The 100 best draft-eligible players from North America and Europe will spend May 24-29 in Toronto, going through a vigorous round of physical, medical and psychological tests that could determine where they are chosen.
"A kid who a team might say, 'What the heck? Let's interview them,' all of a sudden he impresses in the interview," Director of NHL Central Scouting E.J. McGuire told NHL.com. "Some of them coming into the Combine might be on a team's list, but work their way off for some reason, or vice versa."
Two of the more sought-after interviews likely will be with Plymouth Whalers center Tyler Seguin and Windsor Spitfires left wing Taylor Hall. Central Scouting's top-rated players all season have been closer than peanut butter and jelly for the entire hockey season, and nothing since Central Scouting's final list was released last month -- which had Seguin first and Hall second -- has changed.
"I think they're equal, still," McGuire said.
Seguin and Hall finished tied atop the OHL scoring list with 106 points. Seguin finished third in the league with 48 goals, and won the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL's most outstanding player. Seguin guided his team to the second round of the league playoffs, scoring 16 points in 11 games, but the Whalers were swept in four games by Hall's Spitfires, who went on to win their second straight OHL title.
Hall was eighth in the league with 40 goals, led the OHL with 66 assists. He also led the league in playoff scoring for the second straight season, finishing with 35 points in 19 games. And he has Windsor on the cusp of becoming the first team since the 1994-95 Kamloops Blazers to repeat as Memorial Cup champions.
Hall also won a silver medal with Canada at the World Junior Championship in January, while Seguin was one of the final cuts.
According to McGuire, there's a three-pronged approach to the Combine.
"First, there are interviews," he said. "Bring them in and allow (teams) to get a fair crack, 20-25-minute slots, where they interview these kids to get a little more insight into their personalities."
To go along with the interview is a psychological evaluation that tests, according to McGuire, "neuropsychological and behavioral phenomena."
"Can you really tell who's going to be your best player in Game 7 by typing it into a computer?" asked McGuire. "Probably not, but it might help. We provide rudimentary data, and most teams' sport psychologist consultant can take this information and use it as starting at first base, rather than starting at square one and develop a psychological assessment of a player. It's not meant to be a secretive selection device; it's one more piece of a large mosaic."
Another piece of that mosaic is a routine medical evaluation, where the players are examined by independent doctors who then provide their data to teams.
"They write up any red flags," McGuire said. "The team scouts, if they see a red flag, will say to the agent or kid, does our team doctor have permission to contact your team doctor directly. Teams want to be wary of not drafting damaged goods."
Most prominent is the physical testing -- something that, surprisingly, does not include an on-ice component.
McGuire said there are a number of reasons for not putting the prospects on skates. First, for the top players, teams likely have seen them multiple times in person or on video already.
Also, there's the fact that some players, including many in U.S. colleges and high schools, haven't been on the ice since February -- compared with a player such as Hall or his Windsor Spitfires teammates, Cam Fowler and Justin Shugg, as well as the Moncton Wildcats' Brandon Gormley and the Calgary Hitmen's Matt MacKenzie, who played in the Memorial Cup that just ended Sunday.
"Is it fair to the kid whose high school season ended in February to stand next to the kid who played in a championship game on Sunday?" McGuire said. "It might be unfair to the Memorial Cup participant if the (high school) kid had just been doing the Combine tests, sprinting five times as week and not having to practice. That Memorial Cup guy, did he block a shot to win a championship and his ankle is sore?"
Instead, the players are put through their paces in a three-hour crucible which includes events as simple as the sit and reach, push-ups and sit-ups, right through a pair of high-tech stationary bike tests -- Wingate anaerobic measure and an aerobic-max VO2 test.
The top 76 North American skaters as rated by NHL Central Scouting will be taking those tests. Besides Hall, Seguin, Fowler and Gormley, those looking to make an impression on the scouts includes Prince George right wing Brett Connolly, Kingston Frontenacs defenseman Erik Gudbranson, Edmonton Oil Kings defenseman Mark Pysyk, Medicine Hat Tigers right wing Emerson Etem, U.S. National Team defenseman Derek Forbort, and a pair of players from the Portland Winter Hawks, center Ryan Johansen and right wing Nino Niederreiter.
A number of top European forwards scouts will be examining include Russian forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov, Swedish forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Ludvig Rensfeldt, Finnish forwards Mikael Granlund and Teemu Pulkkinen, and German forward Tom Kuehnhackl.
Among the goaltending prospects in attendance will be the Seattle Thunderbirds' Calvin Pickard and the U.S. National Team's Jack Campbell, Central Scouting's top two-rated goaltenders.
There also will be a number of familiar names at the Combine.
Minnesota State center Tyler Pitlick, Central Scouting's top-rated NCAA player, is the nephew of Lance Pitlick, an NHL defenseman for eight seasons with Ottawa and Florida. Nobles School forward Kevin Hayes is the younger brother of Jimmy Hayes, a 2008 second-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs. South Shore forward Charlie Coyle had two cousins play in the NHL -- Tony Amonte, who scored 416 goals in 15 seasons, and Bobby Sheehan, who played 310 games over nine seasons with seven teams. Cretin-Derham (Minn.) High School standout Mark Alt is the son of NFL Pro Bowl offensive lineman Jon Alt. Jarred Tinordi, a defenseman with the U.S. National Team, is the son of Mark Tinordi, who played 12 years in the NHL with four teams. Sault Ste. Marie defenseman Brock Beukeboom's father, Jeff Beukeboom, won four Stanley Cups playing with the Oilers and Rangers from 1986-99. Minnetonka (Minn.) High School forward Max Gardiner is the younger brother of Anaheim Ducks 2008 first-round pick Jake Gardiner. Des Moines center Connor Brickley is the cousin of Andy Brickley, who played 11 NHL seasons and now is a Boston Bruins television broadcaster. Oshawa right wing Christian Thomas' father, Steve Thomas, was a five-time 30-goal scorer who played more than 1,200 NHL games. Pickard is the younger brother of Nashville Predators prospect Chet Pickard, a 2008 first-round pick.
Ottawa 67s left wing Dalton Smith, however, might have the longest-running NHL bloodlines. His father, Derrick Smith, went to a pair of Stanley Cup Finals during seven seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, and his uncles are former Flyers captain Keith Primeau and current Maple Leafs center Wayne Primeau.