by Adam Kimelman and Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com Staff Writers
BUFFALO—When defenseman Markus Niemelainen of Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League finished his turn on the Wingate cycle ergometer at HarborCenter on Saturday, he received an ovation from the staff at the 2016 NHL Scouting Combine.
Niemelainen was the last prospect to finish the testing portion of the event, and brought an end to the week-long combine.
After 114 prospects were interviewed, measured and profiled by the media, here are 11 things we learned:
1. Scouts love Buffalo
The combine was held in Buffalo for the second straight year, and it sounds like there's a push to keep it there.
A number of scouts commented that having the interviews held in the suites at First Niagara Center and the fitness testing at HarborCenter provided a far better setup than when the event was held in Toronto. Then interviews were conducted in suites at the Westin Bristol Place and the fitness testing was held in a ballroom at the hotel or at a nearby convention center.
"We found that the all-under-one-roof concept works," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "So far no one else has given us a venue that would allow us to do that."
The final decision will be made by the League general managers, who would need to negotiate a new contract with the Sabres to keep them as hosts. But there seems to be a groundswell of support to do that.
"I think the setup has been terrific," Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving said. "This is the second year, obviously, but even last year going through for the first time I think everybody really enjoyed it. I think the setup for the testing here is tremendous. We used to be stuck in a convention room or a meeting room and you're sort of tripping over each other. So the ability to sort of move around and have lots of space and to sit up high and look down on things I think has just been great. I think the meeting rooms over the course of the week at the arena have been excellent. I think it's been first class and I think the Sabres and the League have done an unbelievable job, and I love what it's been the past two years."
2. Olli votes Olli No. 1
Olli Juolevi of London of the OHL is one of six highly skilled defensemen who could be picked in the top-15 of the first round of the draft.
But if Juolevi was ranking them, he knows who he would take first.
"I'm the smartest of the [defensemen] and it's something that is hard to teach," Juolevi said Saturday. "It's like one of those natural things that you either have or you don't have. You can always go practice your shooting or skating or whatever. But that's a hard thing to improve anymore."
Central Scouting ranks Juolevi No. 2 among North American defensemen, one spot behind Jakob Chychrun of Sarnia of the OHL. Charles McAvoy of Boston University, Mikhail Sergachev of Windsor of the OHL, Jake Bean of Calgary of the Western Hockey League, Dante Fabbro of Penticton of the British Columbia Hockey League and Logan Stanley of Windsor are in Central Scouting's top 20 among North American skaters.
"The corps of [defensemen], top four or five kids, there's no predicting the order," Marr said Friday. "They're all good, they're all different in their own way. ... They're all quality players. They're all going to be in the National Hockey League sooner rather than later."
3. Chychrun plants goodwill in the community
Chychrun could be available when the Buffalo Sabres pick at No. 8 in the first round. He got a head start on building goodwill in the community during the combine.
In his blog for NHL.com, Chychrun wrote about taking part in a tree-planting event at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, which is a short drive from First Niagara Center.
"There was a bad ice storm this winter in Buffalo, it destroyed about 70 trees," Chychrun wrote. "The idea was to go around the parks in the city and try to replant as many as possible. ... It'll be cool because whenever I come back here in Buffalo, if I'm not playing here, I'll return to the spot where we planted the trees and it'll remind me of this cool experience that only happens once in your life."
4. Which prospect survived a meteor strike?
Feb. 15, 2013 started as a typical day for Gatineau (QMJHL) forward Vitaly Abramov, then living at home in Chelyabinsk, Russia.
"Normal school day and then a meteor came down," Abramov said Saturday.
The meteor, estimated to be about 20 meters in diameter, landed in a lake near the town. Abramov said it shattered all the windows in his school.
Though he remembers people in town being terrified, he said the fear passed quickly.
"It was like a big panic because it was something none of us had ever seen," he said. "But after that it was fine when everyone said it was a meteorite and we're still alive."
5. Big power in a little package
Center Jonathan Ang of Peterborough of the OHL measured 5-foot-11 and 162 pounds at the combine, but he put up pretty big results during the fitness testing.
He did the most pull-ups of any player with 15, was fifth in the standing long jump at 114.0 inches and was tied for sixth on the bench press with 13 repetitions of 130 pounds (players lifted between 75 and 80 percent of their body weight). He also was third in peak power output on the Wingate cycle ergometer, which measures a skater's explosiveness and leg strength, at 18.7 watts/kilogram.
He also finished the pro agility drill, a 20-yard shuttle run, in 4.47 seconds starting to his left, the sixth-fastest time. He was 23rd starting to his right at 4.6 seconds.
Ang is No. 95 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters. He had 21 goals and 49 points in 68 games this season.
6. Rubstov continues to attract attention
German Rubtsov, a 6-foot, 178-pound center with Team Russia U-18, lost a chance to showcase himself at the 2016 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in Grand Forks, N.D., when the Russian Hockey Federation opted to send its U-17 team instead.
Rubstov, No. 5 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters, was in high demand during the combine, interviewing with 26 teams.
He grew up playing for Chekhov, the same minor hockey program as Chicago Blackhawks left wing and 2016 Calder Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin.
"I like Panarin because he's very technical and fast, can beat anybody on the ice and he can score," Rubstov said through an interpreter. "I'll need to work a little more to be as fast as he is right now though. But I feel I've done enough this season to hopefully be drafted in the top 15."
7. BCHL to be well-represented in the first round
Three players from the British Columbia Hockey League could be selected in the first round of the NHL draft for the first time.
Center Tyson Jost (No. 16) and defensemen Dante Fabbro (18) of Penticton and Dennis Cholowski (23) of Chilliwack are ranked in the top-25 among North American skaters by Central Scouting. Jost and Fabbro interviewed with 28 teams during the combine, and Cholowski met with 29.
Fabbro, named the top defenseman in the BCHL this season, is committed to Boston University for 2016-17. Jost, the MVP of the BCHL, will attend the University of North Dakota next season. Cholowski will play next season at St. Cloud State University.
8. Agent feels client Auston Matthews is 'in control'
Pat Brisson of CAA Hockey Agency said his client, Zurich center Auston Matthews, reminds him of some special NHL players.
"I've been pretty privileged to be working with a lot of great players over the years, and since they were 15 and 16 years old, like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and John Tavares," Brisson said. "Auston reminds me a lot of them with how he controls the things around him. I'm not trying to put pressure on him, but he has that special chip and he's in control of everything. He's going to be something special."
9. Parsons benefited from goalie coach
London goaltender Tyler Parsons, No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American goalies, credited goalie coach Dave Rook for his strong play this season.
Parsons capped his season with four wins at the Memorial Cup with a 1.78 goals-against average and .942 save percentage. That came after he went 37-9-2 with a 2.33 GAA and .921 save percentage in 49 regular-season OHL games, and 16-1-1 with a 2.15 GAA and .925 save percentage in 18 OHL playoff games.
"My new goalie coach [in London] preached to me to just relax and let the puck come to me," Parsons said. "He wanted me to be calm and use my biggest assets, my competitiveness and athletic ability. He wanted me to use my best assets when I had to and not all the time. That's one thing I did in my first year (2014-15) and I ended up with a lot of injuries. I had the right mindset."
10. Prospects like chances of Team North America
Many of the prospects at the combine said they were looking forward to seeing Team North America at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Matthews was one of 23 players named to the team, which features players from the United States and Canada age 23 or younger as of Oct. 1.
"I think it's a really cool idea," said left wing Kieffer Bellows of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program Under-18 team. "This gives the younger guys a shot at the older guys and maybe guys who have played in the NHL a few years such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. You're going to see Matthews, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel on the same team and that's great. I've talked to Auston and he's really excited for this and I can't blame him."
11. The other Kuznetsov
Right wing Vladimir Kuznetsov of Acadie-Bathurst of the QMJHL, No. 55 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, said he is not related to Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov.
"Wherever I go, they ask me if he's my brother," Kuznetsov said. "Kuznetsov is not a common name in Russia, but this time it happens. I've watched him and he's a good player. I like when he plays."
Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney was asked if having two Kuznetsovs could be in Washington's future.
"Our scouts have watched him and think he's a talented player and has good offensive skills, but we're very happy with our Evgeny right now," he said.
Vladimir Kuznetsov, who had 25 goals and 58 points in 68 games, described himself as a power forward. He was measured at 6-1 and 204 pounds at the combine but said he would like to add more size and play with more aggressiveness in getting to the net to score and create scoring opportunities.