There is pressure (a lot of it). There are opportunities (many of them).
When the NHL Scouting Combine
begins in earnest this weekend in Toronto, the top available prospects for this year’s draft will get their first real taste of professional hockey.
The annual event brings 105 prospects – 88 North American skaters and 17 Europeans – together for four days of interviews, media requests, and fitness testing as preparations begin to intensify for the draft weekend. NHL clubs have sent their hockey operations delegations to Toronto to get up-close looks at players they may have already targeted or are considering with their selections, and it’s also a chance for the players to make a solid first impression on their prospective new team.
Draft classes can vary in terms of strengths and weaknesses from year-to-year, and the 2012 class is no different. There are top-end forwards available at the top, with names such as Nail Yakupov (Sarnia Sting), Alex Galchenyuk (Sarnia Sting), Filip Forsberg (Sweden) and Mikhail Grigorenko (Quebec Remparts) in the discussion for top-10 picks. It’s a good mix of players, as well: Yakupov and Grigorenko are considered to be highly-skilled players that can change a game in a split second, and players like Forsberg and Galchenyuk are “anchor” type players that are valuable in all situations and can also supply offense.
"They’re nervous, they’re young kids and this is their dream," Blue Jackets amateur scouting director Tyler Wright told BlueJackets.com. "This is probably the biggest event in their hockey life to this point. They want to come across and give the best impression possible, and at the same time, we’re trying to decipher on which kids that we really like and get to know them on a personal level and dig deep into their backgrounds.
"There are questions we have on how they play, how we think they play and how we view them and see if there are any differences."
What are the key elements of the Combine? Let’s break it down.
This is a bit different from the post-practice or game media scrum or press conference. All 30 teams in attendance for the Combine are able to interview any and all prospects, going beyond the player they’ve seen on video or in-person during scouting trips. This is the first chance a player gets to impress the team before the fitness testing begins.
How important is it? NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr (also a former scouting executive with the Atlanta Thrashers) explained the process to NHL.com: "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 initial impression. Some kids aren't that comfortable when they're in an interview environment so you just kind of have to tell them they need to be a little prepared to talk about themselves, which is something they might not be used to doing.
|Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins at the 2011 Scouting Combine. |
"But teams aren't testing your personality. They're just trying to get to know you in this environment, so it's just an opportunity to make a good initial impression."
The Blue Jackets, who own the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, will be heavily involved in the interview process as they try to formulate a list of targets. As Wright has said, they want to select the best available player who can make an impact on the organization now and in the future.
"As our organization goes forward, we have to draft right and we have to develop right," Wright said. "That all starts at the draft table – we have to make the right pick, and this is part of the process we go through as an organization. We’ve cornered every inch of the globe over the last 8-10 months, and you pool all the information together.
"It’s our job as a scouting staff to know everything we possibly can about these kids – especially those that we’re targeting going into the draft. It’s extremely important for our franchise, and we’re doing everything in our power to ensure that we get this right."
FITNESS TESTING…AND YES, “THE BIKE”
The long-standing legend around the Scouting Combine is the Wingate/VO2 bicycle test, which is most infamous for causing participants to seek a trash can afterward. But there’s a lot more to the fitness aspect of the Combine, and it begins with standard workouts like the bench press, aerobic workouts and others.
Players like Tyler Seguin (Boston) and Taylor Hall (Edmonton) have been fitness-test standouts in past years, and each was also a high draft pick in 2010. According to NHL.com, the fitness testing will be conducted over the weekend at the Toronto International Centre and administered by Dr. Norm Gledhill of York University.
Marr also told NHL.com’s Mike Morreale that while the Combine is an important step for young players on their path to the NHL, the key is not to put too much pressure on themselves because of the watchful eyes around them.
"I don't think it will change a team's impression of a player, but they definitely want to know where he's at," Marr told NHL.com. "They don't want to find out afterward that you might not be able to attend training camp for one reason or another associated with the injury, so they look at where they can get the current status and the projected status of these players. I don't really feel that the injury and recovery period will influence whether they select the player or not … it just gives them a good idea where they are with current status."
2012 NHL DRAFT ORDER
Based on the results of the NHL Draft Lottery and order of finish of all 30 teams (to be fully determined upon conclusion of the Stanley Cup Final), here is the current order of selection in this year’s draft for picks 1-10:
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