10 Players To Watch For At The NHL Combine

The premier predraft event is about to take off.

The NHL Combine is now in its fourth day in Buffalo.  Draft prospects are interviewing with teams, hoping to make a lasting impression on them.  It’s a chance for GM’s and executives to get an up close look at a prospect.  But that is just the beginning of things to come for these prospects this week.

On Saturday, a total of 117 prospects are scheduled to take part in the fitness testing portion of the Combine.  Prospects will put their bodies to the ultimate test of strength, stamina, and endurance.  It’s a chance for the prospects to not only show their strengths, but their weaknesses as well.  They’ll walk away from Saturday knowing what they need to do to get better.

It is worth noting, that the fitness testing is not the end all for a prospect.  Remember when Sam Bennett couldn’t even complete one pull-up?  It surely didn’t damage his draft position.  He came back in September much stronger, completing 11 pull-ups.  It was an area of improvement, and Bennett took full advantage of the opportunity presented to him.

He couldn't do a pull-up at the Combine, but it didn't stop Calgary from making Sam Bennett a high draft pick. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
He couldn’t do a pull-up at the Combine, but it didn’t stop Calgary from making Sam Bennett a high draft pick. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

And that’s just what this weekend is.  It is an opportunity for prospects to show what they can do.  Just because someone is unable to complete an activity, doesn’t diminish what hockey skill they have.

With that said, the Combine can separate prospects who are bunched together in the rankings.  This testing gives teams another way of making their final decision on the draft floor.  Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel most likely know where they’ll go.  The testing won’t affect them as much.  But other prospects can rise or fall as a result of Saturday’s testing.

We are going to outline 10 players that are worth paying attention to in this Saturday’s fitness testing.  These are players who have more on the line than the others.  Whether the player has risen or fallen in the rankings, or they are on the cusp of becoming a 1st round pick, these players have the most to gain or lose.

Combine Players To Watch

10. Jordan Greenway – US U-18 Program

At 6’5″, Jordan Greenway has the size to become a solid power forward.  For a big man, Greenway possesses good skating.  But it is worth noting that Greenway’s ranking dropped from 22nd at midterm, to 47th now.  On Craig Button’s Top 100 list, Greenway is listed at 90th, near the end of the 3rd round.

Greenway’s shot and consistency are mentioned as reasons why he has dropped.  They seem correctable.  It will be interesting to see how Greenway performs on Saturday.  A good showing would solidify a place in the 2nd round.  Otherwise, expect him to go in the 3rd or 4th round.  For a potential elite power forward, that could be a steal.

greenway combine
Jordan Greenway has fallen in the ranks, but can make a huge statement Saturday at the Combine [photo: Tom Sorensen]
9. Travis Dermott – Erie Otters

The Erie Otters had an incredible season, lead by Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome.  One of the unsung heroes of that team, was Travis Dermott.  Some, myself included, consider him the best 2-way defenseman in the OHL.  Dermott was the quarterback of the power play that finished the season at over 31%.  He also was responsible in his own end, which led to a lot of transition for the Otters.

Dermott is on the smaller side, listed at 5’11”.  He has room to grow.  Depending on which rankings you go by, Dermott is going anywhere from early in the 2nd round, to early in the 3rd round.  He’s not flashy, but is highly effective.  Saturday could push Dermott to the brink of the 1st round.

8. Nicolas Roy – Chicoutimi Sagueneens

Like Greenway, Nicolas Roy has dropped in the final rankings, from 25th at midterm to 45th now.  Button has Roy ranked at 100th overall, early in the 4th round.  Roy has nice hands, and uses his 6’4″ size effectively in all areas of the ice.   The main questions that are asked about Roy are his defensive game and his speed.

Still, he is someone worth monitoring on Saturday.  A good showing on Saturday could put Roy in the conversation for the 2nd round.  Centers who are 6’4″ don’t come around everyday.  Expect him to be a decent 3rd round selection.

roy combine
Nicolas Roy, like Greenway, can use the Combine to his advantage. (Jonathan Roy/Quebec Remparts)

7. Vince Dunn – Niagara Ice Dogs

Vince Dunn is considered one of the best offensive defensemen in this entire draft.  His playoff performance in the OHL opened a lot of eyes.  He notched 6 goals and 10 points in 8 games.  Dunn was ranked 53rd at midterm.  Now he is listed at 32nd.   Dunn is a risk taker.  He will pinch every opportunity he gets.  It leads to many scoring chances for.  At the same time, it leads to many chances against.  Dunn is high risk, very high reward.

Dunn is projected to go early in the 2nd round.  He possesses 1st round talent.  Saturday will be his chance to show what he can do.  A good showing could mean he sneaks into the 1st round, on a really good team.

6. Nicholas Merkley – Kelowna Rockets

Nicholas Merkley just finished a very solid season, helping lead the Kelowna Rockets to the Memorial Cup Final.  Merkley is small in stature, but very dynamic.  He is good at many things, which more than makes up for being only 5’10”.  Merkley has a very high hockey IQ.  He can find space anywhere on the ice, as evidence by his 92 assists combined regular season and playoffs this season.

Merkley dropped from 13th to 23rd on Central Scouting rankings, while Button has him 11th overall.  His size is definitely a question, but seems locked into the 1st round.  He could even crack the Top 10 with a strong showing this weekend.

Nick Merkley combine
Nick Merkley won’t let his size stop him from making a statement at the Combine. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)

5. Travis Konecny – Ottawa 67s

Two-way forwards are sometimes not the most flashy.  But they surely produce.  This perfectly describes Travis Konecny.  Not only can Konecny produce offensively (over a point/game this season), he consistently plays against the other team’s best forwards, and usually wins.  Konecny is smaller, listed at 5’10”.  Like Merkley, Konecny has a very high hockey IQ.  He can play both center and wing.  Konecny was considered one of the most dangerous scorers in the OHL, thanks to his release.

Konecny moved from 26th to 14th on the Central Scouting rankings.  Button has him at 33rd overall, early in the 2nd round.  His performance Saturday will go a long way in determining if he becomes a 1st rounder.

4. Joel Eriksson Ek – Farjestad (Sweden)

Talk about someone who made a major statement in the rankings.  Joel Eriksson Ek was ranked 22nd at midterm.  Now he is ranked 4th for international skaters.  Button has Eriksson Ek ranked 13th overall.

He is a center with good size, listed at 6’2″.  He played 34 games in the SHL, against better competition.  Eriksson Ek’s scoring was lower than some had hoped.  His work ethic more than makes up for that.  Eriksson Ek will be your team’s hardest working player.  He can also create offense when nothing is there.  Saturday could cement his place solidly in the 1st round.

3. Lawson Crouse – Kingston Frontenacs

Lawson Crouse is probably the most intriguing player in the draft.  Some have him going as high as the Top 5.  Others have him going somewhere in the middle of the 1st round or later.  The discussion on this player is fascinating.

Crouse is known as one of the better defensive forwards in this draft.  Scouts praise his defense.  But his offense is something different.  Many have indicated that he is shy in that department.  At the same time, Crouse is considered one of the strongest players in the draft, who can skate well for his size.  Is he worth a Top 5 pick?  Saturday could help determine that for teams.

2. Noah Hanifin – Boston College Eagles

We can also include the other top defensive prospects Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski in this conversation.  There seems to be some disagreement in who the best prospect of this group is.  According to Central Scouting, the order goes Hanifin, Provorov, and Werenski.  Button has Provorov, Werenski, then Hanifin.  Button has Hanifin outside his Top 10.

Truth is, all three players have the chance to be franchise defensemen.  Saturday will be interesting for all 3 prospects.  This will be a chance for each to separate themselves.  A team who is considering any of these three players will pay close attention to the fitness testing.  This will be fun to watch.

1. Dylan Strome – Erie Otters

So who will be the third overall pick?  Dylan Strome is in the running for that.  But so are Hanifin and Mitch Marner.  Strome had a fantastic season for the Otters.  He played his best hockey when Connor McDavid missed time with his broken hand.  He has areas of his game that need work.  Can Strome prove he is the best choice for Arizona at third?  Saturday could ultimately answer that question.

Dylan Strome combine
Dylan Strome is in a battle with both Noah Hanifin and Mitch Marner for 3rd overall. [photo: OHL Images]
With 117 prospects completing the fitness testing, any of them could rise up and make a statement.  The order of the draft will be partially determined by the events of the Combine.  Which prospect will shine brightest on Saturday?  We will know soon enough.