NHL draft combine: who won the events that matter most

Ryan Kennedy
Swift Current's Jake DeBrusk (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the NHL’s annual draft combine, it is important to remember that the whole thing is a bit of a dog-and-pony show. Sure, the interviews with teams are important and it is in the best interest of the player to give it his all in the physical tests, but as we saw in this year’s playoffs, the ability to do chin-ups as a 17-year-old may not be the best indicator of NHL potential.

So where do we look for value in this weekend’s results?

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NHL draft combine: the question mark kids

Team USA's Jeremy Bracco (Photo courtesy of Tom Sorensen/USHL)

BUFFALO – For Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the draft combine is a mere formality. Sure, they want to make a good impression – McDavid even said his goal was “not to embarrass” himself (spoiler alert: he didn’t) in the physical testing – but at the end of the day they’re going 1-2 in Florida later this month.

But the combine can be very important for some of the other prospects; players who aren’t blessed with franchise-altering skills. The interview process, which most of the combine week is dedicated to, gives kids with question marks in their games a chance to tell their side of the story one more time. And since two of last year’s most controversial players – Anthony DeAngelo and Josh Ho-Sang – ended up going in the first round – setting the record straight can clearly pay off.

“That’s why you have the interviews,” said Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney. “If there are rumblings, rumors, teammates, on-ice situations, off-ice, usage, sitting out, coaching – it will all come out in the interviews. Just to get clarity.”

Portland’s Paul Bittner, for example, has been knocked for inconsistency and heard a lot about it during his interviews. Playing on a Winterhawks super-line with Winnipeg prospect Nic Petan and Columbus pick, the affable power forward admitted that some nights he felt like he didn’t need to do much in order for his team to win, but now sees that at the pro level that won’t fly.

Another WHLer, Regina’s Jesse Gabrielle, likes to play the game with an edge. And while that’s all well and good, some scouts believe he’s too focused on the rough stuff. Hence the importance of this week.

“There were concerns about my personality and character,” Gabrielle said. “I wanted to show them that I am a character guy off the ice. The way that I play kinda brings up questions, maybe some discipline problems and a concern that how I play on ice reflects off-ice. But I made sure to re-assure them that’s not the case whatsoever.”

Gabrielle interviewed with six teams in Buffalo, so interest in him at this point is niche. It only takes one team to believe in him, however, and there is definitely the possibility that another franchise that chose not to speak with him at the combine will step up at the actual draft.

“I think there’s more player there, but you don’t know if there’s more player there right now,” said another GM. “We’ve got time for him, it’s just a question of where. He’s a gritty guy and you love those other things, but at the end of the day, you still have to be able to play the game.”

Gifted winger Jeremy Bracco of the U.S. National Team Development Program is another interesting case. A little undersized, his stock dipped this season even after setting an NTDP record for assists. Scouts I talked to didn’t like the way Bracco reacted to being cut from Team USA’s world junior squad and the Boston College commit ended up hearing about it in his combine interviews.

“I obviously thought I should have been on that team,” Bracco said. “I thought I brought intangibles that others on the roster didn’t have. It was definitely disappointing, but I learned a lot. A lot of teams brought it up. For the first four or five games after I didn’t play as well as I should have; I was really focused on it. So I kinda hurt my team that way, but it was a learning experience and I have to deal with adversity better.”

Luckily for Bracco, there’s no question about the offensive arsenal he would bring to a team. And the fact that these kids are just at beginnings of their careers tends to get them some slack for minor missteps.

“You have to remember, these are 17-year-old kids,” said the anonymous GM. “For us, it’s for sure something to pay attention to, but you have to put it in the proper context. As they grow and mature, is that part of their DNA in regards to adversity? Is it ‘I’ll show you,’ or head down, ‘woe is me?’ ”

These are the questions franchises must answer for themselves as the draft nears at the end of the month. Because once those players are picked up or passed on, history has been made for better or worse.

 

Which players from 2013 NHL draft didn’t sign, go back in 2015 draft

Brian Costello
2012 NHL Entry Draft - Round One

A couple of second-round draft picks from 2013 were left unsigned and are going into the recycling bin. Gabryel Boudreau, selected 49th by the San Jose Sharks a couple of years ago, and Marc-Olivier Roy, chosen 56th by the Edmonton Oilers, were not signed by their NHL teams and are up again for this year’s draft, June 26-27 in Florida.

They’re part of a group of 17 draft picks from the major junior ranks in 2013 who were not signed before the two-year deadline June 1. One draft pick from 2014 was not offered a contract by June 1, so he too goes back into the draft. That’s Edgars Kulda, chosen 193rd overall by Arizona.

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How Tampa Bay prospect Anthony DeAngelo tore up his red flags

Ryan Kennedy
Anthony DeAngelo (No. 7, middle) celebrates in the Soo (Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images)

Not only are the Tampa Bay Lightning one of the best teams in the NHL right now, but the Eastern Conference playoff champs are also flush for the future. Jonathan Drouin still hasn’t been unleashed yet, while Adam Erne just completed a solid Memorial Cup tournament for Quebec. Then there’s Anthony DeAngelo, who earned the CHL’s defenseman of the year award on the weekend in Quebec City.

This season was great for the New Jersey native – and not just because he put up a ton of points.

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The top 10 prospects from the Memorial Cup

Oshawa's Cole Cassels  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

The 97th Memorial Cup is in the books and it ended in spectacular fashion. We all know it takes a team to win such a trophy, but some individuals naturally stood out. Here’s a look at the players who made the biggest impressions on me during my time in Quebec City.

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Watch Anthony Cirelli score Memorial Cup-winning goal in overtime

Jared Clinton
Anthony Cirelli (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

There’s a moment almost every kid who has ever dreamt about playing hockey creates in their driveway or on an outdoor rink: the overtime winning goal to clinch a championship. Sunday night, that became a reality for Oshawa Generals’ centre Anthony Cirelli.

Cirelli, who came into the OHL as an undrafted free agent and reportedly had two tryout agreements signed before landing with the Generals, had scored 13 goals and 36 points in 68 regular season games. In 21 post-season games, only twice did he find the back of the net, registering 10 points during Oshawa’s OHL championship run. Selecting him as the Memorial Cup hero would have been a long shot, but after tying the game for Oshawa in the second frame, it was Cirelli who locked up major junior’s biggest prize: Read more

Oshawa Generals win Memorial Cup in OT thanks to undrafted rookie Anthony Cirelli

The Oshawa Generals celebrate (Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

QUEBEC CITY – Thanks to Anthony Cirelli’s two goals, including the overtime marker on a rebound against Kelowna, the OHL’s Oshawa Generals are Memorial Cup champions. Battling a Rockets team with two Canadian world junior gold medallists and a player who spent the first half of the season in the NHL, it came down to the undrafted rookie center and goaltender Ken Appleby, who has been snubbed countless times in his junior career.

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