Between the team interviews and the physical testing, there’s a lot of information to pore over right now. With the draft just weeks away, let’s take a look at some of the players who put their best foot forward in Buffalo.
The draft combine is a tricky event. Some folks grouse that there is no on-ice component and the exercises do lend a bit of a dog-and-pony show vibe to the proceedings, but there is still a lot of business conducted. For players who didn’t have great years, or played in smaller circuits, the team interviews can be key. And it is interesting to see how certain players did on the physical tests compared to their peers. So who won the weekend?
In terms of damage control, this was an important event for Vancouver Giants left winger Tyler Benson. Ravaged by injuries that radiated from a cyst on his lower back, Benson got into just 30 games this season. He did have 28 points in that span, but for a player who had been thought of as top-10 material last year, it’s been a rough ride. So the interviews were key for him.
“It was pretty important,” he said. “They wanted to hear my side of the story, knowing how I felt when I was playing games, that I wasn’t playing to my full potential. So it was good for them to know what I was going through this year.”
Despite just being cleared for full workouts, Benson showed well in the physical tests. He ranked top-10 in the V02 Max bike test and the bench press.
For other players, the combine was more about overall exposure. Brett Murray, for example, is a powerful 6-foot-5 left winger bound for Penn State next season. He played Jr. A in Ontario this year for the Carleton Place Canadians, an Ottawa-area squad that won the Central Canada League.
“It definitely gave me a chance to speak to the teams about my playing style,” Murray said. “And having them know I’ll be ready to play at the next level, which will be a better league, being college hockey. It was an important week to prove myself.”
On the other side of Canada, we have offensive defenseman Dennis Cholowski. He really took off in the second half for the BCHL’s Chilliwack Chiefs and the St. Cloud State commit interviewed with 29 teams in Buffalo (Pittsburgh was the only holdout).
“Getting to meet all the NHL teams was a really good experience, especially for a guy like me coming out of the BCHL,” Cholowski said. “As the season progressed I got a lot better; I kinda burst on the scene and the ranking started going up, which was pretty exciting.”
In terms of physical testing. there were some interesting results. The Wingate bike measures anaerobic fitness, which dictates how fast and hard a player can push himself in short bursts (like during a 45-second shift, for example). Alex Nylander finished first overall in terms of his peak power output, while fellow top-10 prospects Auston Matthews, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Jakob Chychrun also ranked high.
While aerobic fitness (endurance) may not be as important in hockey, it was fascinating to see two goaltenders – Carter Hart (first) and Evan Fitzpatrick (third) – dominate the V02 Max bike. If any type of player would benefit from long-term endurance, you’d think it would be a goaltender, who is always on the ice (though not always busy, to be fair) and needs to be physically sharp until the final whistle.
Another test that seems pretty relevant to me is the vertical jump, which can be related to lower-body strength and explosiveness. Potential first-rounder Luke Kunin from the University of Wisconsin won that one, followed closely by another top-30 candidate, Val-d’Or’s Julien Gauthier. Chychrun was top-10 here, as well.
And just because people like it, the bench press was won by Shawinigan’s Samuel Girard. he did 15 reps of a barbell holding 70-80 percent of his body weight. Likely first-rounders Tyson Jost and German Rubtsov did 14 each.
The pull-up competition was won by Peterborough’s Jonathan Ang, who did 15. Nylander was top-20 in both bench press and pull-ups.
What will it all mean come draft day? We’re close to finding out. For searchable top-25 results, check out the official Central Scouting site here.