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In hockey, as in life, there are archetypes built on hyperbole and lazy buzzwords that try to fit every player into a predefined box. “The Gifted” examines, through video, the NHL’s most fascinating and quirky prospects and the unique skill sets that define them in an attempt to push past jargon and dissect all of the different ways that hockey can be played — in both approach and ability. By popular demand, “The Gifted” is back for a sixth year at The Athletic, this year as a five-part series.


Let’s not beat around the bush: The biggest reason Logan Stankoven was available in the middle of the second round when it was the Stars’ turn with the 47th pick in the 2021 draft is because NHL Central Scouting had him listed at 5-foot-8 (NHL.com today lists him at 5-foot-7!) and 170 pounds. Hell, I’m sure that’s the biggest reason NHLCS had him ranked 31st among North American skaters on their final list.

There were other, smaller (no pun intended factors) that NHL clubs would likely use today to defend their decision not to select him higher. Between the WHL’s shortened season and U18 worlds he only played 13 games in his draft year, for example.

But it wasn’t about his skill level, or his ability to put the puck in the net. A year earlier, he’d scored 29 goals in 59 games as a rookie in the WHL. Before that, he was described to me as a “terror” and “superhuman” in minor hockey, and was selected with the fifth pick in the 2018 WHL Bantam Draft because of it. One rival coach who coached against him in minor hockey told me he was a more dangerous player coming up than Dylan Guenther, who was selected with the first pick in that same Bantam draft, and would be selected with the ninth pick in their NHL Draft class. From a track record and production point of view, he profiled exactly like a top pick normally does. Even in those 13 games in his draft year, he scored 11 goals and 18 points.

If you talked to folks around the WHL during his draft year and then into his post-draft season, none of them were surprised when he was named captain of the Kamloops Blazers, posted 62 goals and 135 points in 76 games, and won the CHL’s Player of the Year award. Nor were they surprised when he went from Team Canada’s 13th forward at the December world juniors to being named one of their top three of the tournament when it restarted in August, posting 10 points in seven games and setting up the golden goal.

In doing so, though, he became a case study in one of hockey’s often overlooked truths: There is a difference between size and strength, especially when size becomes about a measure of height before weight, power and everything else that matters in actual practical terms on the ice — and especially for forwards, who don’t benefit from length like defensemen do.

The Stars clearly didn’t need to see him do it in his post-draft season to get there. I’d argue the NHL’s other clubs shouldn’t have had to either. I argued that when I ranked him 18th on my final draft board in 2021, but there’s no disputing it now.

Here, through an exhaustive video review of Stankoven’s 17-game playoff run with the Blazers last year (chosen because it includes his best competition to date), I’ll detail all of the reasons why him being 5-foot-8 never should have been a deterring talking point.

First, though, here are the nuts and bolts of the sample of play I’ve chosen to break down.

  • 17 games played (chosen because there’s more to be drawn from the higher, typically more veteran playoff competition) against Spokane, Vancouver and Seattle before the Blazers fell in Game 7 of Round 3 to the Thunderbirds, just one win shy of the WHL final
  • 467 shifts
  • 152 shot attempts (8.9 per game)
  • 92 shots on goal (5.4 per game)
  • 17 goals (seven more than his nearest teammate), 14 assists, 31 points (eight more than his nearest teammate) and a plus-12 rating (tops among Kamloops forwards)
  • Led the WHL playoffs in goals and points despite not playing in the final round
  • Four hat tricks, including a pair against Seattle in Round 3
  • 297-165 in the dot for a faceoff percentage of 56 percent, a clear strength (he also led the world juniors in faceoff percentage at 73 percent)
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The tape

Note: Stankoven wears No. 11 in all clips.

Hockey people at all levels like to trumpet the old adage that “the game is played on the ice.” And yet, there are often off-ice bullet points (like a player’s listed height) or even on-ice ticks (a hitch in a player’s stride, a stilt in their posture) that can take us out of an evaluation of whether the sum of the player’s parts actually work or not on the ice, and take us into assuming that they don’t or won’t.

The beauty of Stankoven’s game is that an honest evaluation of it has always revealed that he is not limited by his size. He isn’t really “small” at all. You can see that when you bump into him off the ice in just how stocky, strong and heavy he looks. But in that “on the ice” portion, it’s also clear as day that when the game is being played, his size is an asset in all of the ways you’d expect it to be (the skills of handling and maneuverability that shorter players benefit from) and a liability in virtually none of the ways we might assume.

If you were to evaluate him only in battles, and take away all of the things that make him so dangerous out of battles, he’d still get high grades.

Part of that is just about his sheer effort level. Stankoven wins a ton of races by emptying the tank to get to loose pucks and then using his tools and soft skill to evade contact. Here’s one example:

Part of it is a blend of approach and reads. Coaches love players who are “around it” and Stankoven finds ways to always be around the puck.

That looks like sequences like this, where he anticipates the puck popping loose to him in the right-wing corner, helps swing it to the point with interior body positioning (more important on the ice than his height), and then tracks the play again to the front of the net, where he knows the puck is going — and where he’s not shy to go himself.

On this play, those two things (the effort and the tracking/reads) come together. Watch how he goes from finding the puck below the goal line at the start of the sequence, to working to get it back in the neutral zone (you can even see the effort there on both the back pressure and the diving play to push it to his teammate), to getting back around it at the front of the net in soft space.

The biggest part of his success in battles, though, comes down to how physically strong he is.

More often than not, it’s Stankoven who is winning a puck against a bigger player, or Stankoven who is knocking a bigger player over with a hit, not the other way around.

Here’s one (Jeremy Hanzel is 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds and look at the power that Stankoven pushes through him with here):

Here’s another:

More often than not, where there’s a bump play for a loose puck, it’s him who comes away with it too.

Part of that is because he stays on his feet so well, but part of it is also just a sixth sense of reflexes and intuition that allows him to be the one that finds the puck with his stick after a bump. This is a good example of both of those things:

His strength also shows up in stick lifts in puck pursuit sequences like this one, which he almost always wins:

There, that low centre of gravity actually helps shorter players get up and under sticks with good leverage, especially when they’re as well-built as he is.

It can also be advantageous in the faceoff circle, where he’s able to be stronger over his stick in scrummed pucks versus taller players who aren’t able to grip their sticks and maintain their balance as low to the ice as he is.

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Watch how he’s able to lean back against the pressure of the stick of Thunderbirds veteran Jared Davidson (who himself was 57.6 percent in the faceoff circle last year) and use more of his body to hold his positioning here:

If you watched the above sequence carefully, you would have also noticed the way he took that won draw and immediately pushed pace into the middle of the ice with it.

That piece of his game, which is central to the way he attacks (he’s always moving and plays with speed and aggression to the middle of the ice), is also antithetical to the way many view smaller players — where the expectation is often that they’ll struggle to get off the wall to the middle third.

You will seldom see Stankoven drift to the outside when he’s got control in transition. Instead, he wants to use his high-energy tempo to drive into the guts of the ice, and his strength and speed to push through holes.

Sometimes that means selling the outside before driving the inside, like he does to get open here (notice how he fights through the slash to score on the delayed penalty as well):

Even when he doesn’t score, that interior approach often produces penalties. Here’s a second one:

And here’s a third (which he also forces by being disruptive at the top of the zone, something he is also very good at):

Put some of those things together (the driven middle-lane approach, the skill, and that sixth sense for being around it) and you get sequences like the below one.

You can’t miss the drive through the middle, but notice also how his approach shifts once the sequence moves from transition game into an offensive zone game. On entry, he’s looking to attack the inside. After the entry, he gets around the puck, moves it quickly, and then gets open into soft space back in the middle of the zone.

Driving the middle isn’t just about pushing through gaps in coverage in transition, either. It’s also about taking pucks there off the wall. When Stankoven picks up pucks off the board, he’s not looking to slow down or stop up to survey the ice and pass, he’s looking to drive. And when he does, he’s got a sticktoitiveness that doesn’t give up on bouncing pucks or bobbles.

Getting to the middle — and staying there — also includes getting to and staying in front of the net.

Some of the clips above have highlighted the job he does willing himself to the net front and then fighting to get his stick on pucks around it, but it’s worth really underscoring some of the actual advantages a smaller player has around the crease if they’re fearless enough to go there.

One of those is simply the ability to turn and spin onto pucks. When a bigger defender is leaning on Stankoven in front, their leverage tends to be up high, which doesn’t put him as off balance as low pressure to his lower back would. The more they lean against his upper shoulders, the freer he is to duck under their sticks. Watch here:

Getting to pucks around the net has as much to do with commitment as it does strength, too. It’s true that some smaller players don’t go after rebounds like their bigger, stronger counterparts. Stankoven isn’t one of those players, though. He’ll often fight for — and win — a puck even if there’s a defender with him.

Samuel Knazko (No. 20 in white) has six inches and 20 pounds on him, and you’d never know it here:

Some of these same principles apply along the wall and below the goal line, too.

It’s easy to say “But Scott, he’s not going to be as successful finding, winning and holding pucks in those areas against NHL competition.”

It’s harder to recognize that he’s going to get stronger as his body matures, that his motor isn’t going to suddenly die, that his ability to be quote-unquote around it isn’t going to disappear, and that the tools that make every offensive dynamo at lower levels who they are (the quicker reads than others, the quicker hands than others, the quicker release than others) will remain as advantages even when the play gets more congested.

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It’s harder to recognize that because of how strong he already is, and because of his low centre of gravity, and because of his edges, and because he always keeps his feet moving and fights to stay on pucks, that getting a hold of him to push him into the pins against the boards that he’s more likely to lose is easier said than done:

That’s 6-foot-3 Predators draft pick Graham Sward, widely viewed as one of the better defensive defensemen in the WHL, engaging with Stankoven by my count five different times.

This evaluation isn’t meant to position Stankoven as a player who is without blemishes, either.

There will be times in the NHL where Stankoven engages in a battle that he’s ill-equipped to win.

I’d like to see a skating coach work to get rid of the pitch-forking and stomping that happens in his forward skating motion at times (I think sometimes he’s working so hard to hurry that his mechanics can break down a little). Watch how he picks up his stick here (a trained eye would tell you there’s some wasted movement happening there).

But what’s actually being accomplished in that sequence, when you look past the skating quirk? He’s powering through the middle (his stride extensions are really quite powerful) to gain the zone, and then he’s getting open into soft space in the middle of the zone to score moments later.

None of this is meant to position him as just some worker bee, either. Despite all of the plays that have been made in the above video, I wanted the focus here to be on fighting back against the size bias argument rather than on the flourishes that a player his size who has produced like he has always has.

So don’t get it twisted: Those flourishes are there, too. In my review, the Blazers ran switches on the power play around Stankoven because they knew that he could score with his one-timer on his off wing and that he could pick a spot in the net from his strong side.

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Here’s the latter, for posterity:

Rightly or wrongly, though, it’s not his shot on the power play that’s going to sell an NHL coach on his ability to play in the league.

It’s moments like this (yes, I left his best play of the playoffs for last), where he defies his size, empties the tank and wills a play into existence.

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: He’s a bulldog, and his game is built exactly like you’d want one to be. And for all of the reasons outlined above, he’s not just going to make it, but he’s quite likely going to give himself a chance to stick at centre and be really good playing a position that almost nobody in the NHL with his listed height plays anymore.


Revisit “The Gifted” from previous years:

2017 series: Carl Grundstrom | Jordan Kyrou | Vitaly Abramov | Juuso Valimaki | Vili Saarijarvi | Filip Chlapik | Travis Sanheim | Timo Meier| Kirill Kaprizov | Elias Pettersson

2018 series: Miro Heiskanen | Casey Mittelstadt | Dylan Strome | Oliver Wahlstrom | Gabe Vilardi | Adam Boqvist | Evan Bouchard | Kristian Vesalainen | Jonathan Dahlen | Morgan Frost

2019 series: Cale Makar | Nick Robertson | Jason Robertson | Aleksi Heponiemi | Adam Fox | Dante Fabbro | Emil Bemstrom | Cody Glass| Martin Necas | Bode Wilde

2020 series: Jonatan Berggren | Philip Tomasino | Mikhail Abramov | Thomas Harley | Robin Salo | Raphael Lavoie | Alex Newhook | Bobby Brink| Samuel Poulin | Patrik Puistola

2021 series: Noel Gunler | William Wallinder | Jayden Struble | Shane Pinto | Zac Jones | Kasper Simontaival | Carter Savoie | Jack Dugan | Jakob Pelletier | Veeti Miettinen

2022 series: Logan Stankoven | Noah Ostlund | Brennan Othmann | Corson Ceulemans | Jagger Firkus

(Photo of Logan Stankoven battling with Team Finland at the 2022 world juniors: Perry Nelson / USA Today)


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