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Combine bike tests will push prospects to their limits

by Mike G. Morreale

BUFFALO -- Goaltender Luke Opilka offered a simple approach to the two stationary bike tests the players at the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine will take part in at HarborCenter during the next two days.

"I haven't prepared ahead of time other than my regular training. But I'm going in there with the mindset to do my best and just ride until I drop; that's my plan," Opilka said.

He might not be alone in his approach.

Opilka, who played for the United States National Team Development Program under-18 team in 2014-15, is No. 12 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top North American goalies eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, which will be held June 26-27 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

The bike tests, while daunting, are important for the prospects looking to impress NHL scouts and general managers. Beginning Friday, the players will go through the grueling VO2 Max test, which measures a players' aerobic fitness and endurance levels.

At the 2014 combine, center Clark Bishop lasted 15:03 on the VO2 Max test, the longest duration of any prospect. He was selected in the fifth round (No. 127) of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Wingate Cycle Ergometer peak power output test, which measures the explosiveness of a skater, will be the last of nine fitness tests completed Saturday.

At last year's combine forward William Nylander had the highest peak power output on the Wingate; he was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the eighth pick of the 2014 draft.

For the first time this year, the bike tests are being held on separate days. The schedule change was recommended by the NHL team strength coaches. Their belief was that having the tests done back-to-back on the same day wasn't a valid indicator of a players' overall fitness level.

"All the kids on my team at Boston College that have been to the Combine are giving me [grief] because they've been doing the bike tests on one day and it was pretty tough," Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin, Central Scouting's No. 3-rated North American skater, said. "We lucked out this year."

Youngstown Phantoms forward Kyle Connor, No. 13 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, said he hopes to have fun with the bike tests. He's also not concerned about the crowd of NHL scouts, strength coaches and general managers that will be watching, or the duct tape that will hold his feet to the pedals, or the trainers standing inches from him and screaming motivation.

"I suppose it could be intimidating going up to the bike. But once you're on it, it's just going to be hard work and you're just going to focus on that; block out all other things," Connor said.

Columbus Blue Jackets director of amateur scouting Paul Castron said general managers and scouts understand the bikes can be intimidating but that it's important each prospect do their best.

"You want to see how far they go until the end; we do kind of leave the numbers stuff up to the strength coach," Castron said. "This isn't a fun test for the prospects. The Wingate might be even tougher; it's a hard, shorter test that's strenuous. Some kids don't like the oxygen in their mouth [on the VO2 Max], but you just have to push and grind it out."

The projected top two picks of the 2015 draft, Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Boston University center Jack Eichel, are scheduled to take their VO2 Max test Friday morning, along with a number of other top prospects.

"I heard both bike tests are really challenging but in different ways," said Hanifin, also part of the Friday morning group. Hanifin is No. 3 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters. "The VO2 is obviously a long process. You've got to stay consistent, paced, stay calm and breathe. In the Wingate you've got to get mad, go all-out for 30 seconds as fast as you can and try to see how much force you can create. They're two different type of tests I've been training for the past few weeks."

Despite missing three OHL playoff games because of an upper-body injury, London Knights center Mitchell Marner said he's looking forward to pushing as hard as he can on the bikes. Marner is No. 6 on Central Scouting's final ranking, and is another member of the Friday morning VO2 Max test group.

"I've done both tests and obviously they are hard. But you can't think about it too much," he said. "It's part of the testing; you just have to go out there and give it your all and see how it goes."


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