BUFFALO - The NHL draft combine returned this year, bringing with it reams of information - both useful and not - about the 2022 draft class. The key of course? Sifting through that info and attempting to pull out the nuggets.
The first obvious note about this year's combine is that it seemed to be more sparsely attended by the NHL teams themselves. Back in the day, you had a ton of scouts and GMs (not to mention strength coaches), but this one definitely felt more media-heavy. Of course, teams generally find the interview portion of the combine more crucial and that all happens behind the scenes, but there is also the fact some events (such as the infamous V02 Max bike test) were moved to the day before in recent years.
Also obvious? No players from the Russian leagues were at this year's event. Pavel Mintyukov, Maxim Barbashev and Russian-born Danny Zhilkin (who actually played internationally for Canada at the world under-18s last year) were here, but they all play over here in the CHL. How this impacts draft day is still up in the air for many teams. As one GM told me, teams may be looking at each other in Montreal saying "Yeah, you go first," when it comes to selecting Russia-based players. Because frankly, no one knows if relations between Russia and the rest of the world will deteriorate even further.
A couple fun nuggets from the day: Montreal quickly became the favorite answer for "team with the toughest interview questions," among the players - guess the hosts want to make sure they leave no stones unturned. The Sabres were also notable for the fact that owner Terry Pegula sat in on the interviews his team conducted with players. That's the first I've heard of an owner taking part in the combine. As for most impressive brass, multiple players mentioned how cool it was to be part of an interview featuring Steve Yzerman, the Detroit Red Wings GM.
In terms of innovation, another first for me was hearing that Toronto used video clips in their interviews with players. The Maple Leafs would queue up clips of plays (both offensive and defensive), then pause and have the kids predict what happened next.
Also new this year? Some teams were asking kids if they had sportsbetting apps on their phone. The future is here, folks.
Something I've always been fascinated with is how many elite hockey players also played other sports as they were growing up. It's not a hard-and-fast rule - I remember Kirby Dach telling me he only played hockey growing up and he turned out fine - but interesting nonetheless. Here's a cross-section of this year's crop:
Seamus Casey: a little lacrosse and golf but nothing competitive
Calle Odelius: soccer and floorball
Noah Warren: soccer, basketball and swimming
Jeremy Langlois: baseball, football, soccer, pretty much everything
Adam Ingram: high school badminton, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, plus dad is a PGA golf coach so Ingram has a plus-2 handicap
Owen Pickering: baseball (triple-A, Team Manitoba), basketball
Lian Bichsel: soccer, volleyball (mom plays as well), tennis, basketball
Ty Nelson: lacrosse with Mimico Mountaineers until 12, 13
Liam Arnsby: little bit of soccer
Ryan Greene: soccer until 12 (played provincials for Newfoundland), basketball
Bryce McConnell-Barker: cross country/track and field, basketball
Owen Beck: soccer, basketball, rugby
Cruz Lucius: soccer, golf, pickleball
Jagger Firkus: fastball pitcher and golf
Michael Fisher: lacrosse (this was the first year he didn't play)
Jack Devine: cross country, baseball
Jimmy Snuggerud: baseball
Last week, I blogged about a new study from the University of Guelph that tried to zero in on which combine events correlated with future NHL success. The V02 Max and the peak leg power force plate were seen as the best. So who scored high there? In terms of leg power, the force plate was measured three different ways (vertical jump, squat jump, no arm jump) and the best performers included OHL London defenseman Isaiah George, NTDP center Frank Nazar, Finnish winger Joakim Kemell right winger and Swedish right winger Fabian Wagner. It's also worth noting that top prospect Shane Wright finished top-20 in all three leg categories.
For the V02 Max, the top-five were Topi Ronni, Julian Lutz, Marco Kasper, Noah Ostlund and Tristan Luneau.