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NHL Combine Provides a “Piece of the Puzzle”

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BUFFALO — The 2016 NHL Draft is nearly three weeks away, and preparations continue to be made for the two-day event in Buffalo on June 24 and 25.

There have been constant viewings of players throughout the season, conversations with coaches and a number of initiatives put into place to try and project the 18-year-olds’ potential.

One more piece to that process involves the 2016 annual NHL Scouting Combine. This year’s event is taking place all week in Buffalo, with 114 draft-eligible prospects interviewing with NHL clubs, and taking part in medical examinations and fitness testing.

The one-on-one interview portion occurs from May 30 - June 3 at the First Niagara Center, with several prospects sitting down with numerous NHL general managers and their staffs. The physical testing will take place on Saturday, June 4 at the HarborCenter across the street from the arena.

Bruins Director of Amateur Scouting Keith Gretzky provided some insight on the week after wrapping up the third day of interviews on Thursday.

“What we do is we bring in a number of players that we have interest in, just to gauge what they’re like,” said Gretzky. “All of our scouts in the areas have interviewed the kids before, so it gives us a second reading of what they’ve seen.”

“It’s a piece of the puzzle, is what we say,” said Gretzky. “You have the on-ice, you just want to meet them and see what they’re like, see what their growth is going to be, how they see themselves as a hockey player, really, and off-ice. You want good players and good people. This is part of it.”

While the interviews don’t make or break the staff’s judgment on a prospect, just as one on-ice viewing would not necessarily deter them either, they offer a deeper look at the prospect’s personality and character. They give General Manager Don Sweeney and his staff an opportunity to ask questions face-to-face and get a better sense of what motivates players.

“Some of the things are: you’ll have a few players that are quieter, that you thought would be more outgoing or vice versa,” said Gretzky. “Some reflect their style of play and there might be a guy that’s more aggressive on the ice that’s more laid back and quiet.”

“It catches you a little off guard because you didn’t think they’d be like that. But for the most part, like I said, our guys in the area have done the interviews, they’ll tell us if this guy is an outgoing person. All in all, it’s been a good thing.”

Ultimately, projection is the nature of this business, and there is no sure way to know how a potential draft pick is going to turn out.

“It would be easy,” Gretzky smiled, thinking of the notion of having a crystal ball or being able to predict the future. “That’s the other thing, is that we had a couple guys last year we drafted that we’re projecting to hit [their potential] and to do well.”

“Same as this year, you see a lot of young kids. That’s the biggest thing, there are guys that you know you can draft later on [in later rounds] that are more ready than the guys that you take earlier. We kind of know that going in that, ‘Hey, this guy’s going to take a little longer.’”

“We believe that the projection is well worth it,” he continued. “And you’ll get guys that can step in and play for a team right away. They’re all different, and that’s the big thing about this job, is that you’re projecting.”

“The other thing, is you have to wait. They’re kids and we want them all to play yesterday, but that’s just not going to happen.”

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