Good thing that the Hurricanes’ Nathan Gerbe popped in that sweet Marek Malik-goal last night in Philly. At least he’ll have that highlight reel moment to hang his hat on if he loses his title as the NHL’s shortest player to Devils forward Joe Whitney.
Whitney, a two-time NCAA champion at Boston College where he was Gerbe’s teammate, was recalled today from Albany of the AHL. He skated in practice on New Jersey’s first line alongside Jaromir Jagr and Travis Zajac, and could make his NHL debut Friday night when the Devils host the Capitals.
That opportunity alone would be eye-catching, but Whitney’s size makes it even more so. The 25-year-old left winger is listed at 5-foot-6, 170 pounds, which is actually an inch taller than Gerbe’s weigh-in numbers: 5-5, 179. But New Jersey beat writer Tom Gulitti called Whitney’s official measurements “generous,” while one scout laughed and said “no f—— chance. More like 5-4.”
If that’s true, the lil’ Devil is bordering on Roy Worters territory. (Worters, a Hall of Fame goalie who played in the 1920s and ’30s, was nicknamed “Shrimp” for a pretty good reason. At 5-3, 135 pounds, he remains the smallest player ever to appear in the NHL.)
Whitney won’t mind the digs — better, after all, to be the shortest player in the NHL than the tallest in the AHL. But now that he has one skate in the door, the trick for him will be to get beyond the novelty and prove he belongs.
There’s no denying that he has some magic mitts. Whitney has led Albany in scoring in each of the past three seasons, and he currently sits ninth in the AHL with 36 points. He ranks second all-time in franchise history for goals (57) and points (131) in 178 career games. With those numbers, and with the Devils desperate for help on the port side, it was time to give him a chance.
“He got used to the [AHL] and he adjusted and he accepted what he had to do. And he’s made the most of it,” said New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello. “He competes every second, he has good hockey sense and he knows how to handle his size as far as his positioning. He’s been extremely consistent and the things that we thought he had to improve on last year, I think he has. So, he deserves that opportunity to see what he can do.”
Hard not to root for the guy … even if succeeding means he’ll miss out on this honor that is scheduled for Saturday night in Albany.
A short list of some of the most notable small players in NHL history:
Nathan Gerbe, C, (5-5, 178, 2008-)
Theo Fleury, RW, (5-6, 182, 1988-2003)
Henri “Pocket Rocket” Richard, C, (5-7, 160, 1955-75)
Other 5-7 notables: Yvon Cournoyer, Gump Worsley, Brian Gionta, Stephen Gionta, David Desharnais, Mats Zucarello
Martin St. Louis, RW, (5-8, 180, 1998-)
Other 5-8 notables: Ted Lindsay, Marcel Dionne, Stan Jonathan