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Combine Worth It for Prospects

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
By Matthew Iaboni

June 1, 2006

(TORONTO) - The NHL Entry Draft is less then a month away and 109 of the top prospects are in Toronto to make one final impression on NHL teams in order to improve their draft rankings.

It's a daunting task for 18-year-olds to go face-to-face with NHL general managers and team personnel for a 20-minute interview but many find the experience thrilling but also stressful.

Checking to see what time the next interview is at.

"You just have to go in there stay calm and be yourself," said Ben Shutron a defenceman with the Belleville Bulls, who is ranked 16th among North American skaters. "It's definitely really exciting and tons of fun."

This is the ninth year for the NHL Combine and what was noticeably different than in past years was that many of the prospects appeared loose and eager prior to their big sitdowns. There's a reason for that.

"Many of them are being coached by agents and coaches on what kind of questions they will have to answer," said Paul Dennis, player development coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs. "They are being prepared just like on the ice."

For defenceman Jordan Staal of the Peterborough Petes, who is ranked second among North American prospects, it was somewhat different. His two older brothers Eric with Carolina and Marc with the New York Rangers have been drafted and are now living their NHL dreams but he didn't ask them for any pointers.  

"I talked to Eric for a bit and I asked him what to expect but no tips or anything like that just what's the daily routine," Staal said.

One NHL team did pose an interesting question regarding his older siblings. 

"How am I any different than my brothers' personalities and I didn't have any idea what to say," he said with a laugh.

The interview process plays a role in where a team will draft a certain prospect but a bad interview doesn't ruin the players' chances of getting drafted.

"The bottom line is what the player does on the ice," Dennis said. "If he is a good player he is going to play and he is going to get drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs based upon what he does on the ice. If there is something that concerns us during the interview it might mean there might be some issues but we will nurture this person and make him better."

Prospects didn't just find themselves meeting with one or two teams, many were meeting with at least 15 clubs while some were as high as 28. Aside from the interviews, players will also undergo fitness testing. 

"The schedule is almost overwhelming but it will be a fun weekend," Shutron said.

All the interviews are different but the majority of the questions surround a player's background and his off ice activities.

"One team asked about my hobbies and I said fishing and we talked about fishing for the next five minutes and that was pretty fun," Shutron said. "You would think it would be strictly hockey but they are interested in other things in your life."

Nick Foligno, the son of former Maple Leaf Mike Foligno, summed it up this way when he was on his way to another interview. 

"The possibility of getting drafted is awesome and this is worth it.

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