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Flames staff set for all angles of NHL Draft Combine

by Aaron Vickers / Calgary Flames

CALGARY, AB -- Calgary Flames assistant general manager Craig Conroy isn’t focusing on how many pull-ups he’ll see this week.

Ryan van Asten, however, is.

Calgary’s strength and conditioning coach will be diligently working as the majority of the 114 invitees to the 2016 NHL Draft Combine are put through the paces of 12 different physical tests this week at First Niagara Center and HarborCenter in Buffalo, NY.

“They’ll go through the whole battery of testing,” said van Asten, who joined the Flames in 2014. “I’m given a list by Flames’ management of certain players we’re looking at in particular, and watching each individual guy … how they move, how they perform in the test. We also get video data so I can go back and re-watch if I make a note on a player. I can go and re-watch.

“There’s a lot of guys going through. The first group starts at 7:30 in the morning and the last group starts at 5 or 5:30. It’s a full day. You’re watching these guys test the whole time.”

Fitness testing at the combine includes grip strength, standing long jump, bench press and pull-ups. There’s also a Functional Movement Screen, which requires prospects to perform seven joint tests that could show imbalances and symmetry deficiencies in movements of the body.

The VO2 max test measures a player’s endurance, and the Wingate Cycle Ergometer measures a player’s explosiveness.

It's rigorous, but there's no sympathy coming from van Asten.

“I get that testing is hard and they want to make a really good impression,” he said. “It’s probably a high-stress environment for them. But if you want to be a pro, it’s one of the things you have to go through if you’re going to be drafted. It’s one of the things you have to do. It’s part of being a pro. If you can’t deal with that kind of stress … it’s not going to get easier as their career goes on.

“I don’t feel bad for him. It is what it is.”

Van Asten wasn’t with the Flames when Sam Bennett struggled to zero pull-ups.

But Conroy was.

It didn’t bother him at the time.

It didn’t shake Conroy when it was announced Bennett would undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder four months later, either.

“They’re not all going to be perfect players or be in great shape,” Conroy said. “Sam not being able to do a chin up … that didn’t bother me one bit. I said, ‘Hey, he’s going to be able to do one eventually.’ He just couldn’t do one. Then you find out about the shoulder. But it didn’t make me dislike him more or less. You take things with a grain of salt.”

Conroy cautioning he’s doing the same with player interviews at the combine, too.

The Flames will meet with plenty of draft hopefuls during the week-long event.

“The interview can definitely help, but you have to go with what you saw,” he said. “If there’s a box of four guys and you’re thinking this might be the highest character guy we’ve ever had or he had the best interview, maybe that does weigh in enough for him to get that nod. If you really feel you like all these guys, and one is one you want to put a Calgary Flames jersey on, that type of player, it could sway it.

“(But) they’re 18-year-old kids. They’re going to make mistakes. Or maybe they’ve made a mistake. You can’t hold it against them for the rest of their lives. If you like the player and he did a couple questionable things, you dig in. Is it a mistake, or is it his personality? That’s where you really dig in.”

Conroy will dig into the interviews.

Van Asten will do the same with the fitness testing.

“You can see some athletes that are obviously more mature from a physical standpoint than others,” he said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re at their peak. As a strength coach you like to see high performers, guys that have a natural tendency to be powerful. When it comes to certain strength tests for 18-year-olds, it’s nice to see guys that do well, but it’s not overly concerning when they don’t do that well in those tests in particular because that’s stuff you can improve on quite easily.”

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