Four players who stood out at the NHL Combine


Mackenzie Blackwood, pictured in action here with the Barrie Colts, had the shutout for Team Canada. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Cheers didn’t go up and no music pumped the crowd at the NHL combine, so you couldn’t quite tell exactly when the performances of prospects piqued the interest of scouts, executives and strength coaches in attendance last week. And it’s hard to say that any player really boosted his stock. Still, asterisks were likely marked beside a few names of players who aced their physical tests. These include:

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Travis Konecny, C, Ottawa 67’s
Aside from Jack Eichel, no projected first-round skater impressed more than Konecny.

Endurance and power: He wound up in the 90th percentile in both VO2 and Wingate peak power testing. He also managed 16 reps in the body-weight adjusted bench press, fourth overall in the field, tied with Jack Eichel. Konecny’s explosive jumps weren’t quite so impressive but still above average.

Given his work ethic and motor, you’d expect Konecny would be there in the aerobic elite but the other numbers make you sit up and take notice. He already climbed from 26th at the mid-term to 14th in the final Central Scouting rankings of North American skaters, so don’t expect him to be jumping anyone on his performance at the combine.

Still, the Wingate goes a long way to explain his dynamic skating and the strength numbers suggest that he could turn out to be strong enough to skate through heavy traffic that might hold up other players who aren’t quite 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds. More than boosting his stock, the combine more effectively answered lingering questions about Konecny’s potential to be able to play the game at the next level with his size.

Mackenzie Blackwood, G, Barrie Colts
The top-ranked goaltender in North America, Blackwood led the field in functional-movement testing—it’s pretty logical that a goaltender would be up there on the list in this testing. Still, it’s a nice measure of the athleticism that scouts are looking for at the position.

Further, Blackwood was way up on other tests where you don’t necessarily expect goaltenders to be among the elite. In aerobic testing he lasted well over 11 minutes on the bike test, seventh overall, not far behind Eichel. In anaerobic tests, Blackwood was even more impressive, putting up the fourth-best numbers in the peak-power measurement on the Wingate. He was in a virtual tie for second in the vertical jump and a clear second in the standing long jump. He even managed 12 reps on the bench, which put him ahead of a lot of power forwards.

Blackwood seriously busted the tests and was arguably the most impressive kid overall.

Some scouts weren’t sold on Blackwood’s interviews, but he left it all out on the floor. His stock has been boosted, although not necessarily on his performance in the showroom in Buffalo. With top-ranked Euro goalie Ilya Samsonov passing on the combine, citing school commitments, and with teams concerned that he might be locked up in Russia for three full seasons, teams looking to restock with prospects in net might move sooner rather than later on Blackwood.

(Sidenote: Blackwood’s 78-inch wingspan was up there, not quite with the 81-inch reach of Quebec’s Callum Booth, the No. 2-ranked North American goalie prospect, but either one has pro-length sleeve.)

Jesse Gabrielle, LW, Regina Pats
He might project to be a third- or fourth-round pick, but Gabrielle murdered the anaerobic testing. In peak power he was 10 percent ahead of a closely bunched field, an off-the-charts number. Every once in a while you see an anomaly like that in testing and who knows if it can be translated into his game? Should he be a more dynamic or even elite skater with that lower-body power?

Then there was the bench: Gabrielle managed 20 reps, three clear of the field. Again, the tests don’t raise his stock, but it will get teams to re-open his file and see if there’s something they missed.

His stock took a hit and his play was thought to have fallen off when he was traded from Brandon to Regina in mid-season. He slid from No. 61 at the mid-term to 73 in Central Scouting’s rankings of North American skaters. He’s not tall, just under six feet, but he’s a thick, tough kid. He’ll be an interesting call at the draft.

Karch Bachman, LW, Culver Academy
Again, like Gabrielle, he’s a lightly considered kid (No. 87 in North America) but he was arguably the best prospect in the field in the agility testing, tied with Blackwood in functional movement and was fifth overall in anaerobic output.

The Fort Wayne native is committed to Miami University, but Barrie owns his major-junior rights. He would have been seen this season at Culver, although less so than kids playing in major junior or the USDT.

He also missed games this season with a broken hand and his numbers fell off. Another prospect that teams will be re-assessing this week.

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