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Combine interviews leave Flames impressed

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

TORONTO, ON -- The National Hockey League’s entry draft process has come a long way.

Craig Conroy is proof of that.

Drafted in the sixth round, 123rd overall by the Montreal Canadiens in 1990, the now 42-year-old native of Potsdam, NY has seen the process evolve in front of his eyes.

“I didn’t go to the draft; they didn’t have any combine,” Conroy said. “They didn’t have anything. I got a phone call and they told me I was drafted by Montreal in the sixth round. That was it. It wasn’t like it is now where you have the combine. I think with social media, everything that goes on, it’s just so much bigger.

“It’d be pretty fun. I think this would be a great opportunity to come and meet everybody in every single organization, kind of get a feel and see what kind of questions, what they’re looking for, what they think you need to work on. That’s the one thing; they can ask us a question. ‘What do you think I need to work on?’ That’s invaluable information for the young guys.”

The process is an exhausting one for teams and players alike.

The likes of Conroy, amateur scouting director Tod Button, general manager Brad Treliving and president of hockey operations Brian Burke -- mix in several other scouts -- will interview with 63 players over the course of four days.

At the other end of the table, some players will meet with all 30 teams over the 96-hour stretch.

It makes for some great interviews, Conroy admitted.

“Anytime you come, there are always some great stories, you have fun with the kids,” he said. “They were all different, but they all know how to handle themselves. I was thinking if I was 17, 18 back doing this, I don’t know what I would’ve said for answers.

“I thought they handled themselves well and I thought if anything, they’ve all helped themselves.”

It’s getting harder, though, for teams to dig.

Players are coming into the combine more polished, making the work of Conroy, Burke and Treliving more difficult.

“They come in here pretty prepared,” Treliving said. “I know they spend some time with their representatives and go through this process in a mock basis. They’re prepared for a lot of the questions that you may come at them with.

“The number of poor interviews is getting less and less. These kids are mature. They’ve gone through this process, the top kids have gone through it for the past couple of years.”

It’s tough to judge, Conroy admitted.

“I think sometimes when they’re just scripted and you feel like they give definitions to answers, I like when they’re just themselves and they show what kind of person they are,” he said. “If they’re outgoing, bubbly like they say, ‘Hey we’re a jokester’ and they’re pretty serious in the interview, you wonder if it’s just an act or if he’s really being himself.”

Whether or not a player is being genuine or not isn’t necessarily easy.

Polished players have polished answers they’ve had the opportunity to perfect not only before arriving in Toronto, but also as they travel through the process of sitting down with teams.

Burke is the great equalizer on that front.

“A couple times Brian made me nervous in there,” Conroy said. “I was like ‘Woah, Brian’s on my side and I’m still nervous’. The kids really respond to Brian. They’ve seen him over the years so when they walk into the room and see Brian they go ‘Woah, Brian Burke’s here’. They really enjoy that.

“A couple of them joked around with Burkie, which I would never have done.

“I give them credit for that.”

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