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Scouting the Combine

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers
With three weeks to go to the NHL Entry Draft, the Flyers still are mining information, with Director of Scouting Chris Pryor in Buffalo, sifting for the last nugget.

 
"This is a good chance maybe to tie up some loose ends, maybe meet some kids that as a group we haven’t met yet, maybe gather some more information,” said Pryor from the NHL Scouting Combine, where teams put the stamp on their own homework as much as they do the meat on the market.
 
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At the disposal of 30 teams are 120 of the best and brightest prospects to bike, jump, squat, and tell scouts what they want to hear and, more revealing, the odd thing that they don’t.  In fairness to the players whose seasons ended in March, competing for selection against a few prospects who still were playing last week, there will be no skating through cones, shooting at targets, or racing against a stopwatch. These guys will have to save it for the skills competition at All-Star Games in which most of them dream they will play.
 
Instead, this is one last check of the measurables before teams make their picks based largely on the immeasurables that determine who might star and who might flop. You can’t, after all, measure the size of their hearts with calipers. But in the meantime, you can squeeze a little on the spare tires that might hint at an 18-year-old’s willingness to push himself away from the table and back to the workout room.
 
“You can always learn something,” said Pryor.  “Maybe it’s just one player that you find out something -- either better or worse -- that causes you to move him up and down.
 
“I don’t know if it eliminates anybody as much as it could push a guy back and then, if that guy is still there, later, you have a conversation about him.
 
“So it does hold value.”
 
The VO2 Max test, which measures endurance capacity, probably yields the most useful information of anything done at the Combine because it reflects upon a player’s dedication to condition himself. But there is also an understanding by the evaluators that bodies of this age do not mature uniformly.
 
The Kistler Force plate is a research platform linked to a video camera that tests vertical jumps separated by 10 seconds of rest. The fitness test includes overhand pull-ups and single leg squats.
 
The bike tests measure a player's endurance and skating explosiveness. And the interviews theoretically reflect a prospect’s confidence, leadership, and selflessness hopefully more than they do a prospect’s ability to pretend for 15 minutes that he has all of the above winning traits.
 
Scouts may find out more about a kid by talking to their team trainers, coaches and billets than the player himself. Honesty not always being the best policy, prospects are coached by their agents and parents and become practiced over the course of repeated interviews at answering the same questions.
 
On draft day, there won’t be a kid taken who won’t declare into the camera that he was selected by a “great organization.” The greater organizations know pandering when they hear it. They are going to draft more by what they have seen than what they have heard. But to get good answers you have to ask good questions.
 
“We have been doing this for a few years,” said Pryor.  “After a few years you get a feel for natural vs. scripted. You may learn more in a corridor by a locker room, where the kid can let his hair down a little, not feel on the spot.”
 
The Flyers never interviewed Simon Gagne before drafting him 22nd overall in 1998, yet seemed to have a good handle on what he might become regardless. 

“But we have been watching these players all year and still like to put a face with a name,” said Pryor. “It’s always interesting to see how they handle themselves.
 
“It can be pretty intimidating if they have never been through it.  It’s a good exercise to go through.”
 



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