10 takeaways from the 2016 NHL Scouting Combine

Auston Matthews spoke to a huge throng of media members at the NHL Combine on Saturday following his fitness test, stating that he aimed to do his best at the Combine and he felt that he achieved that.

Surprises, comparisons and few standout performances. Here are 10 takeaways from the 2016 NHL Scouting Combine.

1. Julien Gauthier is now the standard against which all buff prospects will be compared.

Gauthier weighed in at 230 pounds, almost cleared the landing board in the standing long jump, soared in the force plate and generally crushed physical testing (though maybe he didn’t push the Wingate like we might have suspected).

His skill quotient is, well, average. But with his body and work ethic — it’s not like he just inherited that body — you could probably project him as a third or fourth line banger and anything else would be a bonus.

Size dictates destiny: He will play, if only in a limited role, at the next level. If in the unlikely event there’s more skill there, he might be somewhat more than that. Still, a top 15 or top 20 for a player in that profile would seem like over-spending.

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2. I thought Logan Brown might be a climber after the World U18 Championship, and that seems like a majority opinion at the combine.

Said one veteran scout, “There’s a premium for big centres and I think there’s a shot he goes in the top five. He was great at U18s and in the second half of the season. He’s almost 6-foot-7 and he might be that by the end of the summer. In his interview he told us that he doesn’t know if he has stopped growing yet. He was a good interview, funny kid, not really like his father (former NHLer Jeff Brown), who was not the most social guy.”

The younger Brown is “tall” but not “big” at this point. He’d be two full years in junior beyond his draft year. He’ll need to pad his frame and right now it looks like the metabolism to put on 25 pounds is going to take a while.

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3. Sean Day. Sigh. Okay, he’s down 20 pounds at least from last summer. At 230 he still looks like a beer leaguer but it’s a start. It didn’t look like he bought into the idea that the combine was a chance to make a big impression.

He went from ordinary to very ordinary to below average at the stations, and seemed sort of nonchalant. You look at him and think: How does an unathletic kid possess plus-plus skating? This is one of life’s mysteries and the reason that someone will undertake Day as a challenge.

4. No Patrik Laine in testing today. No Jesse Puljujarvi. No London Knights. That’s a big dent out of the combine. Credit to Auston Matthews for doing the testing when he could have easily begged off, citing, oh, I dunno, a paper cut leftover from the worlds.

5. Alexander Nylander was leading the field in the Wingate testing, which no one saw coming.

Said one scouting director: “It might be that he’s a safer pick than his brother [William, the Maple Leafs’ 2014 first-rounder]. The older guy is a skilled centre who has a lot of skill, but you’re not sure about his jam. And if you try him on the wing, how is he going to be with physical play to get the puck? [Alexander] is a wing. He has a position and skill, maybe not as much creative stuff, but still way above average on that count.”

William’s Wingate test numbers were also surprisingly good a couple of years back, but not to the degree of his little brother here in Buffalo. It’s one reason to think that maybe the younger will make up for fewer magic tricks by being the more dynamic skater and having a clearer role from the get-go.

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6. There’s not quite a consensus on the choice between Olli Juolevi and Mikhail Sergachev as the top defenceman in this pool.

One scout who advocates Juolevi: “So smart, so much of what Finland did at the worlds and what London did this season started on his stick. Physically, he doesn’t get the credit that he should but he’s a playmaker and he makes the puck do the work. And he’s bigger than people might think.”

One scout who advocates Sergachev: “He probably helped himself this week. He measured at 220 pounds and over 6-foot-2. You can see him bring a physical component as a pro that you wouldn’t project for Juolevi. I think there’s a chance that he could be the best player in this whole draft eight or ten years from now. We liked him in our interview. He could have opted out of the U18s (after most of the Russian team was suspended for PED use). He told us that he wanted to go and play with underages at the tournament because he’d been an underager the year before and felt like he had a duty to help the Russian kids. ‘My country was always there for me, so I’m there for my country,’ he told us. Which you have to respect.”

7. You might see B.C. defenceman Charlie McAvoy and Sarnia blue liner Jake Chychrun show up in the top ten of a few mock drafts. This seems to be a reach, according to a poll of scouts.

Said one veteran scout who had viewed McAvoy five times on top of the world juniors: “The defencmen with top-pair upside here are Juolevi and Sergachev. Chychrun is at best a No. 3 defenceman [on a winning team] down the line. McAvoy might be a bit more of a wild card. The choice between Chychrun and McAvoy will come down to whether you like McAvoy’s hockey sense or Chychrun’s physical tools. Either way, if they’re not top-pair defencemen, then how do you spend a top ten pick on them?”

8. Said one goaltending coach: “I’m at the combine and I’m in the meetings but I can’t tell my GM that there’s a goalie that we can look at in the first two rounds. Maybe we can’t talk about one until the third or fourth. It’s a very bad year [for goalies].”

9. The combine is a lot more orderly than in past seasons, with the entire field being put through the meat grinder on Saturday because of the move of the VO2 test to earlier in the week. There are fewer stations: standing long jump, force plate (vertical), agility run, bench, pull-ups, balance test and Wingate. Gone are, among other things, sit-and-reach flexibility, push-ups, sit-ups, grip test, pull-push and other assorted contraptions.

Because the tests run on time, strength coaches get to see readings off more controlled circumstances—players go to each station with basically identical rest between max efforts.

10. Two surprises: Sarnia centreman Jordan Kyrou and Vancouver’s Ty Ronning had huge test results, both hyper athletic. Scouts polled generally had a favourable read on Kyrou but Ronning went from “love his game” to “not anywhere on our list.” For Ronning, of course, that might be a roster-driven choice, dropping because an organization already has its full quota of smaller, skilled forwards.

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