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Top prospects get fitness-tested at Combine

Friday, 05.29.2009 / 6:30 PM / 2009 NHL Entry Draft

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

TORONTO -- The first group of prospects for the 2009 Entry Draft were put through their paces Friday on the first day of fitness testing at the NHL Scouting Combine.

Under the watchful eyes of general managers, scouts and the media, top players such as Matt Duchene, Evander Kane, Brayden Schenn, Zack Kassian, Jared Cowen and Ryan Ellis went through the rigorous, hour-long process.

The centers of attention -- like they have been through this entire draft season -- were John Tavares and Victor Hedman. Cameras followed their every move and flashbulbs popped with every repetition and exercise.

"It gets you jacked up, gets you excited, the spotlight is on you," Tavares said. "I think dealing with a lot of pressure situations before, I tried to handle it as best I can. You get excited, you get some nerves up, but you might have a little extra adrenaline to do a little more and push yourself even further."

Tavares completed his testing about 45 minutes before Hedman started, which allowed the talent scouts to watch both go through their paces in full. Each completed his physical exams in decent shape and with strong results -- which means almost nothing was decided as far as who could be the first choice in June.

Both players were asked what it would mean to go first.

"It would be special," Tavares said. "It would be a great honor. Not many people get to be selected No. 1. If it happens to me it would be amazing."

"It would be a big honor," Hedman said, "… (but) it doesn't matter if you go first or fifth or 10th; it's up to you to show the people that drafted you you're ready for the NHL."

They weren't the only players trying to make an impact in front of talent evaluators from all 30 teams. The Combine provides the teams with the unique opportunity to see just what the players can do physically after first getting the chance to get to know them personally through the interview process.

"You always want to see the way the guys are built and their (physical) structure," St. Louis Blues Assistant GM Jarmo Kekalainen told NHL.com. "We have our strength coach that's analyzing every player we pinpoint. I'm looking for an effort. The focus and effort and heart that they put into the whole thing, how focused are they, how serious they are about it, how they compete. You're looking for that character on the ice and you want to confirm it here. You want to see the guys are putting 100 percent into it."

"You want to see if they hit the levels you think they need to be at to be NHL players," added Washington Capitals GM George McPhee.

Basic tests include measurements for wingspan, body fat percentage, balance, agility and grip strength. More complex tests are taken on a pair of stationary bikes.

The Wingate cycle ergometer test measures a player's maximum power output in a 30-second burst, reminiscent to a regular game shift.

"It's the longest 30 seconds of your life probably," said Omaha Lancers forward Louis Leblanc, ranked No. 13 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters. "You feel a little sick and tired."

After a 30-minute break, they get on a different bike for a VO2 max test, which measures a player's ability to recover between shifts. The test, which features various levels of resistance, lasts about 10 minutes.

Most players walk on wobbly legs from the bikes to the rest areas to rest. A number become physically ill.

"The Wingate was the toughest," Kassian, a Peterborough Petes forward rated No. 10 in Central Scouting's final rankings, told NHL.com.

"The Wingate is tough," added Tavares. "I thought the VO2 might be worse, but the Wingate was tough. Not only your legs, but your heart and mind as well. Just going so hard for so short a period of time and cranking it up."

NHL Scouting Combine GearMore than the raw data calculated by the bike tests, the scouts and executives look more at body language and effort when it comes to the two most difficult tests.

"I like the Wingate," Kekalainen said. "That tells you about the explosiveness, the peak power. The first eight seconds of it gives you a good measure of a guy's quickness and explosiveness and power. The VO2 test is a good place to see a guy's effort. It's painful, just like a hockey game is sometimes."

The results were made available almost immediately for the teams, and like everything else they've learned about the prospects, both prior to and during the combine, it all goes into consideration for when they make their final decisions in June.

"This is very productive," Devils scouting director David Conte told NHL.com. "It's part of the process, but it's not the full process."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com