Ekblad shows power at scouting combine

Defenceman Aaron Ekblad is projected to be drafted in the top three this year. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

OK, it’s not exactly a riveting page-turner, but NHL teams—or at least their strength and conditioning coaches—will still be poring over a book fresh off the presses. We speak of the results from the physical tests at the Central Scouting Service’s combine.

It’s one thing to go to the combine, and another to see it play out on the page. You’d suppose you’d know everything just by attending, watching closely and taking notes. Wrong. One guy riding a stationary bike until he heaves breakfast looks pretty much like another. Everybody’s fingerprint is unique, but hunks of skin in a caliper are pretty well indistinguishable. Only when you get to the spreadsheets do the tests come into clear perspective.

No sense boring you with you everything. Here are a few highlights amid the minutiae:

Sam “Chin-Up” Bennett: Granted, he can’t get over the bar even once and he managed only two reps on the bench. Drew Doughty didn’t look like Michelangelo’s David either. Don’t sell Bennett short on useful hockey strength. His peak-power numbers on the bike fell in the average range, but they were above average when you factored in body weight. In fact, most of his physical numbers—going from body fat to vertical jump to VO2 capacity—were the average of those tested.

So why couldn’t he do a chin-up? My best guess is that it’s something to do with grip strength: It was way below average, probably in the range of the 10th to 15th percentile of those measured. Soft hands? Maybe.

Aaron Ekblad: Three years ago the OHL designated the Barrie defenceman an “exceptional player” thus allowing him to enter the league at 15. The tests at the combine validate the designation and the prevailing notion that he is the draft-eligible player most prepared to step into the NHL at 18. His peak-power numbers on the bike (1,383 watts) were the second highest among the more than 100 players tested, barely edged by Niagara defenceman Blake Siebenaler (1,393), and way beyond the average performance at this year’s combine: 1,150.

I’m not an exercise physiologist (though I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night…), but I am told by strength and conditioning coaches that an above-average NHLer who toils diligently in the gym for years can work his way up to the 1,600–1,700 range. These two are just about there already.

It’s reasonable to project that Ekblad’s explosive leg power would carry over into both a quick first step and strength on the puck. His bench (13 reps, or 9.9 as a factor of bodyweight) was again above the average (7.7 and 5, respectively). Making the bench number even more impressive are Ekblad’s sleeves: His 79-inch wingspan was only an inch less than the longest at the combine, which was owned by Ryan Mantha, a six-foot-five blueliner with Sioux City in the USHL.

One asterisk attached here: Ekblad did not take part in all of the jumping tests, so there’s some minor physical wounds still healing, which only makes the peak-power numbers all the more impressive.

Other peak-power stars: Barrie’s Brendan Lemieux, Prince Albert’s Leon Draisaitl and Modo’s William Nylander all were in the 90th percentile, with Nylander probably being the most surprising, just behind Ekblad. Also, the scouting consensus was that Nylander had the combine’s best head of hair. Said one exec: “The kid is wasting himself in hockey. He should just go become a male model.”

Nick Ritchie: OK, 13.6 bodyfat is not going to cut it at the next level. Still, at six-foot-two-and-a-half and 223 lb., he is a load, and his VO2 numbers were in the average range and strength numbers somewhat above. On the whole, about what you’d expect. (I saw someone hoarding sandwiches from the banquet table at the combine. I didn’t get his number but I think it was Alexis Pepin, a Gatineau centre whose body fat registered at a combine-worst 14.4.)

Shane “Sky” Gersich: I know, Shane who? The centre from Minnesota played for the U.S. under-18 team in Ann Arbor last season and CSS ranked him 132nd among North American skaters at season’s end. Gersich had eyes popping in the gallery when he was tested for his vertical jump—36 inches. The testers had to reset the apparatus. Only a couple of others nudged over 30 inches and the average was 26.6. Likewise, he blew everyone away in the standing long jump: 118 inches, or 15 more than the average. I imagine that he’ll hustle some marks in a pick-up hoops game in training camp.

Vladimir Tkachev: I love this kid. No one was more fun to watch on the ice. If hockey doesn’t work out for the Moncton-by-way-of-Omsk centre, he might catch a mount in the Kentucky Derby next year. Training for the combine he somehow had built himself up to 134.4 lb.

They laugh when you say “bag skate”: The best numbers in VO2 belong to Oshawa’s Hunter Smith, Barrie’s Brendan Lemieux and USDT’s Dylan Larkin.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.