Photo: The NHL Combine has long been an important event leading up to the Draft. This year it was particularly important as many of the top eligible prospects had their seasons cut short by injury. (Ken McKenna/HF)
Last week, the National Hockey League engaged in its annual ritual of interviewing, testing, and examining the top players eligible for the 2012 Entry Draft. The 105 prospects that attended the Combine were poked, prodded and questioned, as well as given psychological tests. The difference this year is that there were many more second-year eligible prospects in attendance, and maybe more importantly, many draft eligible prospects had endured injury shortened seasons, which resulted in different concerns on the part of the NHL teams.
Photo: Greg McKegg (92) was the lone prospect to represent the Leafs at the 2012 Memorial Cup. (Terry Wilson/CHL Images)
It's been a long time since a team in Toronto has played meaningful hockey in the Spring months. The Toronto Marlies have changed those fortunes this season with a strong year that has translated into a lengthy post-season run that has seen the club play in the Calder Cup finals. Led by a handful of solid prospects, the Toronto Maple Leafs hope the recent post-season run by the Marlies will translate into more NHL ready players as soon as next season.
Photo: Sania Sting forward Nail Yakupov heads another strong NHL Draft class coming out of the Ontario Hockey League (courtesy of OHL Images)
Last year, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins effectively ended the OHL's dominance atop the NHL Draft when he was selected first overall by the Edmonton Oilers. This year, the Oilers may start a new streak by calling an OHL player's name with the first pick for the fifth time in six years.
Photo: OHL Commissioner David Branch presents London Knights forward Austin Watson (NAS) with the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award, given to the player most valuable to his team in the OHL playoffs. Watson managed 10 goals and seven assists in 19 playoff games, helping London to their second OHL championship. The Knights will need Watson to keep up his scoring if they hope to win their second Memorial Cup. (Photo courtesy of Terry Wilson/OHL Images)
A defending champ, a host unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs earlier than expected, a former champ crashing the party one year early, and the new kid on the block — out of 59 teams from nine Canadian provinces and four U.S. states, the 2012 CHL championship will be contested by a quartet of squads that couldn't be more different — save for the common goal of raising the Memorial Cup.