While members of the hockey media flock to Pittsburgh for Stanley Cup Final media day today, NHL executives and scouts from all 31 teams are instead headed to Buffalo for the NHL Scouting Combine. The event kicks off tomorrow and runs all week long. A relatively new exercise for the NHL dating back to the early 2000’s, the combine has been hosted by the Sabres since 2015 and is scheduled to take place in Buffalo through 2019, the combine allows NHL teams their first chance both at one-on-one interviews with prospects and to discover specific medical and physical issues that may arise. The combine is hugely informative and executives around the league have raved about the impact it has made on the draft process.
The 2017 NHL Scouting Combine will feature 104 of the top prospects for the NHL Draft later in June, comprised of 84 North American prospects and 20 international prospects. Altogether, there will be 58 forwards, 36 defensemen and 10 goaltenders in attendance. This array of prospects should largely cover the entirety of the first three rounds of the draft, meaning every team has a reason to be in attendance and will have an eye on gaining insight beyond just the players likely to be there at their first round slot.
Much more extensive than other professional scouting combines, the NHL combine includes testing for joint movement, lung capacity (VO2 Max), balance, and grip strength. This is in addition to typical combine procedures like height and weight measurements and workouts such as the bench press, pull-ups, standing long jump, vertical leap, and the hockey equivalent to the 40-yard dash.
Some noteworthy top-ten prospects whose combine performance may be more important than others include Casey Mittelstadt, Cale Makar, and, of course, Nolan Patrick. The debate rages on ahead of June 23rd over who the better prospect and likely first-overall pick will be: Patrick or Nico Hischier. Hiscier supporters have increased in number, but the majority are still on the side of Patrick, even after a season spent mostly sidelined due to injury. Patrick can help his case for #1 in a major way with a clean bill of health and strong results in musculoskeletal workouts this week. If instead he still shows signs of wear and potentially risks of long-term issues, the New Jersey Devils could easily take Hischier instead. For Mittelstadt and Makar, as well as a few others in first-round consideration, their lack of experience playing against elite competition makes their measurables that much more important. Mittelstadt spent half of his season dominating high school kids in Minnesota and the other half in the USHL, while Makar played in the Junior A Alberta Junior Hockey League. While both are headed to the NCAA in 2017-18, where they can be better evaluated, that comes too late for the teams interested in selecting them this year. Neither faced the same level of consistent competition as their peers in the major junior CHL leagues or against men in European pro leagues, but can make up for it and add to their draft resumes with comparable workout results to fellow top prospects.
The Scouting Combine has become very important to all prospects and evaluators alike and has no doubt impact the draft order in each of the past two years. 2017 should be no different; stay tuned for any news coming out of Buffalo this week.