Although their seasons ended weeks ago, Pittsburgh-area prospects John Gibson (Baldwin), Brandon Saad (Gibsonia), J.T. Miller (Coraopolis/E. Palestine, OH) and Vince Trocheck (Upper St. Clair) still have plenty of work to do before the draft.
All four players are among the 102 best draft-eligible players from North America and Europe that have been invited to the NHL Scouting Combine, which begins today and goes through June 4 in Toronto, Ontario.
The event gives all 30 NHL clubs a chance to meet and evaluate the prospects less than a month before the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, set for June 24-25 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
What’s unique about the event is that it does not contain any on-ice activity. Instead, the teams in attendance will be given the opportunity to meet with as many of the prospects as they wish for 20-minute individual interviews; review medical reports by independent doctors of York University in Toronto; and evaluate the players as they go through a series of rigorous physical fitness tests.
“I think it’s going to be a special time,” Miller said. “To be able to talk to all of the teams up there and with these grueling exercises, I think it's going to be something I’ll remember for a long time.”
The Combine alone usually doesn’t ultimately determine where a player is drafted, but it is a helpful tool.
“It’s a situation where (the Combine) is just another piece of the puzzle,” said Penguins assistant general manager Jason Botterill.
“Our scouts have been watching these players for the last couple of years,” he continued. “We’ve done our due diligence. It’s just trying to get a little bit more information that can help you make a decision (on who to draft), because it is a very difficult decision for our amateur staff.”
Representing the Penguins in Toronto will be Dan McKinnon, director of player personnel; Jay Heinbuck, director of amateur scouting; Randy Sexton, assistant director of amateur scouting; and Mike Kadar, strength and conditioning coach.
The Combine is mainly a chance for these members of the Penguins front office to meet the players that the team’s regional scouts have already compiled a plethora of information on – from the type of character they have to how they interact with their teammates, billet families and teachers.
“You get to know them a little bit and just to have a feel for the player,” Botterill said. “Obviously we’ve watched the player throughout the year quite a bit. It is an important element of it, but it’s also a situation where it is a 20-minute interview. You can’t deduct too much from it. … (Our regional scouts) have done most of the work already, so this is a situation where we are just sort of getting a little more understanding of the player at a higher level.”
With the Penguins drafting later in the first round of this summer’s draft – holding the 23rd overall selection – Botterill did say that this year’s Combine may take on slightly more significance than it would if Pittsburgh held a top-10 pick.
“The bottom line is that you have to have players in the salary cap era coming through your system, and the Combine is an important part of evaluating players and making the decision of who we want to add to our organization,” Botterill said.
But while it’s important for the NHL teams to get the opportunity to meet with as many prospects as they wish, it’s even more important to the players to leave the best impression they possibly can leading up to the draft.
“I think it’s very significant,” Saad said. “You do the things you can on the ice. Now with the season being over, it’s one last impression to interview with teams, to be more personable and meet them, and then with the physical testing there, too.”
It’s certainly going to be a grueling week both mentally and physically for the players in attendance.
But Gibson, Saad, Miller and Trocheck all agreed that looking back, it’ll be another memorable aspect of the entire draft experience and getting closer to their dreams of playing in the NHL.
“It’s definitely going to be hard and tiring,” Gibson said. “But at the end, when you look back on it, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”