More than 100 hockey players representing the world’s top young talent converged on the Westin Bristol Place hotel in Toronto this week looking to improve their stock in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and they won’t even have to step on the ice. They will travel from Winter Park, Florida, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Moscow and Stockholm to name a few locales. There will be big names such as John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene along with lesser-known names like Simon Despres, Zack Kassian and Brayden McNabb.
When the 2009 NHL Draft Combine began on Monday each player ran a gauntlet of tests to prove why a NHL team would be foolish to pass him by in the draft. The players will be put through a rigorous series of tests that include some as easy as sit and reach, push-ups and sit-ups, to tough ones like the exercise bike test to measure anaerobic fitness and the aerobic-max VO2 test. Multiple players have actually passed out or gotten sick during the vigorous bike testing sessions. Each player will also go through psychological and medical tests. Each player will give it his all to try and impress NHL clubs so he can maintain or improve his draft rating.
The testing can actually saves lives as well. Last season David Carle’s bags were packed for the draft before combine medical testing revealed that he suffered from a hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that could cost him his life if he had kept playing hockey. Even though it was determined he would never play again, things could have been much worse. Nonetheless, the Lightning drafted him in the seventh round simply because he deserved to be drafted.
The draft combine is an opportunity for teams who have already been looking at certain players to gain even more information. The more information a team has on a player the better.
“The point of the combine is to zero in on the players you want to interview,” Lightning Assistant General Manager Claude Loiselle said. “Step number one is watching the kids play hockey. Step number two is they intrigue you and you find out more about them, their personality and how they react in an environment. Then you try and get a feel for how they behave, their emotional stability, maturity level, their overall intelligence and awareness. You try to gauge their ability to learn, develop and adapt. It’s hard to do in that small environment, but add it all together and you can get a book on a kid.”
The burden of evaluating and inviting the talent falls on the NHL’s Central Scouting service, and its director E.J. McGuire. This year’s invitee list includes the 75 top-rated skaters and eight goaltenders from North America and the top 20 skaters and the top goaltender from Europe.
“The Scouting Combine is designed to bring them together in one spot, in an economical move, and Central Scouting has been charged with that mission. The league general managers say bring your top 100 rated players to one spot and then we’ll get a crack at them,” McGuire told NHL.com.
But why not put the kids on the ice? The main reason is due to the extremely different schedules the players from different leagues have.
“Is it fair to the kid whose high school season ended in February to stand next to the kid who just played in a championship game?” McGuire said to NHL.com. “It might be unfair to the Memorial Cup participant if the high school kid had just been doing the combine tests, sprinting five times a week, and not having to practice. That Memorial Cup guy, did he block a shot to win a championship and is his ankle sore?”
2009 NHL Draft Combine Invitee Breakdown: Total Players - 104
By Position: Centers – 30 Right Wings – 20 Left Wings – 11 Defensemen – 34 Goaltenders – 9
By Country: Canada: 52 (Alberta 4, British Columbia 6, Manitoba 2, Ontario 23, Quebec 12, Saskatchewan 5) United States: 27 (Alaska 1, Colorado 2, Connecticut 1, Florida 1, Illinois 1, Massachusetts 2, Maine 1, Michigan 1, Minnesota 7, North Dakota 1, New York 4, Rhode Island 1, Texas 1, Utah 2, Wisconsin 1) Sweden: 14 Finland: 4 Russia: 4 Czech Republic: 2 Slovakia: 1