BUFFALO, NY -- The 2015 NHL Scouting Combine might have been more important for Seattle Thunderbirds center Mathew Barzal than for other prospects.
Barzal was limited to 44 games during the regular season because of a knee injury that sidelined him for nearly three months.
"I obviously wanted to prove the knee isn't affecting me in strength areas, jumping, that kind of stuff," Barzal said Saturday. "Thought I did a pretty good job with that. I've been training hard for this. My knee felt great this week. Felt good the whole time."
Barzal sustained a fractured kneecap while roughhousing with a teammate off the ice prior to a practice in early November.
"I was horsing around in the dressing room," Barzal said. "We were wrestling and I tripped in the dressing room. The worst thing was it was after a 17-hour bus ride to Saskatchewan. Get there, ready for a good road trip, and first practice in some tiny arena. It was not fun."
Surgery kept him out until late January. When he returned, he showed the skill that had him ranked among the elite prospects for the 2015 NHL Draft entering the season.
"Took me four or five games," he said. "Can't really rehab and train for game shape. But I thought after four or five games I started getting my legs back and my hands back, my awareness on the ice back. Thought I finished strong."
The numbers prove him right. He had five goals and 39 points in 28 regular-season games in the Western Hockey League when he returned, and four goals and eight points in six games during the WHL playoffs. He really seemed to hit his stride during the 2015 IIHF World Under-18 Championship in April. He helped Canada win the bronze medal while leading the team with nine assists and 12 points.
NHL Central Scouting had him No. 11 on its final ranking of North American skaters for this year's draft.
"He creates chances every shift he's out there," Central Scouting's John Williams said. "I think he'll be more of a playmaker [at the next level]. He's a good possession guy and patient, creates time and space with his feet to give himself that extra half-second to find that open guy. He's an every-situation guy."
Barzal said he had 25 interviews during the Combine and the health of his knee was a frequent topic of conversation.
"They were pretty eager to ask and I gave them an honest answer," he said. "I'm feeling good and I haven't had any setbacks."
Well, there was a bit of a setback Saturday. Barzal's experience on the Wingate bike test is something he's hoping to forget.
"I got off and I couldn't even bend my knees," he said. "It was tough. ... Couldn't even move. I've never done anything like that before."
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor