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Cullen: Different Approaches at NHL Scouting Combine

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Scott Cullen
5/31/2010 10:35:07 AM
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At the top of this year's draft, it's long been considered a two-horse race between Plymouth Whalers centre Tyler Seguin and Windsor Spitfires left winger Taylor Hall.  The pair had difference approaches to the NHL Scouting Combine.

Seguin showed up with modest expectations. "I just hoped to be average," he told TSN. "If others think it's better than that, so be it."

Hall, ostensibly nursing injuries and dealing with fatigue after winning a second straight Memorial Cup, only did a few exercises.

Essentially, both would rather stand on the merits of their considerable on-ice accomplishments.

There is an odd dynamic at work at the NHL Scouting Combine, which consists of a series of off-ice exercises that are of debatable merit when trying to evaluate a hockey player's pro potential.

As a player that was virtually assumed to be ready for the NHL next season, Hall may not have had much to gain by participating in the Combine, but it's fair to say that Seguin, with his strong showing, at least seems just as likely to be physically ready to play in the NHL next season -- an impression that may not have been as widely held beforehand.

Scouts scoff at the merits of the physical tests, yet there are any number of reasons given for why the testing can't take place on ice.

One scout says that there are players, say from Minnesota High Schools, whose seasons finish as early as mid-March, so it's not fair to expect them to be in the same kind of on-ice shape as CHL players who may have just come off a Memorial Cup appearance a week before. 

Central Scouting Director E.J. McGuire defended the Combine's process to the Toronto Star, answering his own question, "Why don't we have on-ice testing?  Because the correlation between going through cones with no one chasing you is limited."

It's still hard to reconcile that pushups and situps (with no one chasing, to be sure) would provide a better correlation for a player's likely success as a hockey player. 

Barring any evidence to show some kind of correlation between these off-ice exercises and on-ice success, it's easy to understand why scouts snicker about the process.

Just because an exercise isn't ideal or 100% representative of game conditions doesn't mean it is without value and it seems only natural that there would be a better correlation between on-ice testing results and eventual success as a player than grasping for a correlation between gym exercises and readiness for pro hockey.

Certainly, finding a way to, ahem, combine on-ice and off-ice testing would provide better information about a player's physical attributes and isn't that what this process is supposed to be about?

An additional consideration for the NHL Combine that makes it different from both NFL and NBA Combines, is that the NHL Combine is full of 17 and 18-year-olds, most of whom aren't going to be expected to play in the NHL for anywhere from two to five years.  Players drafted in the NBA and NFL are expected to play professionally right away.

Thus, there is much more projection required when it comes to the NHL, so it doesn't matter so much that a player is great on the bench press or Wingate cycle test now, because it's more important to figure out if they have the physical potential to handle the rigors of pro hockey whenever it is they will get there. 

Perhaps there is some value to exercises that measure explosive strength, but if it's a player who is expected to play pro three or four years down the line, is there anything to suggest that the explosive power (or lack of it) shown in Combine exercises is going to increase or decrease the likelihood of their professional hockey success?

Ultimately, while it can't hurt to have a good showing at the Combine, it's difficult to sway opinions that are based on dozens and dozens of scouts' viewings of a player, so the overall effect is going to be minimal.

On one hand, scouts will point to the likes of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who was skinny and weak at his Combine, yet never played another game of junior hockey after he was drafted by the Minnesota Wild.

On the other, three of the players that stood out at the Combine a few years ago were Atlanta defenceman Zach Bogosian, Washington defenceman John Carlson and Nashville centre Colin Wilson.  All three were built more like men than teenage kids and all three have already played in the NHL, with varying levels of success.

Surely, the psychological and medical testing as well as the interview process are important factors for teams as they prepare to invest millions of dollars in these teenagers, but it remains to be seen what kind of value there is to be gained from the Combine exercises in their current form. 

At some point, in the name of providing more representative information, an evolution would make sense.

Nevertheless, here are some results from this year's Combine to consider -- give them as much or as little weight as you like:

Leaders in Anaerobic Fitness (Peak Output)
John McFarland, C, Sudbury
Tyler Seguin, C, Plymouth
Mark Pysyk, D, Edmonton

Leaders in Anaerobic Fitness (Mean Power)
Mark Pysyk, D, Edmonton
Nick Bjugstad, C, Blaine H.S.
John McFarland, C, Sudbury

Fatigue Index
Maxim Kitsyn, LW, Novokuznetsk
Oscar Lindberg, C, Skelleftea Jr.
Cam Fowler, D, Windsor

Russian winger Maxim Kitsyn had terrific endurance numbers, while posting one of the lowest vertical jumps of the Combine.  To be fair, it seemed that some of the Russians weren't as familiar with the vertical jump exercise, so it may have been as much about technique as a serious lack of explosiveness in their legs.

VO2 Max
Jakub Culek, LW, Rimouski
Jack Campbell, G, US U-18
Michael Bournival, LW, Shawinigan
Kirill Kabanov, LW, Moncton
Maxim Kitsyn, LW, Novokuznetsk

Wing Span
Dylan McIlrath, D, Moose Jaw
Mathieu Corbeil-Theriault, G, Halifax
Kevin Gravel, D, Sioux City

Body Fat %
Ivan Telegin (6.8%), LW, Saginaw
Mike Pereira (6.8%), LW, Avon Old Farms H.S.
Jacob Fallon (7.0%), C, Indiana
Tyler Seguin (7.0%), C, Plymouth

Standing Long Jump
John McFarland, C, Sudbury
Danny Biega, D, Harvard
Mark Visentin, G, Niagara

Vertical Jump (w/ pause)
Jacob Fallon, C, Indiana
Mark Alt, D, Cretin-Durham H.S.
Brandon Archibald, Sault Ste. Marie
Emerson Etem, RW, Medicine Hat

Vertical Jump (no pause)
Mark Alt, D, Cretin-Durham H.S.
Mike Pereira, LW, AVon Old Farms H.S.
Jacob Fallon, C, Indiana

Leg Power Average
Stephen Johns, D, US U-18
Bill Arnold, C, US U-18
Jarred Tinordi, D, US U-18

The leaders in the leg power results all played for the US Under-18 Program. Johns, Arnold and Tinordi all had strong results in other exercises as well.

4-Jump Mat Time (Agility)
Cameron Lanigan, G, Edmonton
Brock Beukeboom, D, Sault Ste. Marie
Nikita Zaytsev, D, Novosibirsk

4-Jump Mat Power (Agility)
Cameron Lanigan, G, Edmonton
Kevin Hayes, RW, Nobles H.S.
Zane Gothberg, G, Thief River Falls H.S.

4-Jump Average Jump Height
John McFarland, C, Sudbury
Nick Bjugstad, C, Blaine H.S.
Mikael Granlund, LW, HIFK

Curl Ups
Curtis Hamilton, LW, Saskatoon
Ludvig Rensfeldt, LW, Brynas Jr.
Jeff Skinner, C, Kitchener

Right-hand Grip
Danny Biega, D, Harvard
Kent Simpson, G, Everett
Charlie Coyle, RW, South Shore
Brandon Gormley, D, Moncton
Kendal McFaull, D, Moose Jaw

Left-hand Grip
Danny Biega, D, Harvard
Kent Simpson, G, Everett
Ryan Johansen, C, Portland

Bench Press (# Reps)
Danny Biega 20, D, Harvard
Kevin Sundher 19, C, Chilliwack
Stephen Johns 18, D, US U-18
Nick Bjugstad 18, C, Blaine H.S.

Bjugstad had a terrific workout and is monster-sized.  The challenge for scouts, though, is determining how much of his success in Minnesota high school hockey is based on physical superiority, because no matter how well he fills out his ample frame, he's eventually going to run into NHL defencemen that are just as big and strong as he is.

Biega seems to have had the best workout in terms of showing physical strength.  The Harvard defenceman isn't huge, but is solidly-built, to be sure.

Push Ups (Max #)
Michael Bournival 40, LW, Shawinigan
Stephen Silas 38, D, Belleville
Bradley Ross 38, LW, Portland

Push Strength
Danny Biega, D, Harvard
Vladimir Tarasenko, LW, Novosibirsk
Bill Arnold, C, US U-18

Pull Strength
Danny Biega, D, Harvard
Nick Bjugstad, C, Blaine H.S.
Emerson Etem, RW, Medicine Hat

Upper Body Strength (Seated Medicine Ball Toss)
Danny Biega, D, Harvard
Dalton Smith, LW, Ottawa
Stephen Johns, D, US U-18

For more results from the NHL Scouting Combine, click here.

For my take on the fantasy prospects in this year's draft, click here and for an archive of Friday's live Combine blog, click here.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.

 

Tyler Seguin (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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