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Interviews Key to Combine

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

Being a hockey player is much different than working a normal 9-5 job.

You’d think that having a career as a professional athlete would mean getting to avoid one of the most nerve-racking situations that individuals in other occupations have to face: job interviews. But that’s not the case. At least, not this week. Not for the 105 top draft-eligible prospects.

Those young men are currently in Toronto for the 2012 NHL Scouting Combine, which began Monday and will run through Saturday. It’s an event that gives all 30 NHL clubs a chance to meet and evaluate the players less than a month before the 2012 NHL Draft, set for June 22-23 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

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 sit down with as many of the prospects as they wish for approximately 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.

And for the Penguins staff, the interviews are the most important part of the whole experience.

“The main thing that goes on at the Combine is the interview process,” said Penguins assistant general manger Jason Botterill. “You have a 20-minute interview with the kids that you select, and it’s just a situation where you get to know the kids a little bit better. Our regional scouts will have already met most of the kids, but here’s an opportunity for sort of our head guys to meet a lot of the higher-end guys.”

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, Mike Bales, goaltender development coach, and Joe Lorincz, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton strength and conditioning coach.

The Combine is mainly a chance for these members of the Penguins front office to build rapports with 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 have a feel for the player,” Botterill said. “(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.”

The Combine alone usually doesn’t ultimately determine where a player is drafted, but it’s certainly a helpful tool.

“It’s a situation where (the Combine) is just another piece of the puzzle,” Botterill said.

“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.

“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.”

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