No matter their size, Penguins prospects have same goal
Jarrod Skalde has been around hockey for most of his 47 years, and he's been involved in the professional side of the sport for most of the past three decades.
The Penguins player development coach notices a difference in the players he is asked to help develop today as opposed to when he was a developing young player himself in the late '80s and early '90s.
“I remember going to camps years ago,” Skalde said from the Penguins' development camp this week, “it was always the big guys people were enamored with. The physical specimens. Like when I was in New Jersey, (hulking defenseman) Scott Stevens was just like, ‘Holy jeez, that's the direction this is going.'
“(But) you see these kids today, we have guys who are 160 pounds here — but god, are they good hockey players.”
Partly influenced by the speedy Penguins winning two Stanley Cup titles in the past decade, the NHL has shifted toward speed over size.
The Penguins' development camp reflects that trend: among the 38 attendees, more stood 5-foot-11 or shorter (eight) than 6-3 or taller (six).
Two of the Penguins' first three picks in the draft stood 5-10 and 5-9: second-round defenseman Calen Addison and fifth-round center Justin Almeida.
“I think with the speed of the game and the skill of the game, it's so apparent,” Skalde said. “So yeah, you still like size — you can't teach size, and you like those guys. But the game definitely has changed. When you look at some of these guys here on the smaller side, their compete level is there, the skill level and the speed is there.”
Almeida might be the poster child for that: He put up 98 points in 72 games as an 18-year-old for Moose Jaw in the Western Hockey League this past season. The reason he fell to the fifth round is he stands 5-9 and weighs 159 pounds.
That Almeida was the shortest and lightest player at the Penguins' camp didn't surprise him. He's used to it.
“Size is always a good thing, but I've got what I've got so I can't really change that too much,” Almeida said. “I use my speed and hockey smarts and skills to kind of offset that size. Competitiveness is always a big thing, too.
“Everyone would like to be a little bigger — but I am happy where I am at.”
Keenan Suthers expresses similar sentiments. At 6-7 and 225 pounds, he was at the opposite end of the camp roster as the tallest and heaviest.
Don't fret too much over the demise of The Big Man in hockey. He still has a role.
“For me, it's just being able to keep up with the little guys and use the size that I've been gifted with to my advantage,” said Suthers, a tryout who will be a sophomore at St. Lawrence this year. “Yeah, the game is getting smaller. But there is always an element you can bring with a big body.
“If you're just as good as a little guy, then it's just an added advantage. I am working with what I was given. I had no choice to be this big, but I'm just trying to be the best I can be at this height.”
The invitees for development camp mirror the Penguins' NHL roster: 5-11 players such as Patric Hornqvist and Carl Hagelin played roles as significant as 6-4 Brian Dumoulin and 6-3 Evgeni Malkin did in winning championships.
“If you can play, you can play,” Suthers said. “We all have traits we can use to our advantage or we have to cover for. In the end, we all want the same bottom line.”