These players can keep up with biggest, best NHL has to offer
It's not an accident that the average NHL player measures in at 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds. Still, in a game of strength and force, speed and grace are equally important. In this week's 10 Degrees, we look at the best players under 6-foot and 200 pounds.
10. Ray Whitney, Carolina Hurricanes (5-foot-10, 180 pounds)
With 900 career NHL games under his belt, Ray Whitney has been one of the league's more effective wingers. The seven-time 20-goal scorer made huge plays for Carolina in its Stanley Cup run two seasons ago, and Whitney continues to impress this season, ranking second in team scoring with 59 points. At 35, Whitney has proved his durability and could be around long enough to collect 400 career goals.
9. Mike Ribeiro, Dallas Stars (5-foot-11, 178 pounds)
This has been the breakout season Mike Ribeiro has been waiting for. The forward has always had the skill, but he has finally figured out how to use it and not allow his small frame to hold him back. The Stars raised some eyebrows after signing the center to a five-year, $25 million deal, but Ribeiro has the talent to fill the offensive holes that will be left when Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov decide to retire.
8. Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Minnesota Wild (5-foot-10, 172 pounds)
Pierre-Marc Bouchard is one of the lightest players in the league, but he has excellent patience with the puck and the poise of a veteran at just 23. The fact he played 80 games in 2005-06 speaks volumes about the winger's talent and the confidence Minnesota has in him. The Wild would like Bouchard to put on at least 10 pounds of muscle, but he has shown great durability and is scoring nearly a point per game this season.
7. Paul Kariya, St. Louis Blues (5-foot-10, 176 pounds)
With 918 career points, Paul Kariya is the most decorated player on this list. One of the speediest players in the league, the 33-year-old forward is a magician with the puck. Kariya is a seven-time 30-goal scorer, including 50 for Anaheim in just his second NHL season in 1995-96. Size has never been an issue with the seven-time All-Star. As Kariya once said, "You can't hit what you can't catch."
6. Daniel Briere, Philadelphia Flyers (5-foot-10, 179 pounds)
Despite being a team-worst minus-22, Daniel Briere is still one of the most creative and skilled players in the league. He averaged well over a point per game over the past three seasons, and this season has helped the Flyers surpass their points total from 2006-07. In signing Briere to an eight-year, $52 million deal, the Flyers locked up their cornerstone, a playmaking center who scores in bunches and can anchor the power play. Despite his lack of size, he doesn't wilt in the playoffs (Briere led the Sabres in playoff scoring last season). Expect him to lead the postseason charge once again, this time for Philly.
5. Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks (5-foot-10, 163 pounds)
Of the 30 players selected in the first round of the 2007 NHL draft, 27 were at least 6 feet tall. It would have been easy for the Blackhawks to have taken one of these big players and hoped his skills caught up to his size. But Chicago made the right choice in selecting 5-10 dynamo Patrick Kane. It seems only fitting in a city where forwards Stan Mikita (5-9) and Denis Savard (5-10) became superstars.
4. Brian Gionta, New Jersey Devils (5-foot-7, 175 pounds)
Pound for pound, Brian Gionta is one of the toughest players in the league. The 29-year-old forward is feisty, fast and physical. A 48-goal scorer two seasons ago, Gionta has seen his offensive numbers diminish with the exodus of star players from the Devils. Still, he is one of the craftiest offensive players around the net and on special teams and is fearless with or without the puck. Gionta has 46 points in 69 games this season.
3. Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay Lightning (5-foot-9, 185 pounds)
Weighing a little more than 160 pounds at age 18, Martin St. Louis went undrafted because scouts and GMs always had the same critique -- lots of skill, but too small. Since then, all the speedy forward has done is win a scoring title, Hart Trophy and Stanley Cup. After starring at the University of Vermont and with the Cleveland Lumberjacks (IHL) and Saint John Flames (AHL), St. Louis became an everyday NHL player at 25. This season, St. Louis is again proving the critics wrong, sitting within the top 15 in league scoring (73 points in 69 games).
2. Zach Parise, New Jersey Devils (5-foot-11, 190 pounds)
Since breaking into the NHL three seasons ago at 21, Zach Parise has missed just two games. His durability is matched only by his production. This season, Parise leads the Devils in goals (30), points (60) and power-play goals. At 190 pounds, he handles himself well on the ice, picking his spots and avoiding unnecessary contact. Parise is only getting better and will continue to make bigger defensemen look silly as he drives to the net and finds more ways to score.
1. Marc Savard, Boston Bruins (5-foot-10, 196 pounds)
Few players have the vision and playmaking ability of Marc Savard -- not bad for a player who stands just 5-10 in a sea of 6-4 defensemen. In the past three seasons, only Joe Thornton has more assists than Savard. Both the Rangers (after the 1998-99 season) and Flames (when they traded him to Atlanta during 2002-03) passed up on the forward, questioning his size and work ethic. Since then, he has terrorized opposing goalies with his deft passing and deceptively hard shot. This season, despite a depleted supporting cast, Savard might make his Cup playoff debut.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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