E.J. McGuire, the late head of NHL Central Scouting used to have a great take on NHL combine results. He said that they were useful to scouts like a lamppost was to a drunk… that is more for support than illumination.
Keeping that in mind, hopefully executives, scouts and strength coaches will be studying the test results from the NHL combine this week.
Here’s what they are probably safe taking away from each of the respective testing stations.
Anaerobic peak power:
As noted on Saturday in real time, Mississauga’s Alexander Nylander absolutely blew away the field on this count. His number (21.7) was well ahead of USNDT’s William Lockwood’s second-place 19.3. and a long way above the average reading of 15.7.
The next best eight of the 99 prospects tested were at 18.0 or fractionally better but it’s interesting that there are three top names in that number: Cape Breton’s Pierre-Luc Dubois (tied for fourth overall at 18.6), projected first overall and Leafs saviour Auston Matthews (ninth overall at 18.1) and Sarnia’s Jakob Chychrun (10th at 18 flat).
Matthews should probably get extra marks for having less time to prepare for specific combine tests than others in the field given his commitment to the U.S. team at the world championships — and, in fact, even following through on the tests at all.
That elite kids tested so high here tells you something not only about them but also the usefulness of this test in predicting success. Those in the 90th percentile in explosive power here are a lot more likely than the hindmost in having success on the ice. And as noted on the weekend, Vancouver’s Ty Ronning was one of the better athletes among all tested and on the Wingate it held true — his 18.4 was sixth best in the field.
The average in the field was 15.7 and way down the list you’d find Mississauga’s Sean Day (82nd in the field at 14.2) and Windsor’s Logan Brown (90th at under 14). As noted on the weekend, Day was more or less waving the white flag at the combine when he needed to make a good impression but Brown’s reading was of more crucial interest. He was also in the 90s in the field with an 18-inch vertical.
“He has a lot of growing into his body, but when he does get that lower-body strength up he’s going to get separation speed and be an even more effective player,” one scout said. “He’s not marked down (for the Wingate performance) and really it just gives you the idea that there’s real upside there.”
(One question that I’ll leave for study at some other time is whether there’s a bit of a handicap on the Wingate for players with ridiculously long inseams like the 6-foot-6 Brown.)
The player that scouts really wanted to see on this station — or any — was London’s Matthew Tkachuk. The only knock on Tkachuk (and it’s really just an asterisk attached), is that he doesn’t have a great first step. People were looking to see if that would be reflected on the Wingate and jumps, but Tkachuk passed on the tests having come off the Memorial Cup.
Anaerobic mean power:
Predictably, most of the aforementioned top performers in peak power placed high on this reading. Windsor’s Mikhail Sergachev, who weighed in at 220 pounds, made it into the top 10. If Sergachev doesn’t play right away at the next level it won’t be because he’s not physically ready. (Ditto Dubois and Chychrun as above.)
Saint John blue-liner Luke Green was by a comfortable margin the best performer in the field — first (by more than a tenth of a second) and second (by .01) in the right and left splits. Sarnia’s Jordan Kyrou and Dubois also stood out in the agility testing.
The floor-touch drill is supposed to be a good indicator of the prospects’ athleticism and ability to change direction but then again last year Connor McDavid hit the wall on Corner Three on this test so read into it what you will.
Talking to a couple of strength coaches and scouts on Saturday, each noted that they’d like to see forward and back worked into a purely lateral test — something closer to the NFL’s pylon weave. That said, given the risk of injury involved, and there were more than a few perilous skids on Saturday, you get the idea that CSS would be as likely to drop the test as it would be to modify and expand it.
A couple of anomalies here. Finishing first and tying for second were a pair of goalies. Everett’s Carter Hart posted a 65.0, well above the average which was less than 55 and a fair bit clear of second-place Sherbrooke’s Evan Fitzpatrick at 62.0. (Fitzpatrick tied at that mark with centre Brandon Gignac of Shawinigan who finished 99th on Central Scouting’s list of North American skaters.)
Patrik Laine pulled up lame in the VO2 while Nylander and B.C.’s Charles McAvoy were at the back of the pelaton on this test. Again, take it for what it’s worth.
Vertical jump (force plate):
Wisconsin’s Luke Kunin, 11th on CSS’s list of North American skaters, showed the way with a 29-inch vertical but it wasn’t quite as impressive as second-place finisher Julien Gauthier’s 27-inch leap, given that Gauthier weighed in at 230 pounds.
Chychrun and Kyrou were again in the top 10 on this count, with the average coming in at 20.5 inches. Back of the pack was Penticton defenceman Dante Fabbro with 16 inches. Overall, Fabbro didn’t impress with his athleticism in any particular test and maybe not so surprisingly — his game is more subtle and skilled than dynamic.
Sean Day went off at 1-5 odds to have the worst result here and he did at 14.9 per cent. Maybe as disappointing was Fabbro who measured at 13.2 per cent, with 100 prospects testing better than him. The only prominent name among the leanest was Mississauga’s Michael McLeod’s 7.1 per cent which was second only to Swift Current defenceman Maxime Lajoie’s 7.0.
Overall McLeod had a very solid combine. “The only thing you wonder about with him is the skill level,” said one scout in attendance. “You can see it here (at the combine) and on the ice that he has a crazy compete level and he’s a great skater. The only thing that might hold him back at the next level is playmaking. Can he create for others at the next level? He’s not a kid who is a big-time finisher (in junior) so at the next level he’s going to have to make his wingers better if you’re projecting him as a centre. There’s a lot to like about him but that’s the question that’s hanging out there.”
Shawinigan blue-liner Samuel Girard led the way with 15 reps and New York Islanders exec George McPhee’s son Graham was runner-up at 14 along with Penticton’s Tyson Jost and Russian under-18 German Rubtsov, who both impressed and solidified their late-rising stock at the combine.
Taking the golden doughnut on the bench was Saginaw goaltender Evan Cormier. The bar was adjusted by body weight so the 200-plus pound Cormier was under a heavier bar than most in the field, but he was alone in being unable to squeeze out a single rep. Logan Brown was credited with a couple but that station does no favours for the kids with the big wingspan.
Peterborough centre Jonathan Ang will likely be a middle-round pick but he led the way with 15 pull-ups and generally impressed in combine testing (although he was back of the field in duration on the VO2).
Sam Steel of Regina wound up in second with 13. Day was credited with three but I watched and there wasn’t a single one that should have counted. Maybe they went with lifetime totals.
This station (staged before Saturday’s showcase) is probably more useful as a predictor of possible injury than a meaningful measure of athleticism. Finishing 103rd and last in the field to complete the test was McLeod, which isn’t a specific red flag but something that teams will want to follow up. Maybe not a surprise that there were also red flags attached to oft-injured Tyler Benson of Vancouver.
Winners at the combine:
Nylander, Dubois, Matthews (not that he needed it), Sergachev and Rubtsov.
The guy assigned to the pail duty after the Wingate test.