The NHL draft combine has become a huge event for the league and the media, but with teams holding their own workout camps and sometimes putting together their lists of favored prospects before the event even begins, how much can still be learned at the annual dog and pony show?
According to one scout, it's all about preparation, but with the proviso that some kids should be prepared better than others. For example, a player who grew up in a major Canadian market such as Toronto or Calgary and played major junior should have a firm handle on everything that is going to happen – they've likely seen the event on TV and certainly had a teammate or two go through the process before. So to show up unprepared in that scenario is a big black mark.
Defenseman Eric Roy plays for the Western League's Brandon Wheat Kings and got advice from a Wheaties alum.
“I saw Brayden Schenn at the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon and he told me what to expect,” Roy said. “He really helped a lot; told me how to dress, to do my hair, look professional. I've been in Brandon the past two months with (teammate and fellow draft eligible blueliner) Ryan Pulock doing the same workouts. It was tough, but I battled.”
For other players, there will be more leeway. Providence College commit Anthony Florentino attended South Kent prep school in Connecticut this season, playing for the school-affiliated Selects Academy team.
“At school it was tough because they didn't have certain equipment,” Florentino said. “But my trainer sent me a workout list with everything I could do to prepare.”
Florentino was gym buddies with teammate Shane Starrett, a draft-eligible goalie committed to Boston University. Bike sprints and two-a-days were part of the routine and Florentino didn't look out of place physically at the combine – though there were overwhelming parts of the week.
“I knew about the exercises,” he said. “But with the media and all the other stuff I had no idea.”
And when your dad had a long and famous NHL career, the people you can lean on for advice can be elite themselves.
“It's a blessing to hang around guys like Mats Sundin and Mario Lemieux and ask them questions,” said Max Domi, whose father Tie was a long-time Toronto Maple Leaf.
Speaking with one NHL exec, it seems like this year is particularly good for character kids. The interview process hasn't yielded many duds and coming into the combine, it was already clear that this was going to be a deep year for the draft. As for what teams get from the physical fitness tests themselves, effort is always seen as a much better indicator of future success than actual bench press or push-up numbers. That's especially true because the final totals can be deceiving. The bench press has a specific format and players can get cut off if they don't follow that protocol. Bouncing the barbell off your chest, for example, is a no-no, but something that can occur by accident – it's a fine line. Similarly, push-ups are regimented by a beep, so even the most beastly of teens can only do 25 per minute even if he was capable of twice that number.
“Fifteen years ago, scouts surrounded the bench press,” said Phoenix GM Don Maloney. “Now it's (practically) archaic.”
• Interesting to hear which players are highly regarded by their peers. Sean Monahan said Warren Rychel was his toughest opponent this year among draft-eligibles, while goalie Cal Petersen said Fargo's Brendan Harms was the most dangerous offensive foe among USHL competition.
• The big story of the day was who didn't work out. The big three of Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin plus Max Domi of London passed on the tests due to heavy travel schedules since the Memorial Cup. Something tells me it won't hurt their stock, though...
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy.
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