BUFFALO — Dante Hannoun’s resume is short, both in terms of pro experience (zero) and the line at the top that reveals his height, which is only a slightly bigger number: 5 feet, 6 inches.
“Competitive kid,” noted John Ferguson Jr., the Bruins assistant GM, as he watched the diminutive forward dart around the ice here early Sunday afternoon with all the Boston newcomers during a day off in the rookie tournament schedule. “As for his height . . . well . . . it is what it is.”
Or what it isn’t.
“Yeah,” a smiling Ferguson acknowledged, “that, too.”
The National Hockey League has been kind in recent years to short guys. The Boston roster is proof positive: Brad Marchand, Torey Krug, and Matt Grzelcyk all top out at a modest 5-9, and all were vital to the success of a club that came within one victory this past June of winning the Stanley Cup.
Hannoun, 21, is here essentially on a flyer, the Bruins willing to look beyond his challenged height because of the kind of drive, determination, and, most of all, production, that saw him collect 67 points in 56 games as a junior in the Western Hockey League last season. He twice went unselected in the NHL’s annual amateur entry draft. He is here now on a tryout as a total free agent, hoping to land a contract, even if it’s only for starting wage (approximately $500 a week) in the East Coast Hockey League.
“It’s quicker out there — new level and new step,” said Hannoun, who made his pro debut Saturday night, playing right wing on Boston’s second line, which saw linemate Oskar Steen pot two goals and collect an assist.
“Obviously, everyone is bigger and stronger, so I think you just have to come out and play to your strengths — be fast out there, be hard in the corners, and battle hard for the puck.”
The energetic Hannoun (pronounced Ha-NOON) was all of that in the 4-3 loss to the Sabres rookies. He was the classic waterbug, perpetually in motion, darting and deking and digging. He picked up an assist on Steen’s first goal and, perhaps most important of all, left an impression on coach Jay Leach.
“I liked him . . . he’s a little bulldog,” said Leach, noting one big hit Hannoun delivered on an early shift. “He gets to the net. Made a nice play on the goal. He is sturdy on his skates. Yeah, he’s 5-6, but he’s sturdy.”
Hannoun is not faced with an impossible task. Ex-Calgary Flames star Theo Fleury was also 5-6. Hall of Famer Martin St. Louis, the former Vermont forward, was only 2 inches taller. Ex-BC standout Brian Gionta, who finished his career with a short Boston run, was 5-7. All three were touted far higher than Hannoun as amateurs, but all three were testament to the fact that being short doesn’t mean being overlooked.
St. Louis, said Hannoun, has long been one of his inspirations, along with good pal and cousin Nic Petan, a 5-9 center who played last season with Winnipeg and Toronto. And, of course, Marchand, who long ago made people stop giving two wits about the 2 or 3 inches he doesn’t carry with him down left wing.
“Marchand works hard,” said an admiring Hannoun. “And he’s spicy out there . . . I like that.”
The likely course of events on the immediate horizon will be an ECHL contract that would land Hannoun in Atlanta with a handful of other Boston prospects. At $500 a week, a full season down there might put $15,000 or $18,000 in his pocket.
If he shows some offensive bonafides, perhaps the Bruins would offer him a promotion to AHL Providence, which could triple or quadruple his pay.
All in all, it will come down to putting up numbers. If he can get his name on the scoresheet 40, 50, or 60 times in the ECHL, then people will stop wondering about 5-6, and the talk will be about career upside that is measured in goals and assists, not inches.
“There aren’t too many guys that size who, if they are not producing, they”ll be able to [make it],” mused Leach. “Just because then it’s defending and all that stuff — would be a really challenge for someone that size. So he has to create. He really does.
“But, you know, you could argue Matt Grzelcyk isn’t a point producer, per se. He is involved in the offense, but not strictly as point producer.”
“But you have to produce in some capacity, whether it’s on the scoresheet, or at the very least in transition and able to get pucks into the offensive zone, creating. But luckily, I think that’s what he wants to do — so you never know.”
The trip has officially begun for Hannoun. He has one pro game under his belt, a dream in his head, and, by all accounts, the requisite fire in his gut. No telling how high all that takes him.
“Focus ahead,” he said. “Work hard.”
And see what grows.