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2019 NHL Combine underway in Buffalo

103 prospects participating in a week of interviews and fitness tests

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

A total of 103 prospects eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft are in Buffalo, NY this week for the annual NHL Scouting Combine. While the event itself is often recognized by the numerous fitness tests on Saturday, June 1, there is much more to it than that.

All through the week, the prospects in attendance have the opportunity to chat with all 31 teams.

Year after year, the Winnipeg Jets schedule is jam-packed with players on their schedule.

For example, in 2017 the Jets interviewed 86 prospects in a season where they had the 13th overall pick. Of course, that selection ended up being used in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights shortly before the 2017 NHL Draft in Dallas, TX in exchange for the 24th selection - used to pick Kristian Vesalainen.

In 2018, the interview slate at the NHL Combine was packed again, even though the Jets didn't have a selection until the second round. Winnipeg's Director of Amateur Scouting, Mark Hillier, said at the time there is a reason for that.

"We understand we're not going to draft all these players obviously," Hillier said. "But it's helpful for us down the road. We might acquire a player three or four years down the road, and at least we've made some contact with the player and got to know him a little bit."

After a week of interviews, the prospects will spend part of Friday and most of Saturday in Buffalo's HarborCenter, just steps away from KeyBank Center, where the Buffalo Sabres call home.

Beginning at 7:30 am Eastern Time on Saturday, 13 groups comprised of seven or eight prospects each will hit the floor for fitness testing.

The tests have changed over the years as different information became more valuable to teams. 

If the medical tests deem the prospects fit to participate, they will go through a circuit of 12 tests over Friday and Saturday.

Some tests, like the standing height measurement, wingspan, standing long jump, pull ups, bench press, and grip strength, are self-explanatory.

Others are a bit more complicated.

Take the 'mp Station' or 'AccuPower Dual Force Plate System' for example.

During this test, the Plate system will measure the 3D forces an athlete produces during a hockey related movement, capturing synchronized video data from two-high speed cameras. The prospect will do three jumps - a vertical jump with an arm swing, a jump with no arm swing keeping hands on hips, and a squat jump - that will be measured to assess movement efficiency, physical performance, and injury potential.

Back again this year are the two bike tests - the Wingate and the Aerobic Fitness VO2max.

The Wingate is a 30-second all out sprint against a designated workload, with revolutions recorded for each five second period. The power output is calculated for both the peak five second period and the 30 second duration.

The VO2max test is a graduated test to measure the athlete's aerobic fitness by measuring the amount of oxygen utilized during maximal exercise. As the test goes on, the athlete must continue to hit certain targets in terms of speed and watts. When those numbers can no longer be hit, the test ends.

Rounding out the circuit are the Y-Balance test (a single leg stance testing strength, flexibility, and core control), the Functional Movement Screen (assesses mobility in seven movements to identify imbalances on the right or left side of the body), and the Pro Agility Test (a shuttle run of 5-10-5 yards to evaluate multi-directional speed and agility).

All these tests produce a huge amount of data.

"We bring our strength and conditioning people in to monitor that and give us a more professional opinion. We'll get all the results, we'll get all the comparisons," said Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. "Sometimes you're just looking to see the frame of the player. Are they a person that you think is going to be able to add strength and muscle down the line. Or if they have skating issues, you want to look at what's the make-up of their leg. Can they get stronger? Can they get their core stronger? So those are the things you're looking at when you get a chance to see everybody in one place."

The man on the ground floor watching the prospects for the Jets is Director of High Performance, Dr. Craig Slaunwhite.

"I always look forward to this time of year, and the Combine itself," said Slaunwhite, a former decathlete himself. "I personally have a track and field background, so I have a very big interest in speed. That's the way the game is heading. It's a critical element of athleticism that I like to evaluate.

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