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NHL Combine: Matthews, Laine lead top prospects

by Mike G. Morreale / Columbus Blue Jackets

The 2016 NHL Scouting Combine will give 114 players eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft an opportunity to showcase themselves for all 30 NHL teams beginning Monday in Buffalo.

The combine will be held May 30-June 4 at First Niagara Center and HarborCenter.

The 2016 draft will be held at First Niagara Center on June 24 and 25.

Among the top prospects that will be at the combine are Zurich center Auston Matthews and Tappara right wing Patrik Laine, the top two skaters on NHL Central Scouting's ranking of international skaters eligible for the draft.

Matthews, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound native of Scottsdale, Ariz., had 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games in National League A, Switzerland's top professional league. He was second in voting for league MVP and won the league's Rising Star award. He also will play for Team North America in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in September.

Laine (6-4, 206) helped Finland win the silver medal at the 2016 IIHF World Championship. He had team-highs of seven goals and 12 points and was named the tournament's most valuable player. He also helped Tappara win the championship in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, and won the Jari Kurri Trophy as playoff MVP. He will play for Team Finland at the World Cup.

Also attending the combine are the top three on Central Scouting's ranking of the top North American skaters: left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois of Cape Breton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, left wing Matthew Tkachuk of London of the Ontario Hockey League and left wing Alexander Nylander of Mississauga (OHL) .

Nine goalies were invited to the combine, including Central Scouting's No. 1-rated North American goalie, Evan Fitzpatrick (6-3, 206) of Sherbrooke (QMJHL), and the No. 1 goaltender on Central Scouting's international ranking, Filip Gustavsson (6-1, 184) of Lulea in Sweden's junior league.

The combine will feature 12 fitness tests. Among them are grip strength, standing long jump, bench press and pull-ups. There's also a Functional Movement Screen, which requires players to perform seven specific joint tests that could reveal imbalances and symmetry deficiencies in movements of the body. And there are bike tests, the VO2 max test to measure a player's endurance and the Wingate Cycle Ergometer that measures a player's explosiveness.

"I'm looking forward to the NHL Scouting Combine," defenseman Jakob Chychrun of Sarnia of the OHL said. "You always want to perform well at the combine because it's a big step in the whole process. I'll talk to my agent try and be as prepared as possible for everything that's going to hit me."

Chychrun, the son of former NHL player Jeff Chychrun, is No. 4 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.

Teams will have the opportunity for 20-minute, 1-on-1 interviews with the prospects May 30-June 3. The medical examinations will be held June 1.

"What the players have to keep in mind is that this will be their initial contact with many NHL teams so they have the chance to make that good initial impression," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "Some kids aren't that comfortable when they're in an interview environment, so it's important they be prepared to talk about themselves, which is something they might not be used to doing. The combine gives the NHL teams a chance to get to know the player away from the rink."

The bike tests will be held on separate days. Prior to the 2015 combine, they had been done the same day.

"The strength coaches said both of those tests required the players to fatigue, to go until they can no longer go," Marr said. "To have them do those tests almost back-to-back [on the same day] really wasn't a valid indicator to where a player was at."

The fitness test results provide information on current capacities but also insight into potential future improvement in specific fitness components.

"All players must be medically cleared by the NHL Scouting Combine medical staff in order to participate in the physical testing," Marr said. "Any player that is not 100 percent able to perform an upper- or lower-body test [due to injury or medical condition] will be classed as injury or medically exempt depending on the circumstances.

"Every year there are instances where players have declined the combine invitation, been medically ruled unable to test or have declined to test. But those instances vary and are rare."

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