At its core, the NHL Scouting Combine is really nothing more than a week-long test. For the better part of it, prospects are tested mentally, sitting down for up to 30 high-stake job interviews in a matter of five days. They're then tested physically to the point of exhaustion. Not once, but twice.
Yet for all its rigors, Kieffer Bellows was sure not to take a moment of his Combine week for granted. His father's advice lingered on his mind: It was an experience he'd only have once. Soon it will be Draft day, and then it's off to school. Bellows wants to absorb the moments as they pass.
Certainty is a rare thing to come by when it comes to the drafting process, and yet Bellows has the comfort of knowing that – if all goes according to plan – he's experiencing the process with four of his future teammates. All are expected to play at Boston University, the same program that produced Jack Eichel one year ago.
Bellows, along with fellow forwards Clayton Keller and defensemen Dante Fabbro and Chad Krys, have all committed to BU for their freshman seasons in 2016-17. Defenseman Charlie McAvoy, another Draft-eligible prospect, just concluded a tremendous freshman season with the Terriers and, barring an early jump to the NHL, will return as a sophomore next year.
Having those future teammates around – as well as a number of past teammates from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. – has eased the transition into the Draft for Bellows.
"It's made the whole process a lot easier," he said at the Combine. "Most of the guys from my team are here and a lot of guys I'll be going to school with next year are here. It's just a comfort factor when you're going to work out or you're going to breakfast or something. It's really exciting and I'm very fortunate to have them here."
Keller actually fits into both categories, a teammate of Bellows' with the USNTDP and a fellow commit to BU – at least for now. Keller describes himself at "99-percent committed" to becoming a Terrier, but he also hasn’t completely shut the door on the possibility of joining the Windsor Spitfires, the Ontario Hockey League team that drafted him in 2014.
Keller and Bellows are best friends off the ice, which one would think might nudge Keller all the way toward BU. The problem is that they're also both friends with fellow Draft-eligible prospect Logan Brown, who will play for Windsor next year and has known Keller since he was seven years old.
So, what's the tiebreaker? Perhaps it'll be a talk from Eichel, who already took the route from Ann Arbor to Boston and then to a dynamic rookie season in the NHL. He met with the USNDTP after a game last year and his conversation with Keller made an impact.
"I kind of just sat down with him and talked about BU and he just explained how much he loved it and how much he respects [Terriers coach David Quinn]," Keller said. "I think that really put a mark in my mind of where I want to go and I think that motivated me a little bit."
McAvoy, with a year of experience already under his belt, has done his share of recruiting too.
"I'm friendly with all the guys that are coming in," he said. "I've been talking to Keller a little bit, trying to persuade him one way. I think that he wants to be a Terrier and he's told me that but at the end of the day he's going to go with what he thinks is his best path to make it to the NHL."
Meanwhile, McAvoy has also received his share of advice from Eichel, who he knows from his own time at Ann Arbor (he was on the under-17 team while Eichel was on the under-18 team) and has spent time with at BU this summer.
"I was talking to him a few days ago before all the testing went down and he sent me best wishes," he said. "He told me to just do my best, to work as hard as I can, and he kind of gave me a heads up on Buffalo. He said [Sabres General Manager Tim Murray] can be an intimidating guy but to just be yourself and it will all work out for the best."