TORONTO -- A larger testing area, additional information distribution, and a new screening exam incorporated into the 2013 NHL Scouting Combine certainly made for a bigger and better event as the 20th event was held this week at the Westin Bristol Place and the Toronto International Centre.
As usual, there was a high level of professionalism exhibited by the entire NHL Central Scouting staff as many of the top 101 prospects from North American and Europe performed the usual rounds of questioning and fitness exams during one of the premier events leading up to the 2013 NHL Draft, to be held June 30 at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
"I think things went excellent," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "Part of our goal since the start was to expand this for the teams and try to do something more and better every year. I think we accomplished that this year by responding to the team's needs in what they would like to see."
The venue used for the fitness testing at the Toronto International Centre was constructed in a 12,807-square foot room that was a little over 158-feet long, compared to 8,534 square feet in 2012 at the same facility. Key sponsors of the event included Reebok, which outfitted the prospects head to toe, and Gatorade.
"The most feedback we've received from the teams has always been the need for more space and more opportunity for viewing the potential prospects," NHL manager of events and entertainment Frank Macina said. "We also wanted to accommodate the NHL Network and TSN, and provide the media with additional work space so that they can get their work done on-site instead of heading back to the hotel."
Unlike previous years, height and weight figures were displayed on nearby television monitors for the scouts to gauge and view instantly.
"Having the display of height and weight, and little things that the teams wanted, is important for them when they begin watching a player go through this process," Gregory said.
Several general managers approved of the new setup this year.
"When we first got here, you were having to peer over people and trying to get here early because the space wasn't big enough," St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong told NHL.com. "Now the way they've moved it to this venue, there's a lot of space. Everyone from the scouting staff to the training staff to the media can see and it's really evolved. The NHL has done a fabulous job in staying current with the training methods they're monitoring and it's been very positive."
Washington Capitals GM George McPhee agreed.
"The [League] makes it easier for all of us," McPhee said. "We need the information. Somebody has to set it up, knowing which players are available and to get the heights and the weights and to put all of this together for us. We came up with the idea about 20 years ago and started working on it and it has really worked well. It's better for the clubs, and much better for the players."
One thing that hasn't changed is the spirit of the late E.J. McGuire, who remains very much in the minds and hearts of everyone at the Combine.
McGuire, who served as Director of Central Scouting for seven years, died April 7, 2011, following a five-month battle with Leiomyosarcoma, a rare, incurable form of cancer. McGuire, 58, was the architect of many of the innovations Central Scouting pioneered in the past decade to achieve its mandate of providing the League's clubs with the most comprehensive list of draft-eligible prospects each season. The Combine is a major part of that process.
"The Combine was a near and dear event to E.J. and I think the staff just wants to carry on that spirit because it was such an important event," Central Scouting Director Dan Marr told NHL.com. "Everyone does their best on the Central Scouting staff to make sure that everything runs smoothly, particularly in our office with the work put in by Luke [McGoey] and Nathan [Ogilvie-Harris]. They do that so that E.J. would be proud."
The scouts were a bit disappointed to learn that the top three prospects on their final list of draft-eligible North American skaters were unable to perform the fitness tests. No. 1 Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks, No. 2 Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads and No. 3 Jonathan Drouin of Halifax all declined to participate in the fitness portion of the Combine.
"I think disappointment is a fair word," Gregory said. "Obviously, this is for the teams and those are the high-profile guys that the teams want to gain as much information as possible, so we're missing something."
All three players were coming off grueling seasons, which included several international events and prospect games as well as playoffs and the Memorial Cup with their respective teams. Those seasons didn't end until May 26, when Halifax defeated Portland in the Memorial Cup final. The city of Halifax also held a parade for their champions May 28, and the three prospects didn't arrive in Toronto until Wednesday morning.
"I realize you can't avoid injury, and the reason we do the medical portion is so we don't put a player in a situation that's not good for him physically," Gregory said. "We also had a very unique situation with the Memorial Cup -- having our top three players in the final game and our top goalie [Zachary Fucale of Halifax] played every minute of the Memorial Cup. To be playing up until the last minute like that, under that type of intensity, could certainly make it difficult when coming to this type of testing. So I think all of it is understandable, but I think disappointing is a fair statement."
Thomas Meaney, NHL events manager, worked closely with Macina in the months leading up to and during the Combine. Information technology specialists Jack Gerien and John Ho, along with senior manager of public relations Jennifer Moad, also were critical in helping create a positive experience for everyone.