “It’s not as much of a deterrent for teams when they’re building their teams and when they’re drafting to look at their size and use it as a real knock against them because there are undersized players that are highly effective not only at our level but in the pros as well.” The numbers back him up. According to a 2015 story in the Hockey News, NHL players tipped the scales at just over 206 pounds on average in the season after the lockout. In the years since, however, the average weight has dropped by more than five pounds.
Like Staios, Joe Birch wasn’t shocked.
“My initial thought would be that it’s related to skating and skills and ability,” the OHL’s senior director of player development and special events said when asked about the findings by the newspaper.
He also suggested a possible connection between player size and age, asking if there is a chance this year’s draft class is smaller because it was born later in the year.
The short answer to Birch’s question is probably not. The Spec broke down the last 10 years of draft data to find a smaller than normal percentage of players selected in 2017 were born in the first six months of the year. But the pattern doesn’t hold in other drafts including ’13, when average player size peaked. That year, an lower proportion of players — 71 per cent compared to 75 per cent on average — were born between January and June. Back to Hamilton. This year, the average Bulldogs pick was just over five-foot-11 and 160 pounds, which is slightly shorter and more than 11 pounds lighter than the average player drafted by the team (and before it the Belleville Bulls) over the past decade.
Bulldogs prospects were also smaller than the OHL average in 2017. The reason for that, explained Staios, is that size isn’t at the top of Hamilton’s list of priorities. Hockey is still physical, sure, but it’s become a game “played with your brain, your feet and your stick.”
Goaltenders are the exception to the rule. “That’s one area where we really do look at size,” he said. “I just think with the ability of these players to shoot the puck and with accuracy now that’s when size really does become an advantage.”
There’s a limit, though. Nick Grainger, the team’s goaltending coach, said if netminders get too big they’re “just covering net that doesn’t exist.” That’s why a player (or in this case, a prospect) in the six-foot to six-foot-three range is ideal — “as long as they can move with the same kind of consistency as that kid who is five-foot-10.”