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Top hockey prospects get poked, prodded and measured at NHL Combine

Jonathan Drouin, one of the top prospect in the 2013 NHL draft according to Central Scouting rankings gets measured during the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto on Friday, May 31, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

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Jonathan Drouin, one of the top prospect in the 2013 NHL draft according to Central Scouting rankings gets measured during the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto on Friday, May 31, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

TORONTO - As rites of passage go, it could be worse. But there is little room for dignity or privacy for top prospects at the NHL Combine.

Taking off your shirt and having your body fat measured in front of a crowd of strangers isn't for everyone. Neither is having someone scream at you to keep going as you pedal away on a stationary bike that feels like riding up Mount Everest.

"It's different, it really is," said Quebec Remparts winger Adam Erne, the first out of the gate at the airport-area conference centre Friday morning. "I didn't know what to expect for the setup. I'm mean they're all kind of in your face, smiling at you."

Erne had done some post-season training work back home, including spending time on a bike.

"Obviously it's different here when you've got a thousand people watching you and yelling at you 'Go Go' and then they tell you're halfway and you're already dead."

Erne, ranked 26th among North American skaters by the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau, did the full routine before scores—rather than a thousand—of NHL team officials.

None of the top three ranked North American skaters took part in the fitness testing Friday.

Portland Winterhawks defenceman Seth Jones, ranked No. 1 by Central Scouting, and Halifax Mooseheads linemates Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, rated No. 2 and 3, exited after the measurement portion of the day.

Jones had a medical exemption. But all three had the same excuse, pointing to a prolonged season that didn't end until last Sunday's Memorial Cup final, won 6-4 by Halifax over Portland.

"My body's worn down. I've been nursing a couple of injuries all year so I didn't think I was really prepared," Jones said. "And I had a good talk with my agent about it and he thought the same way."

"There's a difference between being in shape on ice and being in shape off the ice," he added.

"I've been playing hockey since August," added MacKinnon.

Drouin echoed the sentiment.

"We've been through a lot of hockey. We just came back four days ago," he said.

In truth, none of the three really stood to benefit from publicly pushing themselves to the limit. They have already shown their wares.

Plus they have endured a punishing season.

The two Halifax players flew home from Saskatoon on Monday, took part in a parade Tuesday and then jumped on a 4 a.m. flight Wednesday to come to Toronto.

Hardly the best preparation.

Especially compared to players like Cape Breton winger William Carrier, who prepared for two months for the tests. Even then, they weren't pleasant.

"They're pretty hard," Carrier, the 18th-ranked North American skater, said of the bike challenges.

A native of Montreal, Carrier was just happy that the Canadiens were one of the teams that interviewed him this week.

Drouin said he will work out at a later date for individual clubs as needed while MacKinnon said he would be open to such. Jones, however, said he would not.

Colorado, Florida and Tampa Bay hold the first three picks in the June 30 NHL draft, which will be held at the Prudential Centre in Newark.

"Colorado is in the driver's seat and we know we're going to get a hell of a player at (No.) 2, or 3, or 4. It's a deep draft," said Florida GM Dale Tallon.

The Panthers exec says the phone has not rung off the hook yet.

"I've had a couple of mild conversations," he said. "They say, 'Are you moving the pick?' I say, 'Make me an offer.' That's the way it goes. You start the process early and you work it all the way through 'til five minutes before you make the pick, maybe a minute before you make the pick."

MacKinnon, for one, said he had been doing his homework on the teams that could draft him.

"I'm pretty interested in some of the teams I could end up with," said the poised 17-year-old. "Obviously anything can happen on draft day, teams could decide to trade their picks or anything like that. But it's human nature to be interested in that kind of stuff, what your future could be."

NHL teams leave little to chance, doing just about everything except checking out the prospects' teeth.

The prospects were measured, from height to body fat, before doing a variety of tests including bench press, standing long jump and vertical jump.

Then it was on to the gruelling bike tests: the Wingate Cycle Ergometer and VO2 Max.

The so-called Wingate peak power output test is short and painful, measuring how explosive the athlete is—usually as someone trying to help yells at you to keep going. It's a 30-second all-out sprint on a stationary bike with the resistance climbing until you hit a point where you can't pedal any more.

"Faster, faster, go, go, go, go go," was one typically loud refrain.

Said Erne: "It's 30 seconds and it feels like a lifetime."

The VO2 Max tests the endurance capability of a player's heart, lungs and muscles. The player cycles away, with a breathing tube lodged in his mouth.

Swedish defenceman Hampus Lindholm was the only prospect last year who lasted more than 14 minutes. He was taken sixth overall by the Anaheim Ducks.

"I thought the VO2 would be the worst just because (of the length). I think mine ended up lasting 13 and a half minutes," said Erne. "But it surprised me how hard the Wingate was. After the Wingate, everybody was just kind of dead. I mean a couple of guys were throwing up."

Vernon Vipers winger Adam Tambellini, ranked 42nd among North American skaters, also was able to forgo parts of the fitness testing. And asked about why, he showed he already is well into the NHL way of doing things.

"Lower body (injury)," said Tambellini, the son of former Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini.

Like other prospects, Tambellini was interviewed by a number of clubs this week. He said the strangest question he got was when someone asked him what his favourite animal was. Showing he is quick on his feet, Tambellini chose a player on that team.

The testing continues Saturday.

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