Smaller defensemen are finally getting their due in the NHL – The Hockey News

As Erik Karlsson and Ryan Ellis proved, you don’t have to be a giant to have a big impact on the blueline. Now the next generation of puckmovers is coming

NHL fans, welcome to your Erik Karlsson years. Or, if you’re more predisposed to the Western Conference, the Ryan Ellis Era.

And though neither of those players has suited up for a game yet in 2017-18, once those injured blueliners return to their respective lineups, they will be essentials. The fact that neither Karlsson or Ellis have a lot of size in their game has not slowed them down a bit in the NHL, because they are, as we all know, master puckmovers. That Ottawa nabbed Karlsson 15th overall in the 2008 draft, while Nashville selected Ellis 11th in 2009 speaks to a size bias that has slowly eroded over time and is now gone. And some teams are reaping the rewards already.

The 2017 draft was a watershed for smaller, skilled defensemen, with Miro Heiskanen (DAL) and Cale Makar (COL) going third and fourth overall; the first two blueliners selected. And you can expect more of that this summer when Quinn Hughes, Ryan Merkley and Ty Smith – none of whom even reach six feet in height – are vying for top-10 slots in the draft.

Clearly the position has changed in recent years and the fact that puck rushers are more valued than stay-at-home goliaths favors the quick, not necessarily the big. Karlsson is obviously the best in this sense, but the philosophical underpinning has already grabbed this year’s best draft prospect, Rasmus Dahlin. Now, Dahlin is intriguing because he has incredible offensive skills and skating ability in a 6-foot-2 frame – so he’s not small by any measure. But he converted from forward to defense as a

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