TORONTO -- Will the 2012 NHL Scouting Combine play a greater role than in past annual evaluation events considering the unusually high number of injuries to top draft-eligible talent this season?
It's very possible. But NHL Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan, who specializes in talent out of the Western Hockey League, believes it might really be as bad you might think.
"Injuries are calculated differently than they were 10 years ago, when there might have been as many but nobody knew they were really hurt [since the medical technology wasn't as advanced]," Sullivan told NHL.com. "Now, they're evaluated so deeply that if there's a slight cause for concern, you have to sit out. Ten years ago they'd play, so to say there are more injuries today than there were before, that's a tough one."
The Scouting Combine began Monday with the initial phase consisting of prospect interviews. Teams will meet with players at their choosing through Thursday, with medical and fitness testing scheduled for Friday and Saturday, June 1-2, at Toronto International Centre. The top-ranked North American skater on Central Scouting's list, Nail Yakupov of the Sarnia Sting in the Ontario Hockey League, has 18 interviews scheduled through Thursday. He is scheduled for his fitness test on Friday at approximately 1:30 p.m. ET.
The injury bug certainly played havoc on the rosters for the 17th CHL/NHL Home Hardware Top Prospects Game four months ago, as seven players had to be replaced for the game due to injury while an eighth -- London Knights defenseman Olli Maatta -- was suffering from the flu. Maatta also was sidelined early in the 2012 World Junior Championship for his native Finland after suffering a concussion.
Unfortunately, the ailments that kept many players out of the Top Prospects Game weren't the only maladies to hit this year's draft class.
A few of the notable injured performers at forward attending this week's Scouting Combine were Yakupov (concussion, back) and Alex Galchenyuk (ACL surgery) of Sarnia, Radek Faksa (concussion) of Kitchener, Mikhail Grigorenko (sprained ankle, shoulder) of Quebec, Martin Frk (concussion) of Halifax, Tanner Pearson (ankle) of Barrie, Jarrod Maidens (concussion) of Owen Sound, Zemgus Girgensons (hip and jaw) of Dubuque, Colton Sissons (concussion) of Kelowna and Thomas Wilson (MCL and broken knuckle) of Plymouth.
Besides Maatta, other defensemen missing time were Ryan Murray (high ankle sprain) of Everett, Cody Ceci (back) of Ottawa, Morgan Rielly (ACL surgery) of Moose Jaw, Slater Koekkoek (shoulder surgery) of Peterborough, defenseman Jake McCabe (severed tendon in finger) of the University of Wisconsin and Griffin Reinhart (knee) of Edmonton.
"Is there a concern with all the injuries we've been seeing … absolutely," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards told NHL.com. "I think the other thing, though, is how much more the teams are paying attention to the health of the player nowadays. The mentality to just play the guys through injury isn't the right thing to do anymore. That might have been the mentality 20 years ago, but not anymore."
Central Scouting Director Dan Marr was asked if all the injuries to top-end players would have an effect come the 2012 NHL Draft next month, perhaps allowing teams drafting lower a better opportunity at nabbing a future star.
"I do think it's unusual to see season-ending injuries so early," Marr said. "Once that happens, you're not able to chart their development or their production and it's unfair to compare them to the players that are still in the lineup, and vice versa. It makes the process more difficult [for Central Scouting], but it's far more difficult for the teams that have to select players because they're going to have to go through the medical reports and rehab reports before they decide where they want to pick the player."
"I can only recall one other time in the last 15 years where this amount of top-end players were hurt in their draft year," Sullivan added. "It depends on doctors' evaluations on the severity of the injuries come draft time. Enough head scouts have seen these players. But it is interesting … could a top-end player fall to a better team?"
In 2010, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected forward Brett Connolly at No. 6 despite a nagging hip injury that limited him to only 16 games with the Prince George Cougars of the WHL in 2009-10. Connolly was No. 3 among North American skaters in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters entering the draft.
"As long as the injuries are not career-threating, then it should not affect their draft status much," Edwards said. "It makes the NHL Combine medical more important. We have viewings on all these guys from summer camps, and the RDO Camp; however, this does not replace regular-season and playoff viewings for making a ranking list. The more you see guys play in their regular situation, the more you know about the player."
In addition to the aforementioned forwards and defensemen, Central Scouting's No. 1-ranked goalie in North America, Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League, battled ankle and groin issues this season. He was limited to 39 games but finished with a 2.50 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.
"I don't think [the injuries] will affect where he's going to be drafted," Central Scouting's Al Jensen told NHL.com. "Goalies get groin injuries throughout their career. Maybe this will allow him to be aware with the nature of the style he plays. Malcolm plays such an athletic, quick style. He's very flexible, so when I hear groin, it surprised me. He makes unbelievable athletic saves. I don't believe this will effect where he gets drafted."
Marr feels that if the medical report shows no long-term damage, players are expected to take part in the fitness examinations at the Combine.
"Scouts want to see a player leave it all out there; give it your all and give it everything you've got," Marr said. "It goes toward your argument, if it's between Player A and B, and one player just battled through it and didn't quit, you remember those things. It's those types of intangible aspects that you get to see at the Combine and what could make a difference."