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Calgary combs through combine results

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

It's a good observation for me and hopefully I can provide the scouts with a bit of inside information as to where an athlete is right now in their time as an athlete.
Rich Hesketh

CALGARY, AB -- For nine months, amateur scouts for the Calgary Flames get the opportunity to dissect the members of the 2013 NHL Draft class.

At the NHL Scouting Combine, it was Rich Hesketh's turn.

Calgary's strength and conditioning coach had the unique opportunity to observe and report on many of 101 of the draft's top prospects in Toronto last week as they were put through the paces in the physical component of this year's combine.

"My task when we go to the combine is in many ways somewhat like a scout," he said. "I'm looking at the physical abilities of the athletes coming through the combine, right from body composition, body frame right through to how they move, what their strength is like, what their dynamic abilities are and how hard they're willing to work with some of the tests.

"It's a good observation for me and hopefully I can provide the scouts with a bit of inside information as to where an athlete is right now in their time as an athlete."

The physical portion of the combine tests players' aerobic and anaerobic fitness, among other attributes, over 13 different challenges that included a VO2 max test, bench press, push-ups and grip strength.

With the battery of tests players are put through there are bound to be some surprises, Hesketh said.

"There are guys who you look at and go, 'holy, this guy doesn't look like he's trained at all' and his athleticism shows up, especially with some of the movements that maybe they haven't done before," he said. "Quite often I'm watching that to see how quickly they learn the agility test. It may take them a couple of times to go through it and pick it up and once they get it, they've got it."

Hesketh watched as some dominated and others struggled.

Those that didn't fare well shouldn't get discouraged, though. Being in peak physical condition might not necessarily lend itself to being at the top of the class, according to assistant general manager/player personnel John Weisbrod.

"When I was in Boston, if we had a guy really highly rated and we really liked him and he had terrible physical scores at the combine, we looked at that like a good thing like he's so good already and he hasn't learned how to train and he's still got the body of a 12-year-old boy," he said. "It gave us an indication that his ceiling was still so much higher, he had that much more room to go. You almost look at the negative combine physical scores as a good thing."

It's a philosophy Hesketh has debated over as the individual tasked with bringing the hypothetical prospect up to speed.

"Do you take a guy who is already in incredible physical shape, has done a ton of preparation and is a good hockey player," he questioned. "Or do you look at someone who maybe hasn't done all that as far as the training goes, maybe there's some improvement that we can make -- his ace in the hole as it were -- and if he's already got the hockey sense and he already has the skill, you don't have to teach that and that's something that perhaps you can't teach.

"From the training side, they can learn that and there are enough cases of guys who weren't in very good shape when they came into the combine and have worked themselves into good pros."

In other words, plenty of poor showings at the combine have been trumped by excellent National Hockey League careers and if a player can excel to the top of his age group without the proper conditioning tools, more potential may be found when he does.

And a higher, untapped ceiling isn't a bad thing for Weisbrod.

"You can look at that different ways and different rounds," he said. "In early rounds, you want a guy that has more ceiling above him and maybe in later rounds where there's less certainty about the NHL characteristics of his game, you want a guy you know is a worker and is prepared and comes to the combine ready to bench press.

"There are a few different ways to look at that."

How Weisbrod, Hesketh and the Flames scouting staff determine to view it on a prospect-by-prospect basis can have a heavily influence on how their final draft is formed.

And on who the Calgary covets in the draft.

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