Cullen: Some observations from 2011 NHL Combine

Scott Cullen

6/6/2011 1:10:59 PM

While it's entirely fair to debate the merits of having exercises like bench press as part of a hockey player's evaluation, it's a testament to the players that showed up at the NHL Scouting Combine last week in Toronto that they partake in these myriad exercises without complaint.

I'm not going to repeat my cries for on-ice testing, but I remain unchanged on that position.

It's hard to imagine that top prospects, who will be seen dozens and dozens of times on ice are going to do much damage to their status based on how they fared in the physical testing at the Combine, yet it similarly can't hurt a prospects' chances if he turns in a strong showing.

Here are some players that had notable Combine performances:

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Saint John Sea Dogs fared well in aerobic conditioning, as Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips ranked among the very best, yet they didn't perform particularly well on the strength exercises. Huberdeau, for example, recorded just two bench presses, but not having time to train in the gym because he was busy winning a Memorial Cup championship can hardly be seen as a problem.

The exception, perhaps would be their Saint John teammate Tomas Jurco, who tied for the lead with 13 reps (of 150 pounds) on the bench press.

Top-ranked skater Ryan Nugent-Hopkins clearly needs to put on weight, but certainly showed well enough during his testing, managing six on the bench press and, while not a beast, he's clearly trying to get stronger to make the jump to the next level.

Prince Albert centre Mark McNeill excelled in strength exercises, ranking among the leaders in grip strength, bench press, push strength and pull strength. Considered a possible mid-first-round pick, McNeill had 81 points in 70 games with Prince Albert of the WHL.

Given his size and strength, though, the challenge for scouts is figuring out how much of McNeill's success is due to his physical maturity and how easily his game will translate against pros that won't be outmuscled so easily.

He was only among the leaders in bench press and grip strength, but Kitchener winger Gabriel Landeskog sure looked the part of a pro hockey player, with a strong, athletic build that made it very easy to envision him in the NHL next season.  If nothing else, he passed the eye test.

Admittedly, Colin Wilson looked big and strong enough to jump into the NHL right away when he was at the Combine in 2008, but still played another year at Boston University and has since recorded 49 points in 117 NHL games.

Portland winger Ty Rattie and Shawinigan defenceman Jonathan Racine scored well in anaerobic fitness. Rattie's teammate, Sven Baertschi, scored best on his VO2 max test. More impressively, Baertschi and Rattie ranked second and third on the Winterhawks this season with 85 and 79 points, respectively.

Racine, a stay-at-home defenceman who has 11 points in two QMJHL seasons, also fared well in standing long jump and grip strength. 

Connor Murphy, an defenceman who played for the U.S. Development Team and is headed to Miami-Ohio, had an impressive showing, ranking high on fatigue index, body fat measurements, standing long jump and situps. He's lean, and can certainly use some time to fill out his 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame, but there's no denying he's in good shape.

Vancouver defenceman David Musil and Swedish blueliner Adam Larsson tied for the longest VO2 max test, both going for 14 minutes.

Edmonton goaltender Laurent Brossoit has a freakish wingspan. The 6-foot-3 'tender was measured with an 81-inch wingspan, nearly a couple of inches longer than 6-foot-4 Brandon defenceman Joel Edmundson and almost three inches longer than Jamieson Oleksiak who, at 6-foot-7, was the tallest player the Combine.

Oleksiak, a likely first-rounder, still has plenty of room to grow on a frame that is already carries 240 pounds, also scored well on leg strenth and push strength.

Shawinigan winger Maxmilien Le Sieur was a bit of a workout warrior, ranking second in number of push-ups, had the best vertical jump scores and, along with defencemen Oleksiak and Joseph Morrow scored well on leg power. Morrow, who is considered a first-round prospect, also scored well on grip strength.

Players that scored well on body fat measurements included 5-foot-6 American forward Rocco Grimaldi and Saint John winger Ryan Tesink. Grimaldi also fared well on the vertical leap tests.

Chicoutimi goaltender Christopher Gibson scored best on the hand-eye coordination testing, while diminutive Kitchener defenceman Ryan Murphy, expected to be a Top 10 pick, ranked fourth.

Boston University defenceman Adam Clendening scored well on bench press and push-ups and recorded the furthest medicine-ball toss, measuring upper body power, as well as some vertical jump testing.

Some others that fared well in at least a few tests include: Scott Mayfield, a USHL defenceman headed to the University of Denver; Duncan Siemens, the Saskatoon blueliner expected to go in the first half of the first round; Sarnia winger Brett Ritchie; Finnish forward Miikka Salomaki; Edmonton centre Travis Ewanyk and U.S. winger Tyler Biggs, who is set to attend Miami-Ohio.

Complete leaders in Combine testing can be found here.

Scott Cullen can be reached at and followed on Twitter at For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.