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Combine final piece of draft puzzle

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Goaltender Robin Lehner justified the Senators' faith in him with a standout season with the Ontario Hockey League's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He is now considered the organization's top goaltending prospect (Photo courtesy of Soo Greyhounds).

Truth be told, it was intended as anything but a slap in the face.

But it sure got Robin Lehner's competitive juices flowing — and rather quickly, it must be said — in a way that pretty much ensured the Ottawa Senators had to make the young Swedish goaltender an important part of their future.

"I haven't seen you win a lot of games," Senators chief scout Pierre Dorion said in testing the psyche of the teenage stopper a year ago during an interview session at the National Hockey League's annual scouting combine in Toronto.

"You must have been at the wrong games," the 18-year-old Lehner shot back, with fire no doubt burning in his eyes. "Because I won a lot of games."

About a month later at the Bell Centre in Montreal, the Senators made Lehner a second-round pick (46th overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He's now considered the top goaltending prospect in the organization after a full season with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (Lehner finished the campaign with the Senators' top prospects in Binghamton, N.Y.).

While Lehner had captured the attention of the Senators' scouting staff long before the combine, Dorion saw exactly what he wanted during that brief interview exchange. This was a goaltender that clearly couldn't stomach the thought of being on the wrong end of the final score.

"The way (Lehner) answered and the passion he showed told me he was a high character kid," said Dorion, now the Senators' director of player personnel. "I wouldn't say I did it on purpose but with goalies, you have to find out about their mental toughness and we could see Robin was a high-character kid and had mental toughness on top of being a good talent."

The interview process is considered perhaps one of the most important aspects of the scouting combine. More than 100 top prospects will attend the 2010 version of the event
May 24-29 at the Westin Bristol Place in the shadow of Pearson airport in Toronto. It's the last chance for them to impress NHL team personnel before the annual entry draft is held June 25-26 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

With their final draft list in place, the Senators figure to keep an eye on the players they feel might be available to them at some point in the draft. Dorion handles the one-on-one interviews, while director of player development Randy Lee and strength and conditioning coach Chris Schwarz keep tabs on the fitness testing that concludes the combine.

Dorion will likely interview about 50 of the prospects, checking their hockey and personal background. Simply put, it's a 'getting to know you' kind of session.

"Everyone is really coached by their agent," he said. "So the one thing we try to do is not go with specific questions. There’s always the standard questions, like who’s your favourite hockey player or who’s your favourite hockey team. But some kids that we feel are a bit more important, we’ll just try to have a conversation to get to know the kid better instead of just asking questions."

"Everyone is really coached by their agent. So the one thing we try to do is not go with specific questions. There’s always the standard questions, like who’s your favourite hockey player or who’s your favourite hockey team. But some kids that we feel are a bit more important, we’ll just try to have a conversation to get to know the kid better instead of just asking questions." - Pierre Dorion
The biggest concern is unearthing a potential skeleton in the closet, so to speak, that might impact a player's development down the road. Indeed, that might be the one thing that can affect a prospect's draft status at the combine.

"It can raise a red flag here and there," said Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray. "I don’t think it can raise someone’s stock very much. So you’re going down there, you’re interviewing guys, you’re watching the workouts, the testing, and everything is going to go as planned.

"These guys are well coached by their agents, so it’s not (about) the positive. You’re probably looking for that one huge negative and then you have to discuss it and interview him again. Maybe you drop him or maybe you don’t."

Added Dorion: "If you hear about a kid breaking curfew or getting into trouble off the ice, you might pursue that angle a little bit. But most of the time, with hockey players, most of them know what it takes and are planning to be good people down the road. We don’t foresee that type of problem."

By the end of the combine, he said, the Sens' draft picture is usually "very clear."

"We'll bring in a few kids here to Ottawa (before the draft), just because we're making that type of big investment," said Dorion. "Then we'll go from there."


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