Friday, September 22, 2006

Sorry kid, but you're only 5-11.75

I see now NHL Central Scouting is doing player height measurements in quarter inches. Speaking as someone who appreciated it when Central started with the half-inch increments, I gotta say...transcribing quarter-inch increments into my scouting database feels silly.

I've done these type of measurements before and players will always try to cheat to get that extra bit on their height. They stretch their necks up, lift their heels off the floor, etc. (I found that a sharp poke to the stomach seemed to get those heels back on the floor.) Players perceive that there's a world a difference in NHL scouts' eyes whether you're listed at 5-11.5 or 6-0.

Well, it ain't necessarily so, and especially in recent years with the skill/size pendulum swinging back towards smallish and skilled players. Being 5-11.5 won't knock you off any draft boards (anymore).

Even with the half-inch increments, you'd always get players who complained "hey, but you measured me at 6-1 last year!" Yeah, well, you're 6-0.5 now. Yes, I know 18 year old kids don't get osteoporosis, and that one of those measurements was wrong. Too bad. Latest measurement wins, and that's final. And no, I won't play you a round of rock-paper-scissors for that half inch. That 0.5" (or 0.25" this year) ain't gonna sink your NHL career, kid.

The classic measurement mystery was Pavel Brendl in his draft year. It was like his body was sculpted by MC Escher. Central measured him (multiple times) in his draft year at exactly 6-0. But to watch him on the ice, he looked a sure 6-2 or 6-3. Many NHL scouts were certain Central just hosed the measurement, as was I. That combination of long limbs and short torso just made him look bigger than 6-0.

It wasn't until the WHL Finals of his draft year that I got the opportunity to stand next to the Czech wunderkind. He was suspended for Game 4 of the 1999 WHL Finals, and was on the top shelf in Kamloops (the area up near the rafters where scouts and scratched players typically watch the game from). I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him, "stand up straight". He just gave me a very puzzled look that indicated to me that his brain probably translated my spoken English request into Czech for "I have onions growing out of my head". My further attempts to communicate via simple English and hand motions the request "stop leaning on the table and just stand up you Czech goal-scoring freak" failed, but he eventually stood up anyway. And sure enough, standing directly next to him, I could see he was just a shade under my height (exactly 6-1), so Central did have it right. He was 6-0.

But did it matter? A lot of mental energy on the part of scouts and metrological energy on the part of Central Scouting was spent on trying to figure out whether or not he was 6-0 or 6-2 or whatever. Surely it's not those 2-3 inches that have been the difference between him being an NHL star or perennial AHL underachiever.

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