Don't think Sarnia Sting right wing Nail Yakupov will ace every interview and endurance test at the NHL Scouting Combine just because he was No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters for the 2012 NHL Draft.
Still, there's always that chance.
Professional scouts and general managers will find out when Yakupov joins 104 other draft-eligible players from North America and Europe for the physical, mental and medical testing at the NHL Scouting Combine, which runs from May 28 to June 2 in Toronto.
"What the players have to keep in mind is that this will be their initial contact with many NHL teams, so they have the chance to make that initial impression," NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr told NHL.com. "Some kids aren't that comfortable when they're in an interview environment so you just kind of have to tell them they need to be a little prepared to talk about themselves, which is something they might not be used to doing.
"But teams aren't testing your personality. They're just trying to get to know you in this environment, so it's just an opportunity to make a good initial impression."
The Scouting Combine will allow all 30 NHL clubs to interview as many prospects as they wish over a four-day period while reviewing medical reports by independent doctors from York University in Toronto. The players also will be put through a series of physical tests that will measure strength and endurance.
Among the players invited are top forward prospects Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk of the Sarnia Sting and Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts. Top defensive prospects Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips will also take part, along with Morgan Rielly of the Moose Jaw Warriors and Cody Ceci of the Ottawa 67's. Top North American goaltending prospects Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls and Brandon Whitney of the Victoriaville Tigres also headline the list.
Of the 105 players attending the Combine, 61 will be representing the Canadian Hockey League -- over 70 percent of all North American invites. That list includes 30 from the Ontario Hockey League, 22 from the Western Hockey League and nine from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Additionally, 13 players who spent this past season in the United States Hockey League, including five from the U.S. National Team Development Program, also will be in attendance.
Some of the top European-based prospects coming over include forward Filip Forsberg of Leksand (Sweden); left wing Teuvo Teravainen of Jokerit (Finland); Frolunda (Sweden) right wing Sebastian Collberg; center Tomas Hertl of Slavia (Czech Republic); left wing Nikolay Prokhorkin of CSKA (KHL); and Rogle (Sweden) defenseman Hampus Lindholm.
The top European goaltenders in attendance are Andrei Vasilevski of Tolpar Ufa (KHL) and Oscar Dansk of Brynas (Sweden).
"Some of these Europeans will be exposed to being in North America for the very first time and they're here for a week because of how long it takes them to get over here," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "The Combine is going to be important for them. There are certain parts of each team's staff who have watched these kids and have been [in Europe], but the top guy, the general manager, has not had that time to do it, so the interview and how well they perform in the testing is going to be highly scrutinized if they're considering this type of player with their pick."
There are 13 individual tests designed to evaluate the strength and fitness of the prospects, administered by Dr. Norm Gledhill, a professor of kinesiology at York University. This will be the 19th year Gledhill has tested the athletes at the Combine. Each test is held at a separate station under the watchful eyes of several dozen of Gledhill's employees and graduate students from the York University Human Performance Lab.
The fitness testing portion of the Combine will be held June 1-2 at the Toronto International Centre.
Another reason the Combine could take on added importance this year is the unusual number of injuries to many of the top players. Teams will want to delve into the nature of the injury, the rehabilitation that took place, recovery and how effective the player was upon making his return.
In 2011-12, the list of injured high-end prospects included Yakupov (concussion, back), Galchenyuk (ACL surgery), Grigorenko (sprained ankle, shoulder), Murray (ankle), Rielly (ACL surgery), Martin Frk (concussion), Slater Koekkoek (shoulder surgery), Jake McCabe (severed tendon in finger), Tanner Pearson (ankle), Derrick Pouliot (broken arm), Olli Maatta (concussion), Zemgus Girgensons (hip and jaw), Griffin Reinhart (knee), Colton Sissons (concussion) and Thomas Wilson (MCL and broken knuckle).
Marr feels that while the Combine will be important for players who suffered major injuries prior to or during the season, he doesn't believe it will change a team's perception of a player and where he stands on their draft board.
"I don't think it will change a team's impression of a player, but they definitely want to know where he's at," Marr told NHL.com. "They don't want to find out afterward that you might not be able to attend training camp for one reason or another associated with the injury, so they look at where they can get the current status and the projected status of these players. I don't really feel that the injury and recovery period will influence whether they select the player or not … it just gives them a good idea where they are with current status."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
Author: Mike G. Morreale | NHL.com Staff Writer