With the top spot for the 2011 Entry Draft as wide-open as ever, it could make the NHL Scouting Combine that much more of an important event.
The 102 best draft-eligible players from North America and Europe will spend May 30 to June 4 in Toronto, going through a vigorous round of physical, medical and psychological tests that could determine where they are chosen.
Among the most sought-after players will be Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
and Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson
The 6-foot, 164-pound Nugent-Hopkins was No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters. He led the Western Hockey League this season with 75 assists and was tied for third with 106 points. He then had 11 points in nine WHL playoff games.
"A couple of people high up in the Oilers' organization -- and I'm not naming names -- said Hopkins has the best vision on the ice since No. 99 (Wayne Gretzky
)," Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan
"A couple of people high up in the Oilers' organization -- and I'm not naming names -- said Hopkins has the best vision on the ice since No. 99 (Wayne Gretzky)" -- Central Scouting's Peter Sullivan on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins
who mainly scouts WHL prospects, told NHL.com. "That's the highest compliment you can get, but also another thing is the way Ryan competes. He never takes a night off and he works as hard in his own end as he does in the offensive zone. It takes a special player with special skills to be able to do that."
Larsson (6-3, 200) has been Central Scouting's top-rated European skater all season. He had 9 points in 37 games with Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League, his third season playing against men in the nation's top professional league. He also had 4 points in six games for Sweden at the 2011 World Junior Championship and played for his country at the 2010 WJC.
"Adam is one of the best skaters in this year's draft," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He has excellent speed and mobility. He also has patient puck-handling abilities and can surprise an opponent with a solid hit. His size and skating ability make him comparable with Tampa Bay Lightning
defenseman Victor Hedman
The Scouting Combine features a three-pronged approach. Teams are allowed four days to interview as many prospects as they wish. Players are given medical examinations by independent doctors, and then go through a rigorous off-ice physical test.
There is no on-ice component to the Combine, and that's done for a reason.
EJ McGuire, the former director of Central Scouting who died last month, told NHL.com that for one, the top players already have been viewed multiple times by scouts either in person or on video.
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 players with Canadian Hockey League teams who could be coming off long playoff runs that could end weeks or days before the start of the Combine. The championship game for the Memorial Cup is scheduled for May 29 in Mississauga, Ont., the day before the Combine starts.
"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 told NHL.com last year. "It might be unfair to the Memorial Cup participant if the (high school) kid had just been doing the Combine tests, sprinting five times a 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 76 North American skaters as rated by NHL Central Scouting will be taking those tests. Besides Nugent-Hopkins, those looking to make an impression on the scouts are Kitchener Rangers left wing Gabriel Landeskog
and defenseman Ryan Murphy
; defenseman Dougie Hamilton
and center Ryan Strome
of the Niagara IceDogs; Drummondville Voltigeurs center Sean Couturier
; Portland Winterhawks left wing Sven Baertschi
; and a group of players from the Saint John Sea Dogs that includes centers Jonathan Huberdeau
and Zack Phillips
, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu
, and right wing Tomas Jurco
A number of top European players scouts will be examining beside Larsson are Swedish center Mika Zibanejad
, Finnish right wing Joel Armia
, Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin
and right wing Dmitri Jaskin from the Czech Republic.
Among the goaltending prospects in attendance will be John Gibson
of the U.S. National Team Developmental Program and Christopher Gibson
of Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Central Scouting's top two-rated goaltenders.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK