Prospects show their stuff at NHL combine Staff

5/30/2008 5:21:12 PM

For prospects dreaming of their big break in the National Hockey League, the draft is without a doubt the most nerve-racking time of their young careers.

And the NHL's annual scouting combine could qualify as a close second.

More than 100 draft-eligible players gathered in Toronto on Friday for the league's annual prospect check-up, and it was more than just your simple meet and greet. It's quickly become a serious and often grueling evaluation of health, strength, power, endurance and stamina.

"You've never had anything like this before," consensus No. 1 pick Steven Stamkos told TSN.

"You never experience this - walking into a room with a bunch of scouts and cameras watching you. You have to do the tests right in front of them and you think you're doing well until you do the two bike tests. They're pretty strenuous and you never want to feel that way after an exercise, but hopefully I did well and impressed."

The highly-touted Sarnia Sting forward certainly wasn't the only one in the spotlight. Prospect Colin Wilson, ranked 10th in North America by NHL Central Scouting, was the talk of the combine early on with 21 straight reps on the bench. By comparison, most prospects had trouble reaching 20.

"It was a learning experience," said the Boston University forward. "There's some things I know I can work on like agility and things like that. When I go home, I'll look at it and do more of what I do best."

While a player's final report at the combine won't necessarily affect his draft ranking, it could have a bearing on which team wants to select him at a given position.

Stamkos is a shoe-in to go first overall to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but who goes next is anyone's guess. That includes Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, who wouldn't tip his hand on who he covets with the No. 2 selection.

"This is a very strong year up top and we've got a tough decision to make, but in the end it's a good problem to have." he told TSN on Friday. "With 'Stammer' gone, it's almost like we have a No. 1 (overall) pick, and I think we have a lot of good players to choose from. We feel confident we're going to get a good player."

Another important aspect of the testing is the mental component. Players are required to go through psychological evaluations, while teams can conduct one-on-one interviews with players over the course of the week.

"I think it's an important week," said head amateur scout Jim Hammett, whose New York Rangers hold the 20th overall selection.

"Obviously we've done our background on a kid by going to watch him play and now you just want to make sure you not only have a hockey player, but a good person and someone who can show a commitment on and off the ice."

And one youngster who has drawn rave reviews in this department is Russian forward Nikita Filatov.

"I met him in Kazan overseas and he has a very interesting family," explained Lombardi. "He's very well educated, he speaks three languages, he has a lot of life. He looks you in the eye, and in some cases you don't even know he's from Russia."

Ottawa will host the 2008 NHL Entry Draft on June 20-21. TSN will have live coverage of the first round on Friday, June 20 at 7pm et/4pm pt.