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SATURDAY'S FITNESS TESTING & INTERVIEWS
*** ALL TIMES MOUNTAIN ***
5:30 AM - Filip Chytil, Aleksi Heponiemi, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, Eeli Tolvanen, David Farrance, Henri Jokiharju, Ostap Safin, UrhoVaakanainen, Miro Heiskanen, Kasper Kotkansalo, Robin Salo, Kristian Vesalainen
Big Finnish winger Kristian Vesalainen is honest about his 2016-17 campaign.
"It wasn't the best season for me," he said.
Vesalainen's offensive numbers dipped this season and he split time between Sweden and Finland. However, Central Scouting's seventh-ranked European skater showed why he is a top prospect in the upcoming draft when he was the MVP of the U-18 World Junior Championship.
"I think I played pretty bad almost the whole season, but I had a good ending in the Under-18 tournament so it was a good ending for me," Vesalainen said.
The winger scored six goals and added seven assists in seven tournament games. That performance puts him firmly in the crosshairs of teams in the first round.
Vesalainen is a big, strong forward who says his skating skills are among his better qualities and he's best when the puck is on his tape.
He spoke with 30 teams at the Scouting Combine in Buffalo.
Miro Heiskanen is hoping to be one of if not the top defenceman off the board come the first round of the draft later this month. NHL Central Scouting's fourth-ranked European skater is among the top prospects participating in the Scouting Combine.
28 teams spoke with Heiskanen this week.
"I think it was really tough testing and a tough week because of all those interviews and now this testing. It was a really tough week," said Heiskanen.
The blueliner says skating and puck moving are his best traits, but he'd like to get stronger heading into the season.
In addition to his CSS raking, Heiskanen is ranked as Future Considerations' third-best prospect and is fifth on International Scouting Service's board.
6:30 AM - Shane Bowers, Cale Makar, Nikita Popugaev, Dmitri Samorukov, Pavel Koltygin, Martin Necas, Eemeli Rasanen, Juuso Valimaki, Alexei Lipanov, Keith Petruzzelli, Adam Ruzicka, Maksim Zhukov
For Alberta-born Cale Makar, it's all about the road less traveled.
Video: COMBINE | Cale Makar
Makar chose the AJHL for his development and played for the Brooks Bandits, where the defenceman had 75 points in 54 games this season.
His next step will be to attend UMass Amherst to pursue his collegiate career.
"I think at the time, when I was choosing between the NCAA and the WHL, it was an easy decision once I found out about the NCAA," said the Calgary native. "I was a smaller guy at the time and I just really wanted to develop the mental toughness and get stronger with my game off the ice. I think going to college, the less games and more time off ice is going to be crucial to my development."
Development is the buzzword for Makar. The blueliner has crafted all of his career moves based around personal development, including his decision to stick with UMass Amherst.
"They were one of the first colleges to approach me when I was up for 20 games with Brooks… and they just kind of kept the relationship," said Makar. "I really liked the coaches at the time, they were very personable and I thought it would be a great place for me. I wanted to be in Hockey East because I know it's a competitive all-star conference. Even with the coaching change that happened, I want to stay loyal and I think I made the right decision sticking there because (Greg) Carvel, (Ben) Barr and (Jared) DeMichiel I think will be absolutely phenomenal for my development."
Makar is NHL Central Scouting's ninth-ranked North American skater.
Juuso Valimaki sits in the 11-spot of Central Scouting's North American skaters list. The Finnish-born defender stands at 6-foot-2 and 204 pounds.
Valimaki made the decision to take his talents to Tri City in the Western Hockey League in 2015-16. He followed up that rookie campaign with a breakout 2016-17, scoring 19 goals and adding 42 assists.
"Obviously, at the start (coming to North America) was a little tough to leave my family and leave my home country and all that stuff. But I've really enjoyed my time in Tri City," he said. "They're a great organization and I had great teammates and they helped me a lot. I really enjoyed it and it wasn't that tough after all."
The puck-moving blueliner can move well for his size, but he would like to improve his skating moving forward.
"I think my best assets as a player are my hockey IQ, my compete level, work ethic and that kind of stuff," Valimaki said. "I can still improve my feet. I can be a lot quicker and I can improve my turns and my pivots. I can improve my gaps as well. Skating is the biggest thing for me."
Valimaki spoke with 29 teams at the Combine.
Shane Bowers is Central Scouting's 16th-ranked North American skater. The Halifax native is set to make the jump to the collegiate ranks next season for Boston University.
This comes after a successful 2016-17 for the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL. Bowers had 51 points in 60 games for his club.
"I think I'm a complete two-way forward," said Bowers. "I think my skating and my hockey IQ are my biggest strengths. I play in all three zones and that's something I pride myself on."
Faceoffs is an area Bowers prides himself in, having been lauded for his ability in the dot. Even still, he has room to grow.
"As you move up in the higher levels, guys are going to keep getting bigger and stronger," he said. "Possession becomes a bigger part, so the more draws you can win the better chance your team has of winning. I can always get better at something, you can always get better at everything, so that's a big thing for me."
Bowers is one of the 80-plus players the Oilers interviewed this week.
"It went real smooth I thought," Bowers said of the meeting. "They welcomed me, made me feel comfortable, I left and felt pretty confident it went well. We'll just have to wait and see come (late) June."
7:30 AM - Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Michael Dipietro, D'artagnan Joly, Jacob Paquette, Josh Brook, Nico Hischier, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Michael Rasmussen, Antoine Crete-Belzile, Kale Howarth, Ian Mitchell, Lane Zablocki
One of the questions defenceman Pierre-Olivier Joseph was asked several times in the scout interviews was 'how are you going to put on weight?'
The blueliner from the QMJHL is ranked by NHL Central Scouting as their 27th North American skater. At 6-foot-0 and 160 pounds, scouts would like to see more meat on his bones.
"I know I have to gain a lot of weight and pounds on my bones, but I know I have to be patient," said Joseph.
The young defender knows he's still growing into his body and the size will come with time.
"I can't force anything, even if I eat as much as I can. I'm still growing, I think. Obviously, we're pretty young guys here so patience is the word."
Joseph had a 39-point season in 62 games for the Charlottetown Islanders this year. He's touted as a very smart and talented puck-mover.
Video: COMBINE | Lane Zablocki
Lane Zablocki was traded midway through the 2016-17 season, and it might have done him some good. With only nine goals in 33 games for the Regina Pats to start the year, Zablocki was moved to the Red Deer Rebels where he flourished.
The right winger from Wetaskiwin, AB potted 19 goals and added 10 assists in 31 games for Red Deer.
"I was very shocked when I got traded there but I went to Red Deer with a clean slate and a fresh start and I think it went really well," Zablocki said. "I got lots of opportunity on the power play and penalty kill. I got put in key situations like up a goal with a minute left or down a goal with a minute left and it helped me mature and develop as a player."
In addition to putting up some points, Zablocki has earned the reputation of being an agitator.
"I've always been that kind of player," he said. "I think being a pest and getting under people's skin has always been a part of my game and I don't think I'll be changing that anytime soon. "
Zablocki is NHL Central Scouting's 52nd-ranked North American skater.
8:30 AM - Maxime Comtois, Morgan Greekie, Nolan Patrick, Jack Studnicka, Cale Fleury, Cody Glass, Ian Scott, Joel Teasdale, Callan Foote, Antoine Morand, Mason Shaw, Kailer Yamamoto
Kailer Yamamoto is quite the talent. He's also one of those undersized forwards coming up hoping to make an impact on a league that maybe didn't have a path for that type of player in the past.
Video: COMBINE | Kailer Yamamoto
"I think the game is changing with a lot more speed," said Yamamoto. "Smaller guys are coming into the League a lot more. But I still think I need to prove myself every game. I can't take any off nights. I've got to come prepared every game and give it all I've got."
Yamamoto put up superb numbers for the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL this season, scoring 42 goals and adding 57 assists for 99 points.
The 5-foot-8 right winger is Central Scouting's 17th-ranked North American skater.
Callan Foote, son of long-time Colorado Avalanche defenceman Adam Foote, is one of the top defensive prospects in the 2017 NHL Draft. He can rely on the wisdom and experience of his father to help him through the draft process.
"Ever since he retired he was able to coach my brother and I so he's been nothing but a great help for both of us," said Foote. "For things like this, he just wants me to enjoy it. It only happens once so just go out, try your best and have fun."
Foote is coming off a 57-point season for the Kelowna Rockets, and finished the year as NHL Central Scouting's 12th-ranked North American skater.
9:30 AM - Cameron Crotty, Kole Lind, Jack Rathbone, Jarret Tyszka, Nick Henry, Benjamin Mirageas, Stuart Skinner, Gabriel Vilardi, Jake Leschyshyn, Jake Oettinger, Conor Timmins, Reilly Walsh
Video: COMBINE | Kole Lind
2017 NHL Draft prospect Kole Lind had a great 2016-17 for the Kelowna Rockets, potting 30 goals and adding 57 assists for 87 points in 70 games.
"I'm definitely more of an offensive guy… I'm a goal-scorer and a playmaker. I think I'm kind of between the two. I can do either," said Lind.
Lind can put the biscuit in the basket but it was his defensive game he worked on this season. Rockets Head Coach Jason Smith had a lot to do with that, said Lind.
"This year, Jason Smith actually helped me a lot with my 200-foot game and he definitely helped me try to create myself into the best pro athlete I can be," Lind said.
Smith, a former Oilers captain and veteran of more than 1,000 NHL games, is the kind of person young prospects can listen to and respect.
"He knows what it takes to be a pro," said Lind. "He played in the League and he was a captain. He played over a 1,000 games and he was a coach too so he knows what it's like from both perspectives. He knows the best way to teach us and you definitely listen to what he has to say."
Our Sport Chek Panel wraps up coverage from Day 2 of the NHL Scouting Combine