While the combine results for top NHL prospects are taken with only a grain of salt relative to their NFL counterparts, combine weekend does allow for teams to pick up some key information about a player’s physical ability that may make a difference as to when their name is called on June 23rd. While there is always a player whose lackluster performance gets the attention of the media – the victim this year was Casey Mittelstadt and his inability to do a pull-up – other players can instead gain the attention of scouts by showcasing their athleticism.
This year, two players stood out above all the rest: Joshua Norris and Morgan Geekie. Norris put on a clinic at the combine, finishing first in the vertical jump (26.19 inches), long jump (118 inches), and shuttle (4.19 seconds), as well as placing near the top of pull-ups and fitness exercises. A 6’1″, 192-lb. center out of the U.S. National Development Program, Norris was ranked 34th among North American skaters in the NHL’s final prospect rankings and has been projected as a second-round pick, but given the athleticism he put on display this weekend, he could be pushing for a late first-round selection. Geekie, also a center and standing at 6’2″, 178-lbs., may not slide into the first, but has surely moved up some draft boards, up from his #45 ranking towards the top of the second round after his performance. Geekie finished third in the long jump (114.5 inches) and also placed near the top of many other workouts including the vertical jump, shuttle, pull-ups, and grip strength measurements. The Tri-City pivot showed a wide range of physical ability.
Others who excelled at combine workouts included several first-round candidates. Kailer Yamamoto was measured as having the top VO2 max of the class, a metric of oxygen consumption and thus stamina, and also finished second in the shuttle (4.2 seconds, 4.38 seconds) and in the top ten of pull-ups and fitness testing. At just 5’8″ and 153-lbs., many have been critical of the Spokane Chiefs right wing, but this showing of strength and athleticism may help to quell some of those concerns over his size. Another smaller player, potential top-ten defenseman Cale Makar, was similarly successful. The 5’11”, 180-lb. UMass-bound blue liner finished third in the shuttle (4.39 seconds) and near the top of both the vertical jump and long jump, displaying the explosiveness in his legs that helps him fly around the ice. On the other side of the size scale, 6’6″, 200-lb. Isaac Ratcliffe was not only measured as having the longest wingspan of the group (81.29 inches), but also finished third in VO2 max and near the top in the shuttle and long jump. A big man with a reach, strong legs, and stamina? The Guelph left winger seems like a lock to be taken in the first round now. Other standout skaters included Sault Ste. Marie center Morgan Frost, who could be hearing his name called on Day One after ranking first in fitness and third in the vertical jump (24.63 inches), Scott Reedy, who was all over the map with the top mark in grip strength (170 lbs. lefty), second-best VO2 max, and a high mark in the shuttle, and Owen Sound lefty Jonah Gadjovich, who had the second best grip with his primary hand (164 lbs.) and also excelled at the bench press and pull-ups. Look out for American prep school defensive prospect Jack Rathbone, who finished at the top of the pull-up charts with 13 and excelled on the bench press as well, and USHL defenseman Mario Ferraro, who had a well-rounded workout finishing among the best in the bench press, pull-ups, grip strength, and shuttles. Though late-round prospects, guys like Rathbone and Ferraro can use the combine to differentiate themselves from other lesser-known names.
A couple of goalies looked to stand out in a deep keeper draft as well, as both Dayton Rasmussen and Ian Scott shown bright at the combine. Rasmussen had the most bench reps of any player in attendance (17) and the second-best vertical jump as well (25.56 inches). Rasmussen, who played in the USHL last year, could use the extra attention. He also placed well in the long jump, but Scott stole his thunder in that exercise. Scott, of the Prince Albert Raiders, is a more well-known prospect, but still one of many good goalies in this class. His size and strength could help to give him an edge though, as displayed by his 117.5-inch long jump, second-best of the weekend, and strong vertical jump, as well as his 78.5-inch wingspan.
What of the draft’s top two prospects, Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier? Hischier had the highest ranking in any one event, tying Rathbone atop the pull-up charts with 13, but the bigger news was his all-around domination over Patrick. The Swiss center edged out his rival in pull-ups, the long jump, the shuttle, and fitness and VO2 testing and only narrowly lost out in the vertical jump. The only workout where Patrick had a clear advantage was the bench press, where he repped 70% of his 198-lb. frame 12 times while Hischier could only manage seven reps of 70% of his 176 lbs.