BUFFALO — The NHL draft combine is a funny event, in that it provides just a piece of a very big puzzle for teams trying to suss out which players they want to select that summer. The event itself has evolved over the years, from the ballroom of an airport hotel in the outskirts of Toronto, to the entire floor of the HarborCenter rink in Buffalo. But what can we actually learn from the combine?
In terms of news, Czech prospect Martin Kaut went home after a physical detected a heart problem that was swiftly dealt with. From the folks I’ve talked to, it won’t affect him going forward, so this is not a David Carle situation. But better safe than sorry.
British prospect Liam Kirk said he will come over to play major junior next season, while Germany’s Dominik Bokk said he would have come if an OHL team had taken him the CHL Import Draft. Prince Albert of the WHL nabbed his rights, so Bokk went to Vaxjo in Sweden, where he says he will play next season, too.
As for the testing itself, one of the questions that always comes up about the combine is the lack of on-ice events. Sure, it’s interesting and, admittedly, amusing to see these kids push themselves to the point of puking on stationary bikes, but is there practical application?
I spoke with one NHL exec who believes that eventually, on-ice testing will come to the combine. The main reason we don’t have it now is because some players haven’t skated in a competitive game in months, while others just completed arduous playoff runs. But the spectacle for an event that has clearly been groomed for TV really calls for it and it seems like we will see it in the coming years.
Another interesting note about the tests is that technology actually hinders the results in a certain way. As the exec pointed out, the tracking methods continually get more accurate, which is good. But the downside is that you can’t compare this year’s players versus ones from five, 10 years ago because the numbers wouldn’t be the same. You’re talking stopwatches versus lasers, so it’s practically apples to oranges in terms of benchmark accuracy.
Not only that, but the events also evolve. This year, the bench press is no longer based on reps, but on power output. The logic is that multiple reps were more about stamina, which isn’t necessarily a good measure for hockey, versus the power output, which is more about explosiveness in the upper body. The infamous Wingate bike test also changed. It used to be a 30-second weighted dead sprint. This year, it’s 45 seconds, but the speed changes. Having the kids biking in intervals is more close to a real hockey shift, with all the stops and starts and changes in speed. That evolution is good, but now teams can’t really compare say, Andrei Svechnikov to Jack Eichel, in terms of combine results.
Something that will make a big difference will be tracking chips at the junior level. I’m told it’s not that far off, whether it be in a player’s jersey or helmet (and probably the puck, too). Once that gets figured out, NHL teams will get a huge raft of data to comb through and they can’t wait.
In terms of storylines, the draft is always fun when it comes to speculation. Quinn Hughes, for example, plays at the University of Michigan and was at the NTDP before that, just down the road from Ann Arbor in Plymouth. Given where the Detroit Red Wings are slated to pick, a lot of folks are wondering if the franchise will take Hughes at No. 6. Hughes recently came back from the World Championship, where Detroit bench boss Jeff Blashill was his coach. There was another Red Wing there, too.
“I roomed with Dylan Larkin at the worlds so I got to know him pretty closely,” Hughes said. “He had the same path as me, going to Michigan, so Detroit would be a great spot. I love coach Blashill, he’s awesome. He was unbelievable with me so it would be a great fit, but it’s not up to me. I’ve done everything I can do up until this point and now it’s in their hands.”
And unfair as it may be, sometimes it’s impossible not to think about future drafts even when the current one hasn’t happened yet. The 2019 cohort will be led by Jack Hughes (Quinn’s brother) and one of his NTDP linemates had some nice insight on why the young center is such a phenom.
“His anticipation and vision to read plays is something he does real well,” said Joel Farabee. “He’s just a really special player. He’ll fail five times on a shift but then succeed on the sixth time; that’s something a lot of players don’t have.”
But before we get to 2019, we’ve got a fun 2018 group to watch for in Dallas. Their time is almost upon us.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.