Draft Watch ’09: Part One – The NHL Combine


    Alright, here we go! As the scouting world shifts its gaze to the NHL Combine, which kicks off today in Toronto, this will signal the beginning of the home stretch for this year’s crop of draft hopefuls. The draft itself may be just two days long, but the process and preparation for it will include hundreds upon hundreds of viewing hours for the scouts, and months of training for the players.

    The Combine is organized by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service, and invites the top 100 names on its list to Toronto where these players are given one last opportunity to make a lasting impression on the NHL GM’s. The process includes a variety of grueling physical tests, as well as intense one-on-one interviews

    The Combine can tell GM’s and scouts a whole lot of different things. It can give them a general idea of a player’s work ethic, how much time and effort they’ve put in to prepare for this event. The extensive medical tests may also alert scouts of possible anatomical issues that might lead to injury concerns down the road; this is especially important with groin issues as they can be potentially detrimental and nagging throughout a player’s career.

    As for the interviews, it allows management the opportunity to follow up on questions about a player’s past, character, and personal makeup off the ice. Does he get along well with teammates and coaches? Why did he choose to play in the league he did? What does he think his strengths/weaknesses are and does he have the drive to improve? Are there any potential red flags to be aware of? Sometimes some of the biggest “signs” aren’t the numbers or the interview answers themselves, but rather the little subtleties to be picked up, that matter the most. Watching how a player interacts with his peers at the Combine and watching him urge on a complete stranger during the physical tests for example, might signal the potential for future leadership ability down the road. Here’s another strange little concept: Puke is good. Even if a player might not have achieved the results that they were hoping for, puke will tell scouts that a player has pushed himself to the limit.

    Sometimes it’s even what a player DOESN’T do that can serve as an important indicator of character. Does a highly ranked player give the courtesy of accepting interviews from teams lower in the draft order? The process of scouting is hardly an exact science, and it’s understanding all of the amount of work and consideration that goes into the minute or so that it takes to announce a pick, that really allows you to gain a deeper appreciation of the draft and development process.

    TSN has a blog up with details about this year’s Combine, and here are some notable quotes that may pertain to the Leafs and the seventh overall draft position:

    -2:25 pm et – Some of the big boys were in this group and there were some big men on hand to watch. NHLPA agent Pat Brisson, Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, Leafs‘ Senior VP of Hockey Operations Dave Nonis, Leafs‘ Senior Advisor Cliff Fletcher, Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson and Panthers GM Jacques Martin are all in attendance.

    -Possible #1 selection and OHL leading scorer John Tavares did not do upper-body exercises at all, leading to speculation that he has an upper-body injury. He did do 46 sit-ups, which is one of the highest totals seen on the day. Tavares is fit but there’s obviously something going on – possibly a shoulder injury – as he did not do push-ups or the bench press.  Tavares did do cycling and is looking good.

    -Evander Kane (#3) had an excellent workout.  He had 17 bench presses, which ties the unofficial high for the day.  Kane also did 47 push-ups, which seems to be far and away the best so far.  In general, the 17-year-old looks like he’s in really good shape. Kane has lots of room to grow but was certainly ready for this judging by his workout.

    -Zack Kassian (#10) did an impressive 16 lifts on the bench.

    3:24 pm et – Schenn came in and did the same thing as Tavares, skipping the upper-body exercises and leaving onlookers to speculate that he may have an upper-body/shoulder injury.

    -Highly-touted centre Matt Duchene (#2)  looked relatively solid but he will need to get much stronger. The 18-year-old’s body also needs to mature a little more for him to be an NHLer.

    -No. 1-ranked European Victor Hedman is huge, measuring in at close to 6’7. Jared Cowen (#9 overall, according to NHL Central Scouting) is 6’5. Obviously both players have long limbs which enabled them to have good all-around workouts.

    Alex’s note: And one of my favorite prospects…

    -39th-ranked Ryan O’Reilly had a fantastic workout, excelling in everything – he had a good vertical, he was solid on the bike, great on the bench press and seems overall to have more of a mature body than most of the other players in attendance. He is physically stronger than the vast majority of players that have been seen already.

    Some parting notes:

    Last year, Zach Bogosian and Colin Wilson blew away their competition with fantastic results at the combine and reaped the rewards of being the 4th and 7th overall selections respectively. Back in 2006, Jordin Staal was a bit of a surprise pick at 2nd overall to Pittsburgh and Phil Kessel took a tumble to 5th overall, both based on their workouts and interviews in Toronto.

    This is just Part One of an exciting series of feature articles on the upcoming June Draft here on MLHS.

    Always a pleasure,

    Alex Tran

    [email protected]