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The anatomy of an ideal NHL player

Redefining what it means to have "pro size"

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

"What do you mean when you say that you are looking for size? Are you looking for someone tall, someone with a large wingspan, or someone who just looks big in his equipment?" I asked.

I was met with a blank stare.

That was the response I received from an NHL scout, who had spent the better part of the past 30 minutes talking about the importance of size in a prospect. That particular scout had been very successful in uncovering overlooked prospects for an organization which has been, in turn, very successful at turning payroll into wins and Stanley Cups.

But could it be that most people have been looking at the size issue from the wrong perspective when evaluating hockey players? At least, it would seem that even smart hockey minds from smart hockey organizations are overlooking some of the subtleties in this topic.

Carnival Mirror

Question: When is someone 6'4", 220lb not actually 6'4", 220lb?

Answer: When he is an NHL player.

If you walk into an NHL locker room after the players changed into their street clothes after a practice, the first thing which may strike is how short many of these players are.

If you are 5'10" (the average height for a North American male in 2015) and stand next to P.K. Subban, who is listed at 6'0", you'll find that you're not giving up much in terms of height. Walk across the room, and you'll tower over Mike Weaver (listed at 5'10") and Brendan Gallagher (listed at 5'9"). Hang out in the locker room long enough, and you'll realize that almost every player on the Habs' roster is an inch or two (sometimes more) shorter than advertised on the official team media guide.

But just when you think that everyone's height is equally inflated, in walk Alex Galchenyuk (who's really 6'2"), Michael McCarron (a legit 6'6") and Jarred Tinordi (listed at 6'6" but might be even taller). It's incredibly random.

In the pro hockey world, everything CHL and up, this is more the rule than the exception, which means that you should revise your expectation of what a player's height column tells you about his usefulness.

Some smart analysts have created surprisingly reliable statistical models using point production and listed size, but it would be wise to use caution when applying them to individual players. What you see is what you get in terms of offensive output, but you can never be sure whether the prospect's height has been distorted or not.

Vitruvian Man

NBA and MMA fans know something hockey fans don't: a human being's wingspan is not always proportional to his or her height.

It's basic human anatomy, and one of the few things that Leonardo Da Vinci has gotten wrong. But few people inside or outside hockey know about the importance of this fact.

Sonny Milano. Photo credit: Getty Images

For one thing, a basketball player or a UFC fighter's wingspan is publicly available online and frequently referred to by the media. Meanwhile, a NHL prospect's wingspan is measured by an independent party exactly once, at the NHL Draft Combine, and that number is filed away somewhere no one can get to. Once in a while, though, we do hear about the outliers - the Columbus Blue Jackets drafted Sonny Milano 16th overall in 2014. Milano is allegedly 6'0" tall, but his wingspan, as measured at the Combine, was 79 inches (6'7").

If you are in Columbus, you probably feel good about Milano's future in hockey for a variety of reasons, but you might not know that wingspan, not height, is the best predictor for future success in the NBA. Perhaps the same reasoning holds true in hockey.

Building A Player

Unlike basketball, hockey is not really a vertical game. There's no jumping, and players only raise their arms to celebrate a goal or to express intense displeasure with the referee. Yet being a genetic freak, in terms of body proportions, yield clear benefits in hockey.

First, you want a player with long arms. Longer arms for a skater means more range for stickhandling, more power for shooting, and more leverage in corner puck battles. For a goalie, long arms means a better ability to take away the top of the net when down in a butterfly stance.

Second, you want a player with a big, heavy torso. This is much more important for goalie than for skaters, since a goaltender with a big torso can use a bigger chest protector and cover more of the gap between his shoulders and the crossbar.

Third, you want a player with short legs. Longer legs means a higher top-end speed, as Usain Bolt has demonstrated in sprinting, but shorter legs means better acceleration,as almost every other sprinter in Olympic history has demonstrated. In hockey, a skater reaches top speed for a brief moment, before needing to stop, change direction, and accelerate in the opposite direction. Goalies with shorter legs have a better push-off angle when going across the crease, and can be quicker to close the five-hole.

Anecdotally, it may help for a player to have smaller calves. Less weight at the extremities means more efficient movement, mirroring and amplifying the benefits of lighter skates. Wayne Simmons and Daniel Briere's lower legs look like they belong on a distance runner.

Incidentally, if you were to build a player to those specifications, you would get someone who looks a lot like the reigning NHL MVP and Vezina winner. Carey Price is listed at 6'3", has the inseam of someone who is 6'1", and a wingspan closer to 6'5."

Not that this all necessarily matters very much - Price is technically flawless and has great anticipation, but maybe the difference between him and someone like Corey Crawford is a lot more subtle - and fundamental - than we think.

Jack Han is the Video & Analytics Coordinator for the McGill Martlet Hockey team. He also writes occasionally about the NHL for Habs Eyes on the Prize. You can find him on Twitter or on the ice at McConnell Arena.