The 2006 NHL Combine took place this week in Toronto, Ontario. From May 30 through June 4, 109 of the world’s top hockey prospects gathered in a hotel just outside the city to take part in testing and interviews in preparation for the NHL Entry Draft to be held on June 24, 2006 in Vancouver, BC. Interviews took place throughout the six days, while medical and fitness testing were done on Friday and Saturday.
The 34 European prospects who participated in the Combine arrived first, on Monday and Tuesday, to allow for more time for adjustment after travel and for interviewing (18 of the European players required interpreters during the interviews, as well as the testing phase of the Combine).
Most of the North American players arrived on Wednesday evening and started interviewing with the NHL teams on Thursday morning. A little less than half of the NHL teams began their interview schedule on Tuesday, and 13 arrived early on Wednesday morning and started interviews almost immediately. The late arrival teams (including Colorado and Detroit) did not start interviewing until Friday, and then engaged in a whirlwind schedule of interviews that lasted through Sunday morning.
The interviews were scheduled for half hour intervals, but varied widely in length, tone, and content. Many players reported several 10-minute interviews with teams, but those same players had some interviews that lasted the full half-hour. Often the team had a large number of personnel in the interview rooms, and they would throw questions one after another at the prospect. Included within the personnel were scouts, general managers, and psychological evaluators. Teams also used differing methods to try to get a feel for the player they were speaking to. The tenor of the interviews ranged from joking with the prospect to several teams that used a grilling method. Every method though had the same intent, which was to get a feel for the personality of the player, i.e., to see if the player was a good fit for the organization.
Players spent early week non-interviewing time hanging around in the lobby, going to baseball games, and renewing friendships with each other. Once the testing started, prospects often came down to the lower level ballroom to watch the proceedings and to urge on their friends.
The testing itself began at 8 am Friday morning. Each prospect was assigned to a group of seven, eight, or nine players, who first went for medical tests and then proceeded to the ballroom for a series of 11 different measurements of fitness. Every hour, a new group was scheduled, and, for the most part, there was a flow to the testing, and it started close to on time. The testing was done in a horseshoe around three walls of the room, and the scouts and the media were either seated or standing in the middle.
Every prospect came into the ballroom in a sleeveless dark blue shirt and pair of white shorts that had a navy blue number on the right leg. The scouts and media in the room all were given a media package that included the number each player wore throughout the testing phase, which made it easy to identify a prospect in the maze of testing that was going on at the same time.
After the prospect was greeted at the front table (and signed a release for the testing that was about to begin), his height was measured and weight taken. Then the prospect was asked to take his shirt off and to pose for the myriad of scouts and cameras that were evaluating his physique. Pictures were taken of the prospect facing forward, with his right side toward the camera, and from the back. Prior to being allowed to put his shirt back on, each player’s body fat was measured, and measurements were taken of his arms and legs.
After this somewhat humiliating process, the prospects moved to tests of upper body strength, hand grips, and a seated ball throw, before moving to the bench press bar. The players were required to press 150 lbs, and team scouts spent a lot of time watching this particular test, and counting how many repetitions the prospect was able to perform. The bench press was followed by push-ups and curl-ups, before the prospects moved on to tests that measured leg strength.
Three measures of leg strength were performed (long jump, standing jump, and a vertical jump. The vertical jump, which allegedly is the most predictive of the ability to get a quick start on the ice, drew the most attention from the scouts on the floor. After the vertical jump, the players moved to the measure of anaerobic power (colloquially called the “windgate”). This test required to player to pedal a bike as fast as he could for 30 seconds while his shoes were taped to the pedals of a stationary bike. A good predictor of short spurt skating, this test also drew a huge crowd of scouts and general managers.
After recovering from the inevitable build up of lactic acid from the anaerobic power test, the prospect moved to the final test, called aerobic power. The test, which measures heart rate and lung abilities over a long period of exercise, required the prospect to pedal the stationary cycle for a sustained period.
There were wide variations in abilities of the participants. Although the exact test numbers were not made available to the media, several prospects stood out. Of particular note were the strong tests of the US National Development Program’s Erik Johnson, the defenseman widely projected to be the No. 1 pick in the draft; OHL star Peterborough Pete Jordan Staal, who is predicted to be a top 5 selection later this month; Kyle Okposo, who plays right wing for Des Moines in the USHL; Simon Danis-Pepin, a 6’7 freshman defenseman at the University of Maine; Oskar Osala, a first-year Finnish left wing, who last season played for the OHL Mississauga Ice Dogs; and two Russian players Nikolai Kulemin, a 6’0, 201 lb. forward, who had excellent results on all the tests; and Alexander Vasyunov, a 6’0, 189 lb. forward, who also impressed on most tests.
The players who did not do as well as expected or hoped included Derick Brassard, a top prospect who played for Drummondville of the QMJHL this past season; Chris Stewart, a 6’1, 228 forward for the OHL Kingston Frontenacs who had much more body fat than would be expected of a player of his abilities; Phil Kessel, the University of Minnesota top prospect, who failed to perform well on the endurance tests; and Mark Mitera, the University of Michigan defenseman, in whom there was great interest, but did not impress on any of the tests.
Several teams have further interviews of prospects scheduled in their home cities prior to the draft. The NHL teams will take the results of the Combine testing and the interviews and use them to make their entry draft selections in Vancouver in three weeks.
Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.