|The bikes. That’s all anyone who witnessed the fitness testing at the NHL Scouting Combine could talk about. But more went on yesterday, including a bench press benchmark, and a debate on what kind of player teams should select.
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The first bike exercise, where cyclists must push hard for 30 long seconds, is the Wingate Cycle Ergometer test, which measures explosive speed and fatigue. The second, the Aerobic Bike VO2 Max test, measures endurance, heart rate and duration of ability to pedal with differing resistance.
Sound easy? Think again.
“That was definitely intimidating because when I looked to my right, one guy looked like he was going to puke all over the place and then when I looked to my left, another guy looked like he was going to pass out,’’ Minnetonka High School defenseman Jake Gardiner, the No. 23-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting, told NHL.com. “But I got through it and that’s all that matters.’’
No need to worry, mom and dad, there was plenty of help available to get the participants through the first day of fitness testing here at the 2008 NHL Scouting Combine. Everyone survived, but there were plenty of horror stories to take home.
“The Wingate is a test I couldn’t even describe,’’ said Regina Pats defenseman Colten Teubert, ranked 18th. “It feels like you’re going to get sick and pass out for sure. But I was in my own zone. I was just pedaling as hard as I could and basically put myself in another world and I didn’t really feel it at all.’’
The VO2 Max test, which lasts approximately 10 minutes, measures how much oxygen capacity each player possesses. How long each player lasts depends on how long it takes them to maximize their oxygen intake.
“At the time, I’m just thinking this is my future and I have to give it 110 percent, otherwise a lot of people might think I’m not doing so good, so I’m thinking about my future,’’ said Cloquet (Minn.) High School’s Justin Jokinen, the No. 54-ranked skater.
Aaron Ness, who earned Minnesota’s “Mr. Hockey” Award, certainly never experienced anything like this back home in Roseau (population 2,800).
“I’m from a small town, so we don’t see a lot of this,’’ Ness, ranked No. 27, told NHL.com. “I thought both bike tests were hard; I didn’t like either one. But if I had to pick one, I’d go Wingate because it’s 30 seconds for as hard as you can. For the VO2 Max, you just have to keep going as hard as you can. I kept telling myself it’ll be over more sooner than later and won’t last forever. So you just go hard for 10 minutes and you’re out of there.’’
- Mike G. Morreale
A Bear of a coach – Ray Bear, strength and conditioning coach for the Atlanta Thrashers, positioned himself in a seat directly in front of both bike tests Friday.
“Body language is important because if a guy is going to carry himself well on the test and show the drive and fortitude to get through a very difficult test that they have never seen, that might be just what you’re looking for,’’ Bear told NHL.com. “You want to see how far they will fight through it. The ones who are shying away from it, you just never know. They might have the same drive as the guys who fight to the end, but those are the intangibles we’re looking for. The numbers are the numbers, but whenever you put the results with the intangibles, that’s how we measure the player at the Combine.’’
- Mike G. Morreale
Overachievers and underachievers – When asked if it was true that first-round draft choices only can underachieve and later-round picks only can overachieve, E.J. McGuire, the NHL’s Director of Central Scouting, nodded his head in agreement.
“It’s all because of expectations, so, yes, there is credence in that statement,’’ McGuire said. “The NHL clubs sell hope and they’re selling the fact that their first-round pick will be someone who, in three short years, will have the impact that Mr. (Sidney) Crosby had in Game 3 of a Stanley Cup Final, where he scores two goals before a full house on a team that was up for sale only three years ago. Are the expectations high? You bet. Just turn on your television and witness for yourself.’’
- Mike G. Morreale
Best Athlete vs. Specific Need – When asked to choose between filling a specific need or choosing the best available athlete, any team executive – NHL or otherwise – almost always will pick "best athlete."
"Best available athlete, always," said Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee.
"Definitely, best athlete," said Don Boyd, the director of player personnel for the Columbus Blue Jackets. "The majority of these players won't be on NHL rosters this fall, so you're looking at players who will be joining your team two or three or four years from now, a time when your specific need is likely to be quite different. There's also the tradition of drafting the best available athletes so that you have talent to trade to meet your specific needs, should the situation arise.
"I would estimate that two or three of the players drafted in the top 10 will play in the NHL this season and perhaps 10 players from the entire draft will play in the NHL this season," Boyd continued. "In almost every season, there is a player from the lower rounds who surprises and plays that year in the NHL."
"Always take the best available player,” said Brad Treliving, assistant general manager of the Phoenix Coyotes. “Obtain the best possible assets for your team."
Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon, though, goes the other way.
"Specific needs, this year, I think," he said. "We're drafting 10th, so we'll be getting a pretty good player, most likely. We have had several recent years of good drafts. Many of those players are on our rosters and many more are moving in the right direction toward joining our team. So this year we might be willing to draft a player that we think can help us right away.
"Generally you want to draft the best available athlete, as we did a few years ago with Duncan Keith, who was 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds at age 18 when we drafted him in the second round in 2002. Now, Duncan is 24 years old and he's 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds. Obviously we didn't draft Duncan for his body at that age; we liked his feet. He was one of the best skaters in that draft."
"There are definitely situations in which you would draft to fill a specific need," said David Conte, the New Jersey Devils’ executive vice president, hockey operations, and director of scouting. "Particularly if there are two players that you feel are equal in ability, then you choose the one who fills your needs. As you go lower in the draft – third round, fourth round and below – then a team is increasingly likely to fill specific needs. You don't want to come here and draft five defensemen or six goalies, you want your draft to provide players from a variety of positions."
- John McGourty
Bench mark – Boston University center Colin Wilson, the 10th-ranked North American skater, set the bench press standard during Friday’s fitness testing.
Wilson, 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, hefted the 150-pound bar 21 times.
- Adam Kimelman
Sitting out – Not all the top players were able to participate in the fitness testing Friday.
Niagara Ice Dogs defenseman Alex Pietrangelo had his height, weight and body fat measured, but that was the limit of his participation. The No. 6-ranked skater, he’s still recovering from a bout of mononucleosis.
Everett Silvertips center Kyle Beach, ranked No. 7 by Central Scouting, recently had hernia surgery, limiting him to measurements only.
And Jyri Niemi, the Finnish defenseman who played last season for the Saskatoon Blades and is ranked No. 25 among North American skaters, sat out due to recent hip surgery.
- Adam Kimelman
VO2 Max – VO2 testing is scary if you aren't a fitness professional. In VO2/VCO2 testing, players exercise under conditions that stress the heart's ability to deliver blood while analyzing the volume of oxygen used and the volume of carbon dioxide produced.
Players ride stationary bikes while breathing into a plastic tube connected to the measuring equipment. They are asked to produce a pulse rate in excess of 185 beats a minute. Some players topped out just over 200 beats a minute. A VO2 rating of 60 is considered good; 70 is excellent; 80 is rare.
"Our roster players range between 58 and 65, and that is considered very good," said Detroit Red Wings Assistant General Manager Jim Nill. "The highest you'll probably see are those pentathletes who cross-country ski between stations and then have to shoot at a target. When they stop, they have to be able to bring their heart rate down quickly so they can be as still as possible while shooting. Those athletes test out around 85. Marathon runners are in that range, too."
Button on Howe – Former Calgary Flames Vice President and General Manager Craig Button, now an analyst on the NHL Network, has an interesting idea that might garner a lot of support.
"I'd like to see the NHL create a Gordie Howe Award as they did with the Mark Messier Leadership Award or the Rocket Richard Trophy for leading goal scorer," Button said. "Perhaps it could be an award for the NHL's best power forward because Gordie was certainly that for many, many years. I just think, with Gordie having turned 80, it would be a good time to consider a way to permanently honor one of the greatest players in NHL history.
"I love the way Gordie has continually interacted with the game's emerging stars, from Wayne Gretzky, who loves Gordie, to the present day with Sidney Crosby. Gordie Howe has been a great ambassador for NHL hockey."
- John McGourty