While there are four teams still playing for the 2009 Stanley Cup, the first step on the road to the 2010 Cup and beyond starts Tuesday at the NHL Draft Combine.
The event, which hosts 103 of the best draft-eligible players from North America and Europe, will see the players put through a vigorous round of physical, medical and psychological tests that could determine where they are chosen when the teams convene in Montreal on June 26-27.
"The Scouting Combine is designed to bring together in one spot, in an economical move, and Central Scouting has been charged with that mission … the League GMs say bring your top 100 rated players to one spot and then we'll get a crack at them," NHL Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire told NHL.com.
The two biggest stars in the 2009 draft class will be in attendance -- London Knights center John Tavares and Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman.
Tavares has been a star in the making since he became the first player to earn "exceptional player" status by the Ontario Hockey League, which allowed him to be drafted at 14 -- a year earlier than league rules allowed. The OHL's Oshawa Generals selected him first, and he debuted with the team days after he turned 15. He broke Wayne Gretzky's league record for 16-year-olds when he scored 72 goals in 2006-07. He had a league-leading 58 goals and 104 points this season, which he split between Oshawa and London. His 215 goals in four seasons is a new league record.
Tavares also was second at the 2009 World Junior Championship in scoring with 15 points and was named the tournament's best forward and MVP.
The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Hedman is lauded for his Chris Pronger size and Nicklas Lidstrom skill set. At just 18, he had 7 goals and 21 points in 43 games with MODO Hockey Ornskoldsvik in the Swedish Elite League, where he played more than 20 minutes per game on the top defense pairing.
According to McGuire, there's a three-pronged approach to the Combine.
"First, there are interviews," he said. "Bring them in and allow (teams) to get a fair crack, 20-25-minute slots, where they interview these kids to get a little more insight into their personalities."
To go along with the interview is a psychological evaluation that tests, according to McGuire, "neuropsychological and behavioral phenomena."
"Can you really tell who's going to be your best player in Game 7 by typing it into a computer?" McGuire asked. "Probably not, but it might help. We provide rudimentary data, and most teams' sport psychologist consultant can take this information and use it as starting at first base, rather than starting at square one and develop a psychological assessment of a player. It's not meant to be a secretive selection device; it's one more piece of a large mosaic."
Another piece of that mosaic is a routine medical evaluation, where the players are examined by independent doctors who then provide their data to teams.
"They write up any red flags," McGuire said. "The team scouts, if they see a red flag, will say to the agent or kid, does our team doctor have permission to contact your team doctor directly? Teams want to be wary of not drafting damaged goods."
Most prominent is the physical testing -- something that, surprisingly, does not include an on-ice component.
McGuire said there are a number of reasons for not putting the prospects on skates. First, for the top players, teams likely have seen them multiple times in person or on video already.
"The team scouts, if they see a red flag, will say to the agent or kid, does our team doctor have permission to contact your team doctor directly? Teams want to be wary of not drafting damaged goods." - -- Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire
Also, there's the fact that some players, including many in U.S. colleges and high schools, haven't been on the ice since February -- compared with a player such as Dmitry Kulikov of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Tyson Barrie of the Kelowna Rockets, Jordan Caron of the Rimouski Oceanic or Ryan Ellis of the Windsor Spitfires, who played in the Memorial Cup that just ended Sunday.
"Is it fair to the kid whose high school season ended in February to stand next to the kid who played in a championship game on Sunday?" McGuire said. "It might be unfair to the Memorial Cup participant if the (high school) kid had just been doing the Combine tests, sprinting five times as week and not having to practice. That Memorial Cup guy, did he block a shot to win a championship and his ankle is sore?"
Instead, the players are put through their paces in a three-hour crucible which includes events as simple as the sit and reach, push-ups and sit-ups, right through a pair of high-tech stationary bike tests -- Wingate anaerobic measure and an aerobic-max VO2 test.
The top 75 North American skaters as rated by NHL Central Scouting will be taking those tests. Besides Tavares, those looking to make an impression on the scouts includes Brampton Battalion center Matt Duchene, Vancouver Giants center Evander Kane, Brandon Wheat Kings teammates Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie, University of Minnesota center Jordan Schroeder, Spokane Chiefs defenseman Jared Cowen and Windsor Spitfires defenseman Ryan Ellis.
Besides Hedman, other top European prospects scheduled to attend include Swedish forwards Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Jacob Josefson and Marcus Johansson, and defensemen Tim Erixon, David Rundblad and Oliver Ekman-Larson
Among the goaltending prospects in attendance will be the Plymouth Whalers' Matthew Hackett, Central Scouting's top-rated North American netminder, and Sweden's Robin Lehner, the top-ranked European goalie.
There also will be a number of familiar names at the Combine.
Hackett is the nephew for former NHL goalie Jeff Hackett, who now serves as the Colorado Avalanche goaltending coach. Erixon's father, Jan Erixon, played 10 seasons with the New York Rangers. Lethbridge Hurricanes forward Carter Ashton's father, Brent Ashton, played for eight teams in 14 NHL seasons. Red Deer Rebels center Landon Ferraro is the son of former NHL All-Star Ray Ferraro. Philip Samuelsson, a defenseman with the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League, is the son of long-time NHL defenseman Ulf Samuelsson. Ryan Bourque, a center is the U.S. National Team Development Program, is the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Raymond Bourque.Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Staff Writer