John Tavares of the London Knights works out on the first day of the 2009 NHL Combine. (Photo by Claus Andersen/NHLI via Getty Images)
Mississauga, Ont. - The NHL draft combine kicked into full gear Friday with the first day of physical testing. Among the big names being graded were potential top three picks John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene. But some of the biggest performances came from players who don't know when their names will be called in Montreal.
Specifically, several members of the U.S. National Team Development Program excelled, as did some American high schoolers who were tested early in the day. Chris Kreider (Andover prep), Mac Bennett (Hotchkiss prep) and Chris Brown (NTDP) were particularly impressive in the vertical leap challenge, where prospects knock a tall row of thin spines attached to a pole. Bennett was also awesome on the Wingate bike, one of the tougher challenges, where players essentially pedal all-out for 30 seconds straight.
Some of the big bench press winners of the day included Vancouver Giants star Evander Kane, Peterborough Petes power forward Zack Kassian and Minnesota Golden Gophers playmaker Jordan Schroeder. But in my unofficial tally, it was Ryan O'Reilly of the Erie Otters who did the most reps (17) overall.
Seth Helgeson, a bruising defenseman with Sioux City of the United States League, did well in both the vertical and the bench press. Tavares, still feeling soreness in his shoulder, did not participate in the bench press.
Duchene looked very sharp on the equilibrium test (in which players stand on a balancing apparatus), while Kane was positively Zen-like while powering through the trunk flexion (curl-ups) station.
But before any of the players got to the fitness stations, they had each gone through the wringer with any number of NHL teams in days past. While the actual interviews between teams and players are held behind closed doors, the THN team surveyed a wide array of prospects to get a sense of what a typical interview may consist of. Here's a peek:
Personal: Teams like to know where a player comes from, so there are always questions about family; what the parents do, if there are brothers and sisters (and what do they do) and what kind of personality the player has. Hobbies and other sports a prospect plays may also come up, while some were asked to explain what sacrifice and leadership meant to them.
On-ice: For some players, their destination next year is still a toss-up between major junior and NCAA, so that is often a question from teams. If a player is already in college, a team may ask him if he would be willing to leave school early, or switch to major junior. For Europeans, there are queries about North American culture shock. The draftees will also be asked about their own strengths and weaknesses on the ice and sometimes will be asked about specific games or plays. Stats are also in play; if a prospect didn't do well in the playoffs, for example, that will come up. Some teams will attack or ambush a player to see how well he reacts.
The Obama: Yes, the new American president is even big in NHL circles. Several different questions or exercises revolved around President Barack Obama. Some players were simply asked what they thought of him, while one team showed prospects a piece of paper featuring pictures of Obama, tennis bombshell Maria Sharapova and NHL agitator Sean Avery, then asked who the players would like to have dinner with. Other players were simply asked which celebrity, living or dead, they would like to have dinner with and Obama was once again an answer.
Stumpers: Teams like to keep kids on their toes, so they'll often throw curveballs. One player was asked how his wife was doing, even though he didn't have one. Though that was meant to break the ice, another rapid-fire question caught prospects off-guard: Who is our head coach? Seems easy enough until you think about how many teams a player may have seen that day. Other favorites include the old chestnut, “if you could take a pill that would make you the leading scorer in the NHL and the playoff MVP, but you would die in 10 years, would you take it?”
Some players were asked if they had drinking problems, if they were scared to drop the gloves in a game or, in the spirit of fun, if they could demonstrate a goal celebration for the panel.
Interviews per player ranged from a handful of teams up to 28 different franchises. The consensus among those surveyed was that Boston and Columbus were the most intimidating – Boston because of rapid-fire questions from all sides of the table, plus the presence of Cam Neely; and Columbus because they had as many as 15 people in the room (the average team would be four to six). As for most comforting teams, the answers were spread out, but Florida received multiple votes.
I'll be filing more draft combine goodies early next week, so stay tuned.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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