TORONTO – Edmonton and Carolina may be in the Stanley Cup Finals, but Toronto was the epicenter of the hockey world for two-straight days.
The NHL Draft Combine concluded Saturday at the Park Plaza Toronto Airport Hotel. It marked the final full day of an intense two-day flurry of activity.
Run by the NHL Central Scouting department, the event welcomed the world’s top 115 draft-eligible prospects from throughout the world to Toronto. The prospects were put through various physical tests in the hotel’s ballroom throughout Friday and Saturday. Prior to the physical testing sessions, the players went through individual medical exams. The prospects also interviewed with scouts and officials from various NHL clubs throughout the past couple days.
“This event certainly provides the teams with a chance to see these guys off the ice,” said Brandon Pridham, Manager of Central Scouting. “A big part of it is the interviews that go along with the fitness testing. The teams will meet with these guys one-on-one and have their strength and conditioning coaches down here watching them, while the teams are up in their rooms with their psychologists talking to other players and seeing what they are like off the ice. Everybody sees them with their equipment on all year and this provides them with a really good chance to see them without it. So, it’s very valuable for them.”
The players were weighed and measured and put through a battery of unique tests to determine strength and endurance levels. Players performed arm and upper-body strength tests, sit ups and bench press as well as a vertical leap test. In addition, players had to ride stationary bikes for anaerobic and aerobic testing.
“It gives us the opportunity to see the guys from a different perspective. When you’re going through a draft, you want to cover every base,” said Penguins strength and conditioning coach Stephane Dube, who was busy throughout the event jotting down notes in a portfolio. “That’s one of the reasons why I am here – to give the scouts what my thoughts are on different guys that we think could make it physically, the potential these guys have to make it to the NHL in the near future.”
While all teams were provided test results on each player, team officials were welcome to jot down their own observations while watching the prospects perform the tests.
“We’re looking at general performance. Yes, we’re looking at the numbers they are giving, but also the way the guys are handling themselves through all the testing and how they want to compete because the winning edge is not only on the ice,” Dube said. “We’re looking to see if guys going through the testing want to be the best they can be. We’re also looking at the physique they have and if they can get stronger and all those little details that give us information about what type of player they are going to be in four or five years from now.”
Once geared toward just the teams, the NHL wants its NHL Draft Combine, now in its 12th year, to become a bigger event.
“We’re really trying to grow what we have. Reebok is involved this year and the sponsorship side of it is really trying to grow,” Pridham said. “We’re really hoping to grow it into a bigger event in the coming years, that’s for sure.
“I think it definitely could. Not that it would get to the level of an NFL combine, but it certainly could be a similar situation where we have a good chance to promote these prospects before they make it to the NHL level. The teams like it and it’s a good experience for the players, for sure. They are a little nervous coming in, but they enjoy it.”
The NHL is constantly looking for ways to improve the event as well – to make it bigger, better and more effective for the teams.
“It’s really good. It gives you the chance to see a lot of players in a few days. It’s also good for the strength coaches because we had our meetings [with the NHL] and talked about what we’re going to do to improve the combine and how we can improve the testing and all those little details that help us do a better job,” Dube said. “The league is really open to how we can make this event even better. It’s really fun for us because they are open-minded and want to improve.”
The prospects at the Combine represent the NHL Central Scouting department’s top-rated 70 skaters and nine goaltenders from North American leagues and the projected top 36 European skaters and goaltenders.
PittsburghPenguins.com had the chance to interview four of the top draft prospects: Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews and Phil Kessel. Check back frequently for feature stories and video pieces that will appear in the weeks leading up to the June 24 NHL Entry Draft.
Johnson, who played for the United States National Under-18 team, is the top-rated North American player in the NHL Central Scouting’s mid-season rankings. Staal is the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes star Eric Staal. Their brother, Marc, was drafted by the Rangers in 2005. Toews (North Dakota) and Kessel (Minnesota) are two NCAA Division-I stars and had success on the international level for Canada and the United States, respectively.
The Pittsburgh Penguins own the second-overall pick for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft, which will take place at General Motors Place in Vancouver on June 24 at 6 p.m. It will be televised in the United States on OLN.