NHL Scouting Combine primer: What will players go through in 2019?

HC analyst Brian Burke talks about why the NHL Draft is a critical component of putting a team's scouting list together, and has some key advice for players on how to ace it.

Although it’s being overshadowed by the Stanley Cup Final and NBA Finals, this week marks one of the most important weeks on the calendar for NHL teams.

The NHL Scouting Combine is underway in Buffalo with more than 100 of the top draft-eligible hockey players there meeting with teams and undergoing physical examinations and fitness tests in advance of the 2019 NHL Draft that takes place June 21-22 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

The combine, which began Monday and runs through Saturday, has been held annually in Buffalo since 2015 and just like the past several years the KeyBank Center and HarborCenter serve as the host venues.

There are 108 draft-eligible prospects attending this year’s combine. The breakdown goes as follows: 10 goalies, 40 defencemen and 58 forwards, including consensus No. 1 pick Jack Hughes.

Although the fitness testing aspect of the combine is usually what garners most of the headlines, teams sitting down and meeting with prospective draftees face-to-face is considered the most vital part of the week.

“A lot of people, including the prospects themselves, think of it as kind of a job interview, but we try to create a friendly, relaxed environment that the players can feel comfortable in,” Calgary Flames head amateur scout Tod Button told Ryan Dittrick of CalgaryFlames.com. “I personally don’t see much value in trying to trip them up with strange questions and things like that. We’ve talked a lot of hockey already. It’s best that we use this time to get to know them better as people – their hobbies, interests, family, and of course, what drives them.”

The New Jersey Devils hold the top pick this year and they are among the teams with whom Hughes has already met.

“The meeting went well,” Hughes told NHL.com’s Mike G. Morreale. “There were some laughs in there. It was good to get to know them and I’m sure we’ll get to know them a little bit more coming up to the draft.

“The Devils have a really good young core, and the MVP of the league last year in Taylor Hall. I know they have good fans and they won three Stanley Cups back in the day so they’re a winning franchise and they’re hungry to win more, so if it did end up being New Jersey I’d be really excited.”

The New York Rangers, holders of the No. 2 pick, are also on Hughes’s list of teams to meet.

The consensus second-best prospect – and the only one who some think could leapfrog Hughes and go first overall – is Kaapo Kakko but it was announced Tuesday the Finnish star, fresh off a world championship gold medal with Team Finland, would not be participating in the combine after all.

Regardless which player the Devils take at No. 1, the Rangers should have an easy time making their selection at No. 2.

There’s a new crop of prospects in 2019 but the fitness component at the combine is more or less identical to what we’ve seen the past few years. Below you’ll find an overview of the 12 fitness tests the participating athletes will be put through.

The following four tests are scheduled to take place Friday:

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Y-Balance– The Y-Balance is a dynamic test performed in single-leg stance that requires strength, flexibility, core control and proprioception. It has been used to assess physical performance, demonstrate functional symmetry and identify athletes at greater risk for lower extremity injury. The goal of this test is to maintain single-leg stance on one leg while reaching as far as possible with the contralateral leg. Each test is repeated three times with the maximum reach in each direction recorded.

Here is an instructional video to get an understanding of the drill.

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Functional Movement Screen – This is a series tests which assesses mobility and stability in the athlete during following seven movement exercises: deep squat, hurdle step, in­line lunge, shoulder mobility, active straight leg raise, trunk stability push­up and rotary stability. It is meant to identify the quality, limitations and weaknesses (or right and left side imbalances) of basic movements by an athlete.

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Grip Strength – The athlete adjusts a hand grip dynamometer to his hand size, fully extends his arm and squeezes the dynamometer as forcefully as possible. The test is conducted on both hands.

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Aerobic Fitness VO2max – Aerobic fitness is assessed by measuring the amount of oxygen utilized (VO2 max) during maximal exercise employing volume determination and analysis of expired air. In addition, heart rate is monitored continuously, providing data for heartrate-based training. This test will be performed on a professional grade spin bike (Watt Bike) cycle ergometer using a Cortex Metalyzer VO2 cart.

The end point is determined by either:
a) the athlete physically stops pedalling
b) the athlete experiences difficulty breathing or chest pain or
c) the appraiser stops the subject because the athlete can no longer maintain the required rpm despite intense effort.

The remaining eight tests, as seen below, will be conducted on Saturday. These ones are open to both NHL teams and media.

Standing Height – Athlete stands against a wall (barefoot, heels together with the backs of the feet touching the wall) and their height is measured to the nearest quarter inch.

Wingspan – Athlete extends his arms straight out to the sides. Wingspan is measured to the nearest quarter inch from the middle finger tip to middle finger tip.

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Standing Long Jump – Athlete stands with feet slightly apart with toes behind the jumping line. Using an arm swing to assist, the athlete jumps as far as possible.

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Jump Station (AccuPower Dual Force Plate System) – An AccuPower Dual Force Plate system will be used to objectively measure the direction, strength and timing of the three-dimensional (3D) forces that the athlete produces during hockey related movement. The AccuPower system also captures synchronized video data from two high speed cameras and overlays the 3D force vector produced from each leg. The test will provide immediate feedback allowing teams to assess movement efficiency, physical performance and injury potential.…

Three jump types will be performed: Vertical Jump (with arm swing), No Arm Jump (no arm swing / hands on hips) and Squat Jump (squat start / hands on hips). Each jump test will include three separate maximum effort vertical jumps separated by 10 seconds of rest. The athlete’s best vertical jump height from the three attempts of each jump will be recorded.

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Bench Press – Conducted using a standard padded bench with the athlete lifting 50% of his body weight (pre-determined) utilizing free weights (including the barbell). The athlete lies on his back on the bench and grips the barbell with thumbs approximately shoulder width apart. The buttocks must remain on the bench with the feet on the floor. The starting position is with the arms fully extended. The bar is lowered to the chest, after a slight pause, athlete pushes the bar as quickly as possible until their arms are fully extended. Each athlete will perform three reps at maximum velocity, with a slight pause between each rep at the chest position. A “Gym Aware” device will be used to measure the velocity of the bar and the athlete’s ability to produce power. The reported score will be measured in watts/kg.

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Pro Agility Test – The 5-10-5 yard shuttle (or 15-30-15 feet) evaluates multi-directional speed, agility and whole body reaction plus control. Each player will perform one sequence starting to the right and one sequence starting to the left.

agility-test-chart

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Pull Ups – Athlete does as many consecutive pull ups they can while maintaining the correct technique.

wingatetest

Wingate Cycle Ergometer Test – The athlete warms up by pedalling at a low resistance for two minutes. To start the test, the athlete pedals at a progressively quicker cadence so that by the time the designated workload has been reached, he is peddling at his maximal capacity. The athlete pedals at his maximal capacity, while seated, against the designated workload for 30 seconds.

Revolutions are recorded for each five second period, then power output is calculated for both the peak five second period and the 30 second duration. A player’s peak power output and mean power output at each max effort interval is recorded.

The top 25 results from each test (excluding the Y-Balance and Functional Movement Screen) will be posted online at the conclusion of the event.


The graphics above were created by Erika Vanderveer. Descriptions of the tests were provided by the NHL.

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