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The Straight Edge: Ups and downs of the NHL Scouting Combine

There was lots of attention around Tyler Seguin at Day 1 of the draft combine in Toronto (Photo by Jamie Hodgson/The Hockey News)

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There was lots of attention around Tyler Seguin at Day 1 of the draft combine in Toronto (Photo by Jamie Hodgson/The Hockey News)

The debate between Taylor or Tyler may have become a foregone conclusion at the Memorial Cup, but the intrigue is not officially dead.

That's because Windsor's Taylor Hall and Plymouth's Tyler Seguin had vastly different draft combines in Toronto Friday.

Hall, recovering from what Central Scouting head E.J. McGuire characterized as “bumps and bruises from the Memorial Cup,” did not participate in any of the main physical tests.

Hall's competition for the No. 1 spot, Tyler Seguin, meanwhile went through the whole battery, showing off an impressive physique and charisma in his post-workout press scrum. Seguin, Central Scouting's No. 1, displayed some impressive guns at the combine. Despite weighing 186 pounds, his biceps were noticeably defined. Other players who impressed included U.S. NTDP defenseman Jon Merrill, who has a long, strong frame, and Russian right winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who is, frankly, built like a Soviet tank.

Speaking of Russians, if there was one player who vaulted himself back into the spotlight, it was Kirill Kabanov. A top-end talent who has run into trouble at every turn this year, the chatty left winger held court in the press room for a long time, answering all questions about his controversial decision to leave the Quebec League's Moncton Wildcats at a crucial juncture late in the season, only to be booted off Russia's under-18 team before the tournament even started.

“It was my mistake,” Kabanov admitted when asked about Moncton. “I was stupid and I recognize that now.”

The Russian teen said he was not happy with his ice time, but credited Wildcats coach Danny Flynn as being a true professional in the situation. Of course, when Kabanov got to the under-18 training camp, his woes only continued.

Kabanov claimed he was told to bring his white Moncton helmet, but when he arrived, all the other players had been given red ones, and they didn't have one for him.

“There were 25 helmets and I was player No. 26,” he said, before asking reporters, “and you know the peanut story, right?”

We did not.

Apparently, Russia's coach was angry that Kabanov had taken a peanut from a plate on his desk at the rink, saying the winger had not asked first.

“I took one peanut!” Kabanov said incredulously. “It wasn't even his office, it was just a room in the dressing room.”

Kabanov also claimed the coach referred to him as “American bubblegum,” a Soviet-era slur dating back to the Cold War when Russians couldn't get the confectionery, but talked about how great it was.

Needless to say, Kabanov prefers North America.

“I want to be a star, I want to play in the NHL,” he said. “Next year I'll play wherever my NHL team tells me. CHL, AHL, I don't care.”

He also took a swing at the Kontinental League.

“I played one year in the KHL, then I came to the Quebec League,” he said. “And the hotels were better in the Quebec League!

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And to cap off the salvo, Kabanov gave his advice to other young Russians wondering whether to stay home to play hockey.

“Run to North America,” he said, before staring straight into a TV camera lens for added emphasis, “Run to North America!

But aside from the Kirill Kabanov Show, there was also the standard business at hand, which is evaluating talent one last time before the draft. To that end, insiders agreed that prospects usually help their status rather than hurt it at the combine.

“You get to know the person a little bit; you get to see what they're like away from the rink,” noted Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson. “With the physical testing, you like to see effort for sure, but you also want to see results, where they can grow, or where they can't grow.”

And Howson said it's rare to get turned off of a prospect based on how many push-ups he can do.

“More often than not, there's kids that impress you more than you thought,” he said.

Added McGuire: “The combine tends to confirm, rather than disconfirm.”

Still, with many teams grilling players in the interview process – or at least setting up an intimidating room filled with ex-NHLers and other heavyweight personalities – the kids have to be on guard.

“It's pretty awkward,” said Massachusetts high-schooler Kevin Hayes, whose cousin actually works for the Bruins and had to recuse himself from that interview. “You've got Cam Neely staring at you, what are you going to say?”

Without further ado, here's a couple of the strangest questions some of the players were asked by teams in the interviews:

- If you were to entertain yourself for a day would you choose to do so with a handgun or a well written poem?

- What's the largest river in Canada?

- If I shipped you off to Iraq today would you consider yourself a sniper, helicopter pilot or a medic?

- If your hometown was invaded by North Korea and you had to leave one of your family members behind, who would it be?

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 Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect features, The Hot List and Prospect Watch appear Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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