Combine created some NHL draft rumbles

BUFFALO, NY — You have to wonder what NHL teams can glean from the interview process at the Scouting Combine.

There have been hundreds of interviews over the course of this week in Buffalo and most of the time it’s stock answers to stock questions with each side of the conversation sticking to the script.

Said one executive in attendance this week: “If you’re talking to a kid who grew up in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area], Burnaby or Calgary, and played in one of the big-city elite programs, you feel like you’re talking to a 10-year pro. They know the score. They know how to present themselves, but they have the filters on.”

More on the 2015 NHL Combine here:

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  • The evolution of the NHL Draft Combine
  • How NHL stars answered draft questionnaires

  • Another factor is the impact that the agents have in preparing the prospects, the exec said.

    “You can tell the kids from the big agencies have gone over it with the kids until they have it down.”

    Well, maybe. Charlottetown’s Daniel Sprong is a client of one of the biggest agencies, CAA, and Pat Brisson is as influential as any agent in the biz with Sidney Crosby the lead horse in his stable. Maybe Sprong had been prepped fully, but he is a confident individualist if not a loose cannon, and there seemed to be a range of opinions on him coming out off the interview circuit this week.

    Said one exec with a Western Conference team: “I liked how he presented [in his interview] with us. He was pretty plainspoken and direct in our questions with us.”

    Said a scout with an Eastern Conference club: “We had serious interest in him and he looked like he was in our range but there were a couple of gotcha questions and bad answers. Really didn’t like that. I think it’s fair to say that we’re off him.”

    One player who played to rave reviews was Brandon defenceman Ivan Provorov, who is one of the three best defencemen in this draft pool and, according to some, the best blueliner in the house. Said the Western Conference exec: “We’ll ask questions about other players on a kid’s teams or opponents and see if he’ll throw them under the bus and he said: ‘I just play and it’s not my job to say who can play and who can’t. It’s your job.’ Which is a perfect answer. You see zero attitude and all kinds of respect with something like that.’”

    Interviews are also the opportunity for teams to take a crack at solving or at least explaining draft enigmas. One such puzzle is Jordan Greenway, a huge power forward out of the USDT program in Ann Arbor.

    Said one scout yesterday: “He was better at the start of the season than he was at the end of it. I think he’s just learning what to do out there. I don’t think there’s any character issues, but it’s a question of how ready he is to work with a team and be patient. He might be. Just based on raw athletic tools, raw skating ability, he might be one of the top 10 kids in this whole class. Does he go before 50? To me that’s an even-money bet.”

    Similarly, teams look with interest at the results of the physical testing with something more than passing interest but not a lot more. Sam Bennett couldn’t do a pull-up last year but that didn’t seem to hold him back in the playoffs this spring.

    If you looked at the physical testing yesterday, you would have presumed that Jack Eichel was the player looking down the list—maybe even way down—to find Connor McDavid on the list. Eichel almost cleared the length of the mat in the standing broad jump—freakish explosive lower-body power.

    Through the morning session Eichel was 10 inches clear of defenceman Noah Hanifin, No. 3 on Central Scouting’s list of North American skaters, and Hanifin was half a foot clear of almost everyone else. There really aren’t any question marks about Eichel as a player in the long run, but maybe some called into question his readiness for next season—that is, he could step right into the NHL but might have to be brought along slowly and worked in from a third-line role.

    His results in the physical tests were consistent with what you’d see from a 28-year-old veteran. (Yesterday’s entry suggested that Eichel would blow up in the tests but honestly I didn’t expect it to be as dramatic as it turned out.)
    Again, this is of at least passing interest but again, no one looks at the tests here as sorting out who can play and who can’t, just what teams will have to work with.

    Really, the medical work-ups on players are the most critical aspect of the combine, where red flags surface, but even at that, organizations will have their own team doctors inspect the meat. The findings for the medicals as well as the results from the physical tests won’t circulate to teams until early in the week.

    Okay, all of that serves as an advisory. You should take what comes out of the combine with a grain of salt because NHL scouting departments generally do the same.

    Still, you heard a few rumbles around the draft.

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