Update on NHL teams drafting small defensemen in the NHL Draft

Last year, we published this article about the decreasing number of defensemen under 6 feet tall being drafted since the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. In watching the NHL playoffs of the past few years, we noticed how big defensemen were thriving, whereas smaller defensemen encountered more struggles. We saw this represented by 2019 St. Louis Blues, as well as the 2020 and 2021 Tampa Bay Lightning, whose big D-core brought them to Stanley Cup wins.

After the 2023 playoffs, we can now add Las Vegas to the list. With the NHL’s copycat tendencies, would this trend change how the teams look at the draft? It’s time to look at the updated numbers with the 2023 NHL Draft in the books. 



As you see, the numbers continued their downward trend, with just 10 defensemen under 6 feet tall drafted in 2023. In the past 3 drafts (2021, 2022, and 2023) there were 32 defensemen under 6 feet tall getting drafted compared to 60 in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 Drafts. That is almost a 50% drop. 

For years now, unless a defenseman who falls in this category is elite or borderline elite, HockeyProspect.com does not rank them aggressively on our list. With this trend, we’re seeing more and more NHL teams adopt this philosophy. 

Let’s take a look at the number of defensemen under 6 feet tall that were drafted by each NHL team in the past three drafts.  



There are, visibly, still some teams who believe in drafting smaller defensemen. The Montréal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes lead the league with 4 each. There are also 15 of the 32 teams that have gone in the other direction, electing to simply not draft a defenseman under 6 feet tall–for the past three drafts. It’s a very interesting debate that is unfolding.

But the other trend we’re seeing is that big, mobile defenders are being selected earlier and earlier. It all comes down to who can bring teams success in the playoffs–and the ultimate prize. NHL teams are picking up on it: you need those guys to win it all.

Anthony Cristoforo of the Windsor Spitfires. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.