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Prospects undergo rigorous on-ice testing

by Mike G. Morreale
Long before those top players from the Canadian Hockey League will hear their names at the NHL Entry Draft, they'll undergo a series of on- and off-ice tests that will provide scouts and general managers an instant user profile of each player.

On Tuesday morning, those 2011 draft-eligible stars of the CHL were put through those tests at the Toronto Maple Leafs practice facility in Etobicoke, Ont.

The on-ice component, which has 70 individual measurements extracted from 14 on-ice tests that break each player's game down into the essentials of skating, puck handling and reaction time, was conducted by Ward Hillegas of Next Testing. Next Testing, a provider of testing and reporting services for understanding athletic performance, has served as the testing provider for the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game since 2008.

"You're dealing with the cream of the crop out here in the CHL, so the skill level is phenomenal," Hillegas told "It's neat to watch them because it's like a game situation. They become competitive out here. A big screen TV shows their times and scores as soon as they finish so the leading time stays on top. If you get beat, it's gone."

Hillegas said each NHL general manager will be given a binder with statistical data on all 40 players competing in the Prospects Game prior to the opening faceoff on Wednesday. It is done this way so that the scouts have yet another tool at their disposal to assist in their evaluation during the course of the game.

"We have what's called a Next Testing Index (NTI)," he said. "That ranges anywhere from 0-to-1,000 points and is based on four main categories -- forward skating, backward skating, puck control and reaction time. There are four sub-categories in each of those main categories."

Next Testing, based out of Madison, Wis., but which also has offices in Canada, is a scientifically based, standardized, elite testing service designed to evaluate hockey-specific skills and athletic traits.

"At this level, the kids are probably somewhere in the mid-600's to low 700-range," Hillegas said. "The top NHL players are closer to your 820-830-point range."

Hillegas, 53, did admit some of the better-conditioned prospects in the past have finished in the high 700's, which is quite a feat.  

"Let's face it, some of these guys are at a pretty high level," he said.

Hillegas feels the Top Prospects Game has grown each and every season.

"It brings a lot of people together at one location to take a look at the players," he said. "The scouts are traveling all over the place, so to bring them to one venue to watch players, not just once, but multiple times, is great. This is Next Testing's fourth year of doing the CHL top prospects game and I'm noticing more and more scouts coming out to watch not only the game but the testing. When they view it, the data we retrieve makes more sense."
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