BUFFALO, NY - We spent all of Saturday at the HarborCenter where the Top 117 prospects were put through the paces at the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine. We interviewed a total 24 prospects on Saturday and you can watch the interviews and read the pertinent quotes from those interviews plus some great exclusives along the way.
We also had some content leading up to Saturday's main event. On Thursday, Tom Gazzola chatted with top-ranked prospect Connor McDavid.THURSDAY'S CONTENT
- Tom Gazzola speaks with Connor McDavid - Video
On Friday, our panel set the scene at Niagara Falls and got coverage as the top-four prospects were introduced to the media. Chris Wescott also went one-on-one with NHL Central Scouting Director Dan Marr and Bob Green joined our Panel for a lively discussion. FRIDAY'S VIDEOSFRIDAY'S ARTICLES & BLOGS
** ALL TIMES MOUNTAIN **
5:30 AM - Ethan Bear, Paul Bittner, Filip Chlapik, Anthony Cirelli, Jesse Gabrielle, David Kase, Thomas Novak, Michael Spacek, Daniel Vladar, Parker Wotherspoon, Pavel Zacha, Jakub Zboril GROUP 1 INTERVIEWS
Paul Bittner comes into the draft as NHL Central Scouting’s 26th-ranked North American skater. The Portland Winterhawks winger is coming off a 71-point season, in which he potted a career high 34 goals.
In preparation for this weekend’s NHL Scouting Combine, Bittner has leaned on Portland teammates Oliver Bjorkstrand and Nicolas Petan for guidance.
Bjorkstrand was selected in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft by Columbus and Petan was taken in the second round of the same draft by Winnipeg.
|Bittner participates in the Combine fitness testing. Photo by Getty Images. |
“It was pretty exciting. Playing with two special guys, two of the best in the CHL, they really elevated my game personally,” said Bittner. “They gave me a lot of advice coming into the combine and gave me a lot of advice during the season with what to expect with teams interviewing during the year, what to look forward to. They told me to concentrate on my strengths. They see it personally and they gave me a lot of advice during the season. It has been a lot of fun playing with those guys the past three years.”
Bittner is hoping their advice and guidance leads to a first-round selection in the 2015 NHL Draft at the end of the month.
Bittner is one of 88 players to interview with the Edmonton Oilers, who hold the 16th overall pick.
“t was pretty cool. With (Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter) Chiarelli there, it was pretty cool,” said Bittner. “I had a lot of fun with that meeting. They’re good guys. They seemed pretty interested, but I don’t know. You don’t know until your name is called. There are always trades or what not in the first round and stuff like that so you never know. They’re good guys and I had a good meeting with them.”
At 6-foot-4 and 202 pounds, Bittner’s size is something scouts are excited about.
6-foot-1, 184-pound Czech defenceman Jakub Zboril hopes to be a first-round pick in the upcoming 2015 NHL Draft. He is NHL Central Scouting’s 12th-ranked North American skater.
His 13 goals this season in the QMJHL with Saint John are the most by any rookie defenceman in one season in franchise history. He was named to the QMJHL Rookie All-Star Team and was a finalist for the Michael Bossy Trophy as the league’s best professional prospect.
He comes to the NHL Scouting Combine this weekend looking to show himself to be one of the top defencemen in the draft.
“I’m a really competitive person,” said Zboril. “For me, it’s a little fuel for me too but I love to win and that’s my main fuel.”
Zboril says he doesn’t necessarily play like him, but idolizes Montreal’s P.K. Subban.
“I really like the play of P.K. Subban for sure,” Zboril said. “He is an animal on the ice.”
Pavel Zacha is one of the top prospects in this year’s draft and is projected to be a top 10 pick. The Czech-born centre finished up his first season in the Ontario Hockey League with 34 points (16-18-34) in 37 games.
He is a big centreman, standing at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds. Scouts like him as a power forward in the NHL and he already has the size to compete there. Where Zacha wants to improve is in the faceoff dot and his defensive game.
“I want to play a two-way game, so I need to be as good defensively as offensively,” said Zacha. “I think I have a really good shot and I’m a good skater. I think I need to work on a lot on the faceoffs because my percentage wasn’t very good this season. Sometimes in the defensive zone, I was playing left wing last season so I didn’t know how to play there. Sometimes I would look at the puck and sometimes the puck would go around me. The guys around me were skating and they had good chances. I was (watching) a lot of videos during the season and it helped me a lot really. I think faceoffs are the most important thing for me as a centreman.”
Zach spoke with 24 teams at this weekend’s Combine.
6:30 AM - Brock Boesner, Erik Cernak, Jeremy Lauzon, Justin Lemcke, Brett McKenzie, Samuel Montembeault, John Roslovic, Nicolas Roy, Jack Sadek, Zachary Senyshyn, Blake Speers, Daniel Sprong GROUP 2 INTERVIEWS
Nicolas Roy is an interesting prospect. Some have the centre ranked high and others have him lower. The Hockey News, for example, has Roy as their 18th overall player. But NHL Central Scouting place Roy as their 45th North American skater. International Scouting Services has him as their 47th ranked prospect.
“You look at it a bit but it’s not like the real list,” Roy said of the varying opinions. “The teams have the real list. I look at it but I don’t take too much from it.”
Roy finished his season in with Chicoutimi in the QMJHL with 50 points (16-34-50) in 68 games.
“I think I played really well,” said Roy. “My defensive play was really better this year. I was able to play PK, taking important faceoffs and my game, offensively, was pretty good too.”
Roy met with 17 teams at the Combine in Buffalo this weekend.
|Samuel Montembeault, Daniel Sprong, John (Jack) Roslovic, and Jack Sadek (L to R) watch testing while awaiting their turns during the NHL Combine at HarborCenter on June 6, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images) |
Daniel Sprong made his way from the Netherlands to become the Charlottetown Islanders leading scorer in just his second year in the QMJHL. Sprong scored 88 points (39-49-88) in 68 games this season. In the playoffs, he added 11 points, including seven goals, in 10 games.
That season came just one year after he lit up the QMJHL as a rookie with 30 goals.
Sprong is NHL Central Scouting’s 20th-ranked North American skater, which puts him in the general area of where the Oilers will pick in the first round (16th) and second round (33rd).
“I did meet with Edmonton,” said Sprong. “Peter Chiarelli was in there, as well as the scouts. I thought it went well. Of course, they’re picking 16th overall. They asked why they should take me, I gave my reasons. I’m an offensive player. If Edmonton decides to take me, it would be a great honour. It’s an unbelievable team, a Canadian team as well. Edmonton Oilers fans are very passionate fans and it would be great to play in that city.”
The 6-foot-0, 180-pound right winger hopes to be the first hockey player born in the Netherlands to play in the NHL since Ed Kea played for the Atlanta Flames from 1974-1979 and the Blues from 1979-1983.
7:30 AM - Simon Bourque, Guillaume Brisebois, Kyle Capobianco, David Cotton, Samuel Dove-McFalls, Gabriel Gagne, Mathieu Joseph, Hayden McCool, Nicolas Meloche, Chase Pearson, Jeremy Roy, Thomas Schemitsch GROUP 3 INTERVIEWS
Sherbrooke defenceman Jeremy Roy is confident in his own abilities. He has gained a lot of experience in the QMJHL.
“I’d say I’m a two-way defenceman that can play in every situation,” said Roy. “I played power play, PK, 5-on-5 but also last minute if we needed a goal against the first lines of the other team to shut them down. I can pay in every situation.”
Roy is considered to have an above average hockey sense and he is that coveted right-shot defenceman. NHL Central Scouting ranks him as their 21st North American skater. Roy believes from his first year to second year in the QMJHL, he made strides as a player.
“I think it’s my overall decision making,” said Roy. “Faster, better decision making. I’d say also my physical abilities as well.”
8:30 AM - Callum Booth, Kyle Connor, Travis Dermott, Graham Knott, Mitchell Marner, Chris Martenet, Connor McDavid, Nicholas Merkley, Ivan Provorov, Mitchell Stephens, Mitchell Vnade Sompel, Zachary Werenski GROUP 4 INTERVIEWS
|Photo by Getty Images. |
The top-ranked prospect in this year’s draft is Connor McDavid. By now, fans know the ability and the success he’s had in his career so far.
With the Oilers holding the first-overall pick, McDavid says it would be an honour to put on the blue and orange.
“If I’m selected to play for the Edmonton Oilers then it would be a dream come true,” said McDavid.
The Oilers finished with just 62 points in the standings this season. Going to a team that’s in the process of a turnaround is nothing new to McDavid. He had to do the same in Erie. Being able to have success with the Otters provides a bit of a blueprint to how McDavid could handle the situation with the Oilers if he joins Edmonton this upcoming season.
“I think that’s a real positive,” said McDavid. “It kind of just shows that you’re not always in a rebuilding phase. I went to a team in Erie that was not very good and we were going through that ‘rebuilding process’ and two years later we were one of the best teams, if not the best, teams in the NHL. I think it was good to see and it gives you some series hope going into the next level, wherever you’re picked. It’s not necessarily going to be the best team, in terms of standings, but it gets better.”
Nick Merkley has highly touted skill and, despite his size (5-foot-11, 191 pounds), he is expected to go mid first round.
His draft stock was certainly helped by his Memorial Cup performance, in which he scored three goals and added two assists for the Kelowna Rockets.
“I think the farther you go in playoffs, it helps a ton,” Merkley said. “Obviously, we didn’t come out on top but it helped me a lot.”
His skills in tight and on the rush were in full display during Kelowna’s WHL Championship run and their run to the Memorial Cup Final.
“Yeah, I think I’m a really skilled guy, obviously, that shows up in those big games and a really good competitor.”
9:30 AM - Karch Bachman, Anthony Beauvillier, Nicholas Boka, Jack Eichel, Noah Hanifin, Caleb Jones, Cooper Marody, Luke Opilka, Mikko Rantanen, Anthony Richard, Brendan Warren, Dennis Yan GROUP 5 INTERVIEWS
The 2nd-ranked North American skater, Jack Eichel, was impressed with the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo.
“It was a great week,” said Eichel. “I think it’s a great experience. I think it’s another piece of the season and it’s just another step towards the draft. I think Buffalo did a great job of putting on this event and hats off to the Sabres organization and everyone else involved.”
One of the questions media has been asking about is the lack of an on-ice component to the Combine.
“It’s tough to comment on that,” Eichel said. “If there was on-ice testing, I mean we play the game on ice so it makes sense. Pretty similar to the NFL combine, they do a lot of tests in terms of football relations so it wouldn’t surprise me if that was in the future but I’m pretty happy with the groups of tests they had for us this week.”
There is a good chance that Noah Hanifin will be the third-overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. If not, he’s at least firmly in the discussion. The draft’s top defenceman and NHL Central Scouting’s 3rd-ranked North American skater has seen a lot for a freshman in college.
He didn’t turn 18 until midway through the season, but the Boston College blueliner was excellent. Hanifin was able to adjust to life as a college player quickly due to the support of those around him.
“It was an adjustment at first, but my teammates and my coaching staff did a great job of making me feel comfortable,” said Hanifin. “Not for one second did I feel out of place. I felt very comfortable. Obviously, the hockey aspect and school was obviously an adjustment. It took some time getting used to but once I found my zone it was great. I felt I developed a lot, both as a person and a player.”
Hanifin finished the season with 23 points (5-18-23) in 37 games.
11:00 AM - MacKenzie Blackwood, Jeremy Bracco, Gabriel Carlsson, Thomas Chabot, Lawson Crouse, Erik Foley, Jordan Greenway, Anthony-John Greer, Travis Konecny, John Marino, Dylan Strome, Colin White GROUP 6 INTERVIEWS
NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American goaltender didn’t start playing the position until he was 12 years old. While most goaltenders begin up to five years prior to that, Mackenzie Blackwood got a late start.
“I was playing Single A as a defenceman and our goalie got hurt and quit and I was like, ‘yeah, I’ll throw them on, strap them on and try it out.’ Ever since then I just really enjoyed it so I just stuck with it ever since then,” said Blackwood.
The goaltender was surprised to see the final rankings when they came out and his name was on top.
“No, I didn’t expect for this to happen,” said Blackwood. “It’s kind of been like a dream come true for me and everything is happening so quickly. I’m just really fortunate to be where I am right now.”
While Blackwood says he began as more of a butterfly-style goaltender, he has evolved his game to take advantage of his size and athleticism. Blackwood is 6-foot-4, 215 pounds.
“As of lately, I’m more of an athletic goaltender,” he said. “I try to stay a little more patient on my feet and be a little more reactive, kind of react to pucks as they come and not just block and drop. I try to model myself after more of a Carey Price, Mike Smith (type). The kind of two pretty big guys who are pretty athletic and have all the tools. Those are the guys who I model after.”
The Oilers, who hold the 16th overall and 32nd overall picks in the draft, were one of the many teams to interview Blackwood at this weekend’s NHL Scouting Combine.
“I talked to quite a few teams at the (combine), pretty much most of them. I did talk to the Oilers. That was pretty cool,” said Blackwood. “They had all the coaches and stuff in there. That was just a really cool experience for me to talk to almost every NHL team at this combine and especially the Oilers, that was pretty cool too.”
It was a rough season for Colin White. The USNTDP centre suffered a wrist injury and a case of mononucleosis that cost him part of the season and set him back.
“A lot of adversity coming into this year,” said White. “Coming in at 190, I lost about 30 pounds this year so I was playing at a lighter weight. I tried to adjust my game a little bit, using my body not as much. I switched my role a little bit to shut down other teams’ best players throughout the year. We had Auston Matthews on our team and that was a great line. I definitely learned a lot from this year and next year, hopefully, will definitely bring more offence to my game again.”
But White still managed roughly a point per game with 17 (4-13-17) in 20 games with the U.S. National Development Team. White is NHL Central Scouting’s 29th-ranked North American skater ahead of the 2015 Draft. The two-way centre is committed to Boston College and is excited to take the next step.
“Definitely living on my own and being more responsible,” said White. “You’re not going to really get that experience anywhere else. Being able to be more responsible. With the facilities there, getting bigger and stronger. I think it’s a great fit for me personally.”
12:00 PM - Filip Ahl, Brandon Carlo, Christian Fischer, Dennis Gilbert, Denis Gurianov, Adin Hill, Kameron Kielly, Jens Looke, Adam Marsh, Adam Musil, Ryan Pilon, Evgeny Svechnikov GROUP 7 INTERVIEWS
Brandon Carlo is a big defenceman for the Tri-City Americans of the Western Hockey League. Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing in at close to 200 pounds, he is coming off a 25-point season (4-21-25) in 63 games.
He also represented the U.S. at the 2015 World Junior Championship.
“It was a great experience and huge honour for me to play on Team USA at World Juniors,” said Carlo. “I kind of came into those camps knowing my role as more of a stay-at-home defensive guy. I feel like there were a lot of offensively talented guys and I just took a step back and looked at that. I felt like that was my best opportunity to make the team. I had a really good experience throughout that whole tournament with those guys. I felt I played good and a good amount of minutes as well. Overall in Tri City, we struggled a little bit with scoring goals this year but I felt like I kind of stepped into a pretty good role there. I liked being a leader on that team and that was a lot of fun for me to be around those guys.”
Carlo, Central Scouting’s 25th-ranked North American skater, compares his game to that of a current NHL defenceman and a first-round pick in 2005.
“I like to look up to Marc Staal in New York,” said Carlo. “I feel like he’s a strong defensive guy, handles himself really well defensively. He jumps up in the play a little bit but I feel that’s kind of the New York style of play. Overall, I really like his game and try to emulate him.”
In his first season of North American hockey, Evgeny Svechnikov finished second among QMJHL rookies in scoring. The forward scored 32 goals and added 46 assists for 78 points in 55 games.
|Evgeny Svechnikov, Adin Hill, Christian Fischer, and Dennis Gilbert await their turns for testing during the NHL Combine at HarborCenter on June 6, 2015 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images) |
Svechnikov chose to come to North America and play for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in order to pursue his dreams of making the NHL one day.
“First of all, I just wanted to make my dream of playing in the NHL (come true),” said Svechnikov. “I think I’ve already played in Cape Breton one season and it’s my first step. I just want to keep going and just worry about what is in front of me. I just want to make my dream, that’s all I want here. That’s why I wanted to come here.”
Now one year in, Svechnikov is getting closer to that dream. He is NHL Central Scouting’s 17th-ranked North American skater and projects as a first-round pick.
The Oilers have shown interest in Svechnikov, interviewing him numerous times including again at this weekend’s NHL Scouting Combine.
“I spoke with them before the season and in the regular season too,” said Svechnikov. “It was just an amazing meeting with them. It was a great feeling there. Everybody was just listening to me, which was good. I like that. It was just nice questions and I answered them good too. It was just a good meeting.”
1:00 PM - Sebastien Aho, Gustav Bouramman, Alexander Dergachyov, Glenn Gawdin, Jansen Harkins, Roope Hintz, Nikita Korostelev, Robin Kovacs, Jacob Larsson, Tyler Soy, Matej Tomek, Iakov Trenin GROUP 8 INTERVIEWS
Jansen Harkins of the WHL’s Prince George Cougars doesn’t have to go too far for guidance. His father, and former NHL player, Todd Harkins is his team’s general manager.
“It’s cool,” Jansen said. “It’s a really unique situation. Not many people have their dad as their GM or part of their club team. Hopefully, as I can keep going forward in my career he can hopefully go up a couple levels as well. He’s done a great job this past year and we’ll see what happens in the future but it seems pretty bright.”
The younger Harkins had a nice season for Prince George, posting 79 points (20-59-79) in 70 games. His 59 assists are a single-season franchise record. He also represented Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and had six points (2-4-6) in five games.
“It was a bit of a whirlwind with lots going on this past season,” said Harkins. “I played the most hockey I ever have in my entire career. Kind of taking it one day at a time was a big part of my mindset going in and I think I did that pretty well. It was a special year for me and the organization, being under new ownership for the first year. Hopefully we carry that into the next year by making the post-season and making a run at the end of the season.”
Harkins is NHL Central Scouting’s 15th-ranked North American skater.
2:00 PM - Rasmus Andersson, Mathew Barzal, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Brendan Guhle, Connor Hobbs, Jesper Lindgren, Timo Meier, Julius Nattinen, Nathan Noel, Felix Sandstrom, Mathew Spencer, Austin WagnerGROUP 9 INTERVIEWS
At 6'1" and 209 pounds, Timo Meier is a big and physical winger who is coming off an impressive season with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL.
“I’m a power forward, skilled, I like to shoot the puck. I have a good shot and am physical,” the Swiss forward said after being asked about his playing style.
In his first season with the Mooseheads, Meier had 17 goals and 34 points in 66 games. He had a huge improvement this past campaign, netting 44 goals and 90 points in 61 games.
“I went back, after the first season and had my goals. I worked hard and wanted to be better. I think I did a pretty good job this season,” he said, when asked about his improvement.
Meier talked to 25 teams this week, noting that he got better at the interviews as they went on.
“It was great. In the beginning you’re a little bit nervous but after the first couple of interviews, it’s pretty much all the times are the same. Straight forward, and I think it was a great experience for me.”
He added that Marian Hossa and Rick Nash were two players that he really looked up to growing up.
Being a consensus top-10 pick, it’s unlikely that Mathew Banzal will fall to Edmonton’s 16th-overall selection, but if he did, he would already have some familiarity with the city after having played in the Brick Invitational Tournament at West Edmonton Mall.
“It was one of my favourite tournaments. We had a real good team,” Barzal began. “That was fun, being in Edmonton and playing at the Mall, which was great. I had a good experience there.”
Being the first-overall selection of the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, Barzal had a disappointing season that was shortened due to a knee injury that sidelined him for almost three months.
“It was a funny incident,” he said. “I was just horsing around in the dressing room and cut an edge or something and fell badly on my knee which resulted in being out a few months.”
Barzal turned a negative into a positive, however, as he had an outstanding U18 tournament as Canada’s leading scorer with three goals and 12 points in seven games.
“I was pretty proud of myself how I bounced back and played the rest of the season,” he continued. “I took it as another opportunity to showcase my talents and thought I did a pretty good job. Unfortunately we didn’t win Gold but we battled hard.”
As for comparables, the Burnaby native said that he follows Ryan Nugent-Hopkins but patterns his game after Flyers centre Claude Giroux.
“I’m a big Claude Giroux fan. I love the competitiveness he brings. Obviously, when I watch Ryan I like to watch his game. He’s a real creative player, real fast. I see some similarities there too.”
3:00 PM - Jake DeBrusk, Joel Eriksson Ek, Ryan Gropp, Keegan Kolesar, Olivier Kylington, Andrew Nielsen, Chaz Reddekopp, Deven Sideroff, Jonas SieganthalerGROUP 10 INTERVIEWS
Oliver Kylington can lean on a close friend for advice as he heads toward the next step in his hockey career, and that friend is very experienced.
Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Johnny Oduya and Kylington have been close for years, despite the age difference. They’re both from Sweden and their fathers know each other, which is how they met.
“He’s like a brother to me,” said Kylington. “I look up to him a lot. We talked yesterday. He shows me the way and how NHL life is and stuff like that. He’s a pretty good guy for me so I try to listen to every word he says.”
Throughout this pre-draft process, and although he has a Stanley Cup run to worry about, Oduya has given advice to Kylington, who is Central Scouting’s 6th-ranked International skater. Oduya wasn’t as highly touted when he was Kylington’s age, getting picked in the seventh round in 2001. But he still provides welcomed guidance.
“He wasn’t in my shoes when he was my age, but he just told me to enjoy it as much as I can,” said Kylington. “Of course, I think I’ll be nervous sitting there and waiting for my name to be picked but I can’t wait.”
Kylington is touted as possibly the best skating defenceman in the 2015 NHL Draft. That didn’t come from Oduya’s guidance, it came from years of hard work on top of some natural talent.
“Maybe a bit natural with my speed, but I think with the technique and stuff I had practiced that a lot when I was younger,” said Kylington. “We had a skating coach back home when I started so we did a lot of skating. We had a one-hour practice every day with 30 minutes of that one hour being only skating. I think from there I got my technique and I’ve been working a lot of track and field for my speed. Yeah, it goes hand in hand.”
Kylington spoke to 26 NHL teams at the Scouting Combine, including the Oilers.
“I think it went pretty good. I think everyone was pretty good with me. I didn’t have really hard questions to take. But it has been fun and I’m meeting new people and having meetings and stuff like that so it’s been going good.”
Jake DeBrusk scored 42 goals this season for the Swift Current Broncos. It has secured him a spot in the conversation to be a first-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.
Also, the way he scores goals is a positive for scouts. DeBrusk is not afraid to go to the net.
“I think I scored 90 or 95% of my goals from right in the crease, kind of rebounds or second chance goals,” DeBrusk said. “I’ve always had good hands. Just if you look at the game nowadays, I’ve been watching lots of hockey and just kind of analyzing it and that’s where the goals are scored; right in front of the net. Games are 2-1 and those goals can be big. I went there this past year and scored 42 so it’s been working out for me. I’ll just continually work on my game, especially around the net.”
DeBrusk is an Edmonton native and the son of former Oiler enforcer, turned Sportsnet hockey analyst, Louie DeBrusk. Of the many teams that interviewed him, the Oilers might have made him the most nervous.
“I had lots of interviews and they were kind of one of the ones in the middle of the day,” said DeBrusk. “I had a little bit of a break in between and I was just sitting down in those little chairs outside the booths. I didn’t start thinking about it and then it hit me pretty quick. I even had memories of their Stanley Cup run in ’06. I was just an Edmonton hometown boy getting nervous for sure. I felt like it went good. They asked me a couple hard questions, just kind of picking around but overall I thought it went good and I guess time will tell.”
DeBrusk is NHL Central Scouting’s 19th-ranked North American skater.