We have reached the end of May. Finally for all you patient fans out there, business is about to pick up in a big way for your favorite hockey teams.
For the first time since 2019, Buffalo’s Harborcenter will be hosting the NHL Combine. This gives teams a chance to meet with prospects one-on-one while getting to see them perform in a variety of tests.
The NHL canceled the Combine the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without the benefit of the Combine, teams had to adjust to conducting their business virtually. Most everything was done via phone calls or Zoom. With the return of the Combine comes a return to at least some normalcy.
Related: 2022 NHL Draft Guide
The Combine starts on Monday and goes through until Saturday afternoon culminating with seven of the fitness tests which include the dreaded Wingate test. The Hockey Writers will be live on site all day Saturday for the fitness testing. Prospects will also speak to the media at the conclusion of their testing and Wingate recovery.
What are the storylines to watch this week? Here’s what we’re following.
Top Prospects Together at Last
Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky, Logan Cooley and other top prospects will all be together in one place throughout the course of the week. The 2022 NHL Draft has long been dubbed “The Shane Wright Draft.” But as of late, that stance has been called into question.
For a team like the Montreal Canadiens who own the first pick at July’s draft, the Combine gives them a chance to interview all of the top prospects to get their own sense of which direction they want to go. Then the rest of the dominoes will fall once the Canadiens confirm who their selection is.
This week will give these top prospects a chance to present their case to teams as to why they should be drafted in a certain spot. Should Slafkovsky or Cooley go ahead of Wright? They’ll get to argue their case. Can someone else such as Simon Nemec or David Jiricek go high as the best defensemen available? Let the jockeying begin for position begin.
A Prospect’s Immediate Future
The NHL Combine gives us a chance to confirm the immediate plans of some prospects. While many know where they’ll be next season, some are at least open to the possibility of coming overseas. Does a team prefer a prospect to be in North America learning the nuances of the game?
Just as an example, the Erie Otters took a swing in the last CHL Import Draft and took Slafkovsky. There was virtually no chance he was coming to Erie. But now if a team selects him and wants him in North America, does Erie become a possibility?
Every prospect has their own way of going about their business. After this week in many cases, we’ll get a better sense of who could be on the move and then some reasons for it.
Significance of Combine For Prospects
The fact that a prospect is in Buffalo is significant. If nothing else, it shows that enough NHL teams are interested in talking to them.
As of this writing, it is expected that 96 prospects will be at the NHL Combine talking to teams. Every prospect invited is on Central Scouting’s Final Rankings. Some names might not be taken until the late rounds, but chances are these prospects will hear their name called at the draft.
Besides the leaguewide interest in them, prospects get an opportunity to hone their interviewing skills. They also get a chance to go through the testing to see how they stack up against their peers. It presents an opportunity to see what things they need to improve upon moving forward. While not true for every team, some teams do look at the fitness testing results especially if there is a group of similar players they are considering.
In the end, prospects are conducting interviews with their potential new employers. They’ve waited their whole lives for this moment.
The Weird & Wacky
Now for the fun stuff. One of the most popular and funny things that come from the Combine is the questions asked of the prospects. Some are straight to the point. Others are a little more out there. For teams, they’re trying to learn everything they can about a prospect including how they answer off the wall questions.
From Combine’s past, here are a couple of examples of questions prospects have had to answer during their interview.
- Which Marvel character would you be and why?
- Some prospects were asked to look at a picture of a bus and then had to answer which way was the front.
- Goalies were asked if they’d rather stop the puck or make a save.
- At one Combine during the height of the game “Fortnite”, prospects were asked to describe the kind of players they’d be. This led to Rasmus Sandin saying he wouldn’t be the one “hiding in the bushes.”
There’s many other weird and wacky questions, but you get the idea. We’ll try to get a sense of what questions come out this year.
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In addition to the above, teams with management on site will usually talk to the media at some point. We could get a better sense of what they could be thinking as the offseason gets into full swing.
With under 40 days until the NHL Draft, teams are starting to make their final plans in preparation for Montreal. This week will go a long way in determining what the draft will look like. Stay with the Hockey Writers as we’ll keep you updated on everything that happens Saturday including the highly anticipated Heights and Weights which will drop Saturday evening.