The 2018 NHL entry draft combine was held from May 27th to June 2nd in Buffalo, NY with 104 draft eligibles in attendance. The only thing certain about the draft is unpredictability but the combine does provide a few clues and patterns to examine with just three weeks to go before draft day. The combine is also an important step in the process to gain as full of a picture as possible on players an organization will be making a large asset investment in.
Who is Who
Of the 104 participants at this year’s combine just 22 are from Europe. Some of the hotter names who might find themselves selected in the first two rounds but were lower on Central Scouting’s final rankings weren’t invited such as Jonatan Berggren (Intl 30) and Jesse Ylonen (Intl 28). Only two international goalies, both Czechs Jakub Skarek and Lukas Dostal, were in attendance leaving third ranked Russian goalie Amir Miftakhov out. In fact, only seven goalies total comprise the 104 participants in addition with 36 defensemen and 61 forwards.
Some of the more interesting selections to the combine include Liam Kirk, the English forward who plays in the UK. He was ranked just 65th on the international skaters list but no doubt curious teams requested to bring him in for interviews. Some other low ranked invites from the North American list were forwards Anderson MacDonald (101), Jacob Pivonka (105), Eric Florchuk (110) and Michael Callahan (145).
Overagers are also becoming more and more of a commodity as teams get a fuller picture on players who were once passed over and continue to blossom. Kristian Reichel is a 1998 born forward from the Czech Republic playing for Red Deer in the WHL. His impressive World Junior Championship performance and 57 points on his club team have brought him on to the radar after going undrafted twice. Sean Durzi is another who is a late 1998 born who went undrafted once but put up 49 points in 40 games with Owen Sound as a defenseman and will certainly get selected this time around.
An invitation to the combine indicates a likely top 100 selection on draft day but of course not a guarantee. The number of interviews a player is scheduled for is another indication of the market for them. A great example in the contrast between the two are goaltenders Olivier Rodrigue who interviewed with 26 teams but Alexis Gravel with only eight.
Top prospects such as expected first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin have their interviews limited as he only met with ten teams leaving only the most relevant teams in the mix. That was a trend this year for all the expected top prospects. Noah Dobson arrived late due to Memorial Cup festivities and only met with 12 teams and Filip Zadina met with 12 as well. Brady Tkachuk talked to 14 and Quinn Hughes met with more at 17. Ottawa has scheduled to bring in Zadina, Hughes and Tkachuk and the latter to Arizona as well for additional interviews after the combine. Some teams like to have dinner with a select few in the evenings in a more casual setting as Detroit had dinner with Dobson and Jesperi Kotkaniemi for example.
Most players expected to go in the first two rounds will have over 20 interviews with just a couple teams left out. Despite the polarizing opinions and hot takes on where Ryan Merkley will go due to questions surrounding him, he still met with 25 teams. Ty Dellandrea and Jakub Lauko were quite popular with 29 interviews each. Kirk with 10 and Blade Jenkins with 13 interviews were those on the more selected side.
Teams like to use the tests as a fitness baseline and understand that players are all in different stages of physical development and preparation for them. Some teams use the testing as a an opportunity to observe and a sneaky character test to see who is comfortable and confident but also who will go all out and push themselves. The results are likely less critical for top prospects, unless there’s something alarming to the results, but for the lesser known and lower ranked prospects test can open eyes on who has a particular athletic gift or high potential for physical development.
Several prospects did not participate in the physical tests for various reasons. Niklas Nordgren had to miss the combine entirely due to an illness. A heart condition was flagged in Martin Kaut‘s medical and he left the combine but it is not considered to be a long term issue. Hughes chose to sit out the testing due to recent participation in the World Championships and felt he didn’t have the adequate time to prepare for the tests. This is an interesting contrast to Dobson who despite playing in the Memorial Cup less than a week prior went through all of the testing and did well on many of them anyway.
Nary a peep has been seen or heard from the Avalanche in the process this year and there are only a few confirmed interviews they conducted, which include Dellandrea, Jay O’Brien and interestingly were one of Kirk’s ten interviews. It’s pretty tough to glean anything about what the organization wants to do when they publicly pretend the combine isn’t happening. Each year is different of course but there’s certain tests which seem to get watched closer as some top performers are common among Avalanche prospects.
The two bike tests get a lot of attention from the media but it seems they are on the Avalanche radar as well. The vo2 max is a test of endurance as the prospects try to go as long as they can on the bikes. Shane Bowers recorded the longest time from the combine in 2017 at 16:45 and had the fourth highest max. Tyson Jost, Chris Bigras and Mason Geertsen all also placed top ten in one of the two vo2 categories. At this combine Xavier Bouchard had the longest durination with Dellandrea and Rasmus Kupari posting strong scores.
The Wingate test measures power in extreme output situations and the fatigue index, which is how fast a player declines from their peak, seems to be of particular interest to the Avalanche. Cale Makar, Nicolas Meloche and Julien Nantel were top 10 performers in this category. In this year’s group Joe Veleno and Grigori Denisenko were among the leaders.
The long jump is another test of lower body power with Makar, Bigras and Bleackley holding top scores from their combines. This year K’Andre Miller, Jakub Lauko and Barrett Hayton were tops in their class. The complete list of top 25 scores in each category are listed HERE.
The wait is on until June 22 to find out who the Avalanche will draft in Dallas but hopefully a light has been shined a bit on the process and a few hints on where some selections might be heading.