Buffalo's Brian Gionta (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
A perfect example of a smaller player who can get the job done, Gionta has been a role model for the new generation of players who don't have a lot of bulk, but make up for it with skill and drive.
Buffalo Sabres captain Brian Gionta hit 500 career points last night on a goal against the Philadelphia Flyers in what would turn out to be a shootout win for his squad. Wins have been hard to come by for the Sabres lately and while it was expected that the rebuilding squad would struggle, the players on the team now still have to deal with the ramifications.
Which is why Gionta is the perfect captain for the situation. Not only is he a Stanley Cup winner (New Jersey, 2003) and an Olympian (Team USA, 2006), but Gionta has bucked the odds in his career, getting everything and more out of his 5-foot-7, 175-pound frame.
On top of the all the individual success the right winger has experienced, he has also been a great role model for every kid who was told he was too small to make it in the NHL. Gionta, who was also a star at Boston College, led the Eagles to a national championship as a senior and his influence at the school – which includes the legends of how beastly he was in the weight room – has not dwindled. Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau, who also helped B.C. win a Frozen Four title during his tenure, cited Gionta (as well as other smaller Eagles Cam Atkinson and Nathan Gerbe) as a player he has looked up to and Gaudreau's not the only one.
Talk to a young player under 5-foot-10 in the game and inevitably they will tell you Gionta and Martin St-Louis were huge influences. While Gionta is far from done in the NHL, it will be interesting to see what the success he and St-Louis (another Cup winner and Olympian) have enjoyed means for the future of smaller players in the game.
Gionta went 82nd overall in 1998 draft, despite scoring 30 goals in 40 games as a freshman at Boston College. St-Louis, famously, wasn't drafted at all. More than a decade later, Gaudreau would still be on the board until Calgary snatched him up with the 104th selection in 2011 and despite the success of all these players, we're still seeing smaller guys fall down the draft board. Even Max Domi, who has an NHL pedigree and led the OHL champion London Knights in scoring his draft year, couldn't crack the top-10. Domi was "only" 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds when Arizona took him 12th overall in 2013.
I understand the trepidation teams have about going with diminutive kids early: Miss on a big guy and at least you can turn him into a bottom-six NHLer. Miss on a small guy and you've got a career minor-leaguer, the logic goes.
But only 10 players from the 1998 draft have more career points than Gionta right now and a whole bunch of bigger dudes from that class are way behind him – with no chance of catching up.