Many of the top prospects eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft will be put to the ultimate test this week in an effort to impress potential future employers at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto.
The primary purpose of the Combine, which runs May 26-31, is to aid all 30 NHL teams in the player selection process. NHL Central Scouting invited 119 players from North America and Europe to take part.
The Combine will allow NHL scouts and general managers an opportunity to interview as many prospects as they wish during a five-day period from May 26-30.
"By the time the Combine rolls around we've done our checking, but what I look for in an interview is the maturity level and how far along they are in that area," Buffalo Sabres assistant general manager Kevin Devine told NHL.com. "That usually determines how far away they are from playing in the NHL. But I don't think the interviews are going to jump anyone five or six draft spots either.
"They could jump a spot or two if guys are professionals in the interviews, but there won't be any big jump at the top, especially with the top five in this draft class."
Teams also will have access to medical examinations conducted May 30 by independent doctors from York University in Toronto.
The fitness portion of the Combine will be held May 31 at Toronto International Centre, headed by Dr. Norman Gledhill and his York University Fitness staff. This year overhand pull-ups, single leg squats (both legs) and pro agility tests will replace push-ups, the push-pull station and the seated medicine ball throw.
"All players must be medically cleared by the NHL Combine medical staff in order to participate in the physical testing," Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "Any player that is not 100-percent able to perform an upper- or lower-body test 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."
Among those not being able to take part in the fitness testing is Calgary Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen, No. 6 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the this year's draft. He will attend the Combine but will not take part in any of the physical testing after recent shoulder surgery that has a recovery time of 4-6 months.
The fitness test results not only provide information on current capacities, but also insight into the potential future improvements.
"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," 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 Combine will serve as the last chance for top players to make an impression prior to the 2014 draft, which will be held June 27-28 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Among the players invited are possible first-round candidates Samuel Bennett, Spencer Watson and Roland McKeown of the Kingston Frontenacs of the Ontario Hockey League; Aaron Ekblad of the Barrie Colts (OHL); Sam Reinhart of the Kootenay Ice of the Western Hockey League; Leon Draisaitl of the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL); and Michael Dal Colle of the Oshawa Generals (OHL).
There are 11 goalies invited to the Combine, including eight from North America. Topping that group is Boston College freshman Thatcher Demko, Central Scouting's No. 1-rated North American goaltender.
Of the 101 North American players attending, 72 will be representing the Canadian Hockey League, almost 70 percent of all North American invites. Of that group, 35 play in the OHL, 23 in the WHL and 14 in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Also on the list are 16 players from the United States Hockey League, including 10 from the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 team. And there will be seven players who played high school/prep hockey this season, including defenseman Luc Snuggerud of Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School and center Ryan Donato of Dexter School (Mass.).
The top European-based prospects invited include right wing Kasperi Kapanen of Kalpa in Finland; center/right wing William Nylander of Modo in Sweden; and left wing Kevin Fiala of HV 71's team in Sweden's junior league.
"There are certain parts of each team's staff who have watched these kids and have been [in Europe], but the top guy, the general manager, has not had that time to do it," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "The interview and how well they perform in the testing is going to be highly scrutinized if they're considering this type of player with their pick."
The three international goalies in attendance will be Ville Husso of HIFK in Finland, Jonas Johansson of Brynas' team in Sweden's junior league and Kaapo Kahkonen, who plays for Blues' team in Finland's junior league.
"Some of these Europeans will be exposed to being in North America for the very first time and they're here for a week because of how long it takes them to get over here," Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "The Combine is going to be important for them."
There are four body composition tests (standing height, wingspan, body weight, skinfold fat measurements) and 11 individual fitness tests designed to evaluate the draft hopefuls. This will be the 21st year Gledhill has tested the athletes at the NHL Combine. Each test is held at a separate station under the watch of several dozen of Gledhill's employees and graduate students from the York University Human Performance Lab.