Smaller Players Stepping Up

 

Despite his size, Nathan Gerbe has show he isn't afraid to get physical.

Sometimes, size doesn’t matter.  That’s the mantra of the duo of the Buffalo Sabres’ small-sized forwards, Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe.

While the pair of forwards struggled early on in the season, Ennis and Gerbe seem to have found their niche with the club.  With Ennis standing at 5’9″, and Gerbe measuring in at a mere 5’5″, it’s conceivable to believe that many people thought that they were outmatched for their roles in the NHL.

Ennis started the season slowly, netting only 9 goals and 18 points in 37 games.  Finding the right place is what needed to happen.  Ennis has been tossed from the 1st line to the 4th line, depending on how coach Lindy Ruff felt about his play, but seems to have found his home playing with proven scorers.  Ennis’s small size hasn’t hampered what he can do with the puck.

The small forward has great puck control, and speed reminiscent of the days Maxim Afinogenov raced up the ice with the puck.  Ennis’s puck control and decision making are what set him and Max apart.

Since the beginning of January, Ennis found the on switch for his production, scoring 10 goals and 27 points in 35 games, putting him on pace to finish with 22 goals and 30 assists, good for 52 points.

Gerbe traveled a different path to late season success.  Like Ennis, Gerbe was bounced around from line to line.  After a failed opportunity on the top two lines, Gerbe was put back with the checking line, primarily with Paul Gaustad and Rob Niedermayer.  He was often a healthy scratch in favor of players like Matt Ellis, or even a seventh defenseman.

Gerbe’s started the season slowly, not even scoring his first goal until his 21st game in the lineup against the Anaheim Ducks.  He had only 7 points in his first 24 games.

While it’s been said that the only way Gerbe can succeed is on the top two lines, the forward has found his way on the third line.  Gerbe’s tenacity to score goals in front of the net, along with some pretty goals, is what defines his play.  It is because of this that Gerbe has found his home on the third line with the big guys.

Since mid-January, Gerbe has added 18 points in his last 30 games.  This puts him on pace to score 13 goals and 28 points in a possible 64 games.  If he continues on the pace he’s had since January, he could end up with as many as 31 points.

It’s no secret that these guys use their size to their advantage.  Even Lindy Ruff agrees that their size may be what keeps some plays going.

“I think when he’s in tight…especially down low where you think he should be trapped and he’s not,” said Ruff, who was comparing his small forward’s play to Maxim Afinogenov.

It’s all happening at a good time.  The Sabres control their destiny when it comes to their playoff push.  They hold the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference right now, with a legitimate shot to grab 7th place.  Only time will tell from this point.

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