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Combine's opening day a hectic one for prospects

by Mike G. Morreale
TORONTO -- There was a glazed look in the eyes of top defensive prospect Adam Larsson as he patiently waited his turn at the fifth of 10 scheduled team interviews on the opening day of the NHL Scouting Combine here at the Westin Bristol Place.
"(Sunday) was an even longer day," he told with a grin. "I flew 11 hours to get here (from Sweden), but I got five hours sleep, so I'm good."
Not that Day 1 at the Combine was a piece of cake -- Larsson began his interviews at 10:35 a.m. ET and finished up at approximately 5:45 p.m.
Fact is, all 17 European skaters, Finnish goalie Samu Perhonen and a handful of North American skaters, who comprise the list of the top 102 players on NHL Central Scouting's radar, all survived the initial interviewing stage of the Combine. That process will continue through Thursday before the fitness examinations are held Friday and Saturday at the Toronto Congress Center.
"There are some logistical difficulties because there are a lot of interviews in one day and you're trying to run around and find time to eat in between," Perhonen, through interpreter Juha Mikkola, told "But coming from a small town in Finland (Jamsankoski), it's pretty amazing to have this experience and get to see how all this works and get to be part of something that is only going to get bigger."
When asked what question he thought was most unusual during the interviewing stage, Perhonen didn't hesitate.
"Someone asked me what the inspiration was for my hair style," he said. "I said, 'I don't know, maybe MacGyver.' "
Ask a loaded question, get a loaded response.
The hair style inquiry was certainly something new. Usually, NHL scouts and general managers are asking prospects to name the longest river in Canada, their intentions next year or, if they could meet someone dead or alive, who would it be.
"They want to get to know me as a person and if I'm ready to make the step next year," said Kitchener Rangers captain Gabriel Landeskog, rated No. 2 on Central Scouting's list of North American skaters. Landeskog, who admitted he has 16 interviews over three days, is sharing a room with fellow Swede Rickard Rakell of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers for the week.
"I was asked what I needed to get better at," Landeskog said. "It's all kind of what I expected, but there have also been a couple of tricky ones. Just about me as a person and leadership and that kind of stuff."
One European player who has seen his stock rise exponentially over the second half of the season is Sweden's Mika Zibanejad, who played a significant role with and against men for Djurgarden in the Swedish Elite League this season. In 26 games with the Elitserien squad from the junior program since the start of December, the 6-foot-1 1/2, 191-pound Zibanejad posted 5 goals and 9 points. He had 12 goals and 21 points in 27 games with Djurgarden's junior team prior to his promotion.
Zibanejad is actually considered by many scouts to be the most improved European prospect available for the 2011 Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minn., on June 24-25. He was the No. 2-rated European skater on NHL Central Scouting's final release in April.
"You have to be aware because some teams might catch you off guard and you have to answer without much hesitation," Zibanejad said. "I've known what the testing would be like for a long time so it's something I've been working on. I feel they want to see how I work and that's what I'm focused on … doing everything I can and a little bit more."
Zibanejad had 13 of his 29 team interviews scheduled Monday and has nine more slated for Tuesday. While some Europeans spent a few weeks learning what to expect in the fitness portion of the Combine, which includes a pair of high-tech stationary bike tests, others decided against it.
"No, I didn't prepare," Assat's Joel Armia of SM-Liiga told "I've been practicing with the team, but haven't done anything special for this Combine. I'm looking forward to it though."
Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin isn't at all too concerned with the interviews and physical testing.
"Last week I did the physical test in Sweden, so I know how I'm going to do," Brodin, Central Scouting's No. 3-ranked skater among North Americans, told "I'm not nervous … maybe a little for the bike test."
Larsson, who for the last two years has represented his country at the World Junior Championship and has battled against men in Sweden's Elitserien, was his usual calm and composed self during the opening two days of the Combine. It's that same mentality along the blue line that has also attracted NHL general managers and scouts to acquire his services.
"My English has gotten better since I take classes back home in Sweden for the last nine years or something," Larsson said. "I worked out at the gym back home to prepare for this -- I did it for five weeks. I do those bike tests back home, so I'm used to it."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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