One final step in the draft process is the NHL Scouting Combine and often times has a great impact on the selection process contrary to popular belief. The week long event was held May 27th through June 1st in Buffalo, NY with team interviews and medical evaluations leading up to the final day with the famous off-ice physical testing done in front of an audience of scouts, NHL team personnel and media.
A total of 103 draft eligible players were present at the combine including 55 forwards, 38 defensemen and 10 goaltenders. 27 hopefuls playing full-time in Europe were on the list as well as draft overage forwards Brett Leason and Samuel Fagemo plus top ranked European goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov. Invitation to the combine does not guarantee a player will get drafted as five combine attendees failed to hear their name called in 2018 but participation indicates strong interest from NHL teams heading in the direction of a possible top 100 selection. The entire list of combine participants is HERE.
After it was revealed that Kaapo Kakko elected to not attend the combine after winning the gold medal at the World Championship with the Finnish men’s team a couple days prior then the NHL chose to name several others who were invited but declined: Semyon Chystakov, Vladislav Firstov, Danil Gutik, Danil Musil and perhaps the biggest surprise in 1999 born World Junior Championship hero Kirill Slepets.
First order of business at the combine are team interviews and it is always revealing to hear how many each player had scheduled as a gauge of interest. For whatever reason both 27 and 23 were a common number of scheduled meetings as Spencer Knight, Cole Caufield, Egor Afanasyev, Alex Newhook, Victor Soderstrom, Brett Leason and Thomas Harley each had the former plus Peyton Krebs, Ryan Suzuki, Alex Vlasic and Patrik Puistola fell in the latter category.
On the upper end of the spectrum Ville Heinola, Connor McMichael and Nils Hoglander hit high marks at 29 interviews while Philip Tomasino met with 30 teams. Ryan Johnson and Moritz Seider both had the most as they interviewed with all 31 teams – and perhaps Seattle in spirit.
The top prospects were all spared from running the gamut through the interview process. Jack Hughes had the least at 10, Bowen Byram with 11 and Alex Turcotte with 13 giving an idea that they won’t wait long to hear their name called.
Sans surprise Jack Hughes declined to complete any of the testing just like his brother Quinn decided a year ago. Dillon Hamaliuk also was unable to test presumably because he is still recovering from a season ending knee injury. The rest soldiered on and participated in 12 total tests with eight in front of an audience on the final day. The top 25 results in each category are HERE.
Testing at the combine is not a competition per se but is notable who performed well which likely helps those who are under the radar more than someone who is a lock to go off the board early. Jayden Struble from Massachusetts high school and ranked 48th among North American skaters for NHL Central Scouting had one of those impressive showings. The 6-foot defenseman had top five marks in half a dozen categories including top score on the bench press and grip strength. Goaltender Spencer Knight had several top five placements in the jumping tests indicating a high level of explosive power.
One of the favorite moments for anyone who follows the combine is when real actual official heights and weights are revealed. There are fewer surprises as there have been in the past due to more accurate measurements and reporting in a player’s draft year but there are always a couple eyebrow lifters. Bobby Brink gets the greatest deflation going from a previously reported 5’10 to an official marker of 5’8.25. Alex Newhook might also shade down a bit to 5’10.5. On the other hand a couple surprises in the upper direction were defenseman Victor Soderstrom measuring at 6-foot and towering goaltender Mads Sogaard was somehow even taller at 6-foot-7.5. All updated measurements are listed HERE.
It is always difficult to gather many clues or even evidence of Colorado Avalanche participation in the combine process and despite holding two top 16 selections and five in the first three rounds there was nary a photograph nor peep. What can be deduced from various player comments is that the Avalanche met with defensemen Ryan Johnson, Moritz Seider and Thomas Harley plus forward Cole Caufield. They did not meet with forwards Philip Tomasino and Connor McMichael. Both are OHL players so it is possible their interviews were covered earlier by team scouting staff. No idea if the team met with any of the top prospects but it’s a safe assumption.
The Avalanche tend to favor a few certain tests including the Wingate bike test measuring peak performance and power which Dylan Cozens performed well on. The Vo2 is another measuring endurance saw Egor Afanasyev and Philip Tomasino place highest for output plus Yegor Spiridonov and Moritz Seider at the top in duration.
The last public gathering of players and organizations prior to the draft gives a few hints as to where some of the focus is heading. Final mock drafts, rankings and publications will follow in the next two weeks offering even more clarity on what to expect.
Some of the gossip centered around that Kirby Dach, Bowen Byram and Alex Turcotte seem to round out the top five tier with Trevor Zegras and Cole Caufield gaining some late momentum. A large contingent of European defensemen hope to crash the top 10 party while NTDP fans expect historic top 10 and first round returns. Dylan Cozens always seems more favored by the industry than fans while the opposite is true for Peyton Krebs and that trend held though the combine.
Vasily Podkolzin is the true wild card and the combine did not really offer much clarity on his draft stock. He spoke with the media via a translator and was clear he intends to play in the NHL in two years. Podkolzin met with 19 teams and that fact doesn’t really place where the interest lies in him either. Top 10 selection still seems likely but with Russians anything can happen.