Can Combine Injuries Change Rankings?

With fitness tests kicking off at HarborCenter in Buffalo for the NHL Combine, there are some notable prospects that won’t be taking part – fully – in the testing thanks to some nagging injuries.

Most notably, Jesse Puljujarvi, Patrik Laine and Matthew Tkachuk will only participate in some of the tests as they recover. Considering these three are likely to go in the top five to six picks, how will their lack of participation in the Combine affect their final ranking heading into the draft?

The simple answer is that it won’t. These players – especially these three – have earned their spot among the league’s top draft-eligible players over the course of the past few seasons.

With that in mind, here’s an update on some of these particular prospects who’ll likely be missing in action at the Combine and why.

Missing Knight: Matthew Tkachuk

Matthew Tkachuk, London Knights, OHL, NHL Draft
Matthew Tkachuk won’t take part in the NHL Combine fitness testing, but that won’t affect his draft position. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

Throughout his playoff run and Memorial Cup run with the OHL’s London Knights, Tkachuk’s laboured skating became more and more obvious the deeper they got. Finally in the Memorial Cup Finals against Rouyn-Noranda, it was noticeably difficult for the NHL prospect to keep up with his linemates – Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner.

Still, Tkachuk scored two goals in the finals to lead the Knights to their second Memorial Cup Championship in franchise history. But, the 18-year-old chose not to take part in the NHL’s fitness testing during Combine weekend explaining that it was a high ankle sprain that was keeping him out.

However, the likelihood of his dropping in the draft is – well, just that. Unlikely. He’s was ranked second in North-American skaters behind just Pierre-Luc Dubois and really made a statement this season playing on the top line in London.

Tkachuk finished the year with 107 points in 57 regular season games for the Knights – adding 11 points in just seven games with Team USA during the World Junior Championship. His 40 playoff points in 18 playoff games didn’t hurt and just for good measure he added eight more points in four Memorial Cup games.

Son of former NHL power forward Keith Tkahcuk, he plays with size and tenacity the same way his dad did during his NHL hay day.

When it comes to Tkachuk, he just hopes that his “year speaks for itself.”

The Finns Not Finished: Puljujarvi and Laine

Patirk Laine – the anticipated second overall pick – tweaked his knee in testing on Friday at the Combine, while Jesse Puljujarvi had offseason surgery which has limited his ability to take part in the fitness tests. However, unlike Tkachuk, the two did state that they will take part in upper-body testing on Saturday.

Even with their missing a few tests, there’s absolutely no doubt that these two will still go within the first four picks (Puljujarvi being the only question mark – of whether he goes three or four). Their seasons will speak for themselves. The damage they were able to do at the World Juniors alone have all but solidified their spot atop the European rankings (next to Auston Matthews).

At just 18, Puljujarvi plated 50 games for Kärpät of the Liiga. He recorded 28 points in 50 games and added nine points in 10 games during their playoffs. He also played in the under-18 tournament for Finland scoring seven points in four games and 17 points in seven games for the under-20 World Junior tournament.

Laine, who believes he can be the number one pick, impressed everyone with his on-ice dominance this season.

Laine notched 33 points with Tappara in 46 regular season games adding 15 points in 18 games in the playoffs. He wowed with 13 points in seven games at the under-20 tournament and scored 12 points in 10 games for Finland at the World Championship.

His shot is one that compares to some already playing in the NHL and his confidence has allowed him to extend his skills far past those he’s played against this season.

Sure, these three will be missing out on impressing NHL teams this weekend with their fitness testing results, but to even consider the idea that any of the three would move down on the draft rankings list is inconceivable. After all, teams have had all year to look at these three and mull over the idea of adding one of their impressive (but very different) skill sets to their lineup.