Emptying the 2022 NHL Combine Notebook

The 2022 NHL Combine has come and gone. We are now just over a month away from the 2022 NHL Draft at Montreal’s Bell Centre. We are starting to see some developing trends as the countdown to July 7-8 begins.

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Every year on the Monday after the Combine, I empty out my notebook from Saturday. What is all included in the notebook? Literally everything. These include quotes from prospects, my own observations based on what I see and on conversations I have with other people. This is meant to give you a feel for what was trending during the event. Things can obviously change very quickly as the days pass by.

In case you missed our previous Combine coverage, you can find those below. This includes our original preview, the highly anticipated Heights and Weights as well as the top fitness test performers.

Emptying the Combine Notebook

  • Every Combine seems to have one prospect that generates a lot of buzz that could surprise people by draft night. This year that prospect seems to be Marco Kasper. He interviewed with 30 teams this week, is the top European center available based on Central Scouting’s final rankings and was a stand out at the fitness testing. He is almost a lock for the top-16 and could slip into the top-10.
Marco Kasper Team Austria
Marco Kasper has a lot of momentum coming out of the Combine. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
  • Then there’s the whole Shane Wright/Juraj Slafkovsky debate. I will present this in two ways. First, most of the people I’ve spoken to this week believe Wright will go first to Montreal. That from my view is the correct approach. The Canadiens have been waiting a long time to draft a top center. If they don’t do it here, Wright could haunt them for a long time. Now there’s the flip side. Some folks believe it’s not settled yet. Slafkovsky is a very confident player who has worked his whole life to get to this position. On Saturday, Slafkovsky said that his goal is “to be the best right now.” While Slafkovsky didn’t test Saturday, Wright did and showed well. He measured 6-foot-0.5 and 199 pounds. He’s got the frame and room to grow. This shouldn’t be a debate but until we get to the podium on July 7, we will hear about it. The takeaway here is that Wright did nothing to hurt himself.
  • Logan Cooley said on Saturday that the Coyotes treated him to dinner this week. He also said that it was a good conversation with their management and that it was “easy to talk to them.” The consensus indicates that Wright/Slafkovsky will go 1-2 in some order. That would leave Cooley available for the Coyotes to take in what seems like a no-brainer. I can’t see Cooley getting by the Coyotes in July.
  • Funniest quote I heard this week. Marek Hejduk, son of Colorado Avalanche great Milan Hejduk, said that if the Red Wings draft him, his father might need time to get used to that. Marek confirmed he did speak with the Red Wings this week.
  • It seems that the team that had the most “interesting” questions this week was Montreal. They didn’t ask the questions to every single prospect but it certainly made some guys think on the spot. First, which animal would you be on and off the ice? This prompted Charles Leddy to say “a Komono Dragon.” Another prospect answered with “a jaguar.” But then some prospects were asked about money and a toilet seat. Which would you grab? $10 off the toilet seat or $50 in the toilet? Answers I’ve heard to this were the $10, the $50 and why not $60? My take: if you want the prize, sometimes you gotta get dirty. Are you willing to do whatever it takes within reason to get the prize?
  • I think Frank Nazar is vastly underrated and is going to outperform his current Central Scouting rank of 21. Never underestimate the power of a good player with a point to prove.
Frank Nazar USNTDP
Frank Nazar thinks he’s underrated and is ready to make his case. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)
  • Rutger McGroarty knows that skating is something he is improving on. Here is what he said on Saturday about that. “I believe one day I’m going to be a really good skater.” He is working with a skating coach this offseason. Like Nazar, I think McGroarty is going to outperform his rank of 22.
  • Stick tap to my THW teammate Peter Baracchini who was with us in Buffalo on Saturday. The Maple Leafs in their interviews would play a clip of a hockey play and then stop at a critical point to ask the prospect what they thought should happen next. They love their video and now we see they use it even in the prospect interviews. Speaking of McGroarty, he was a Maple Leafs fan growing up. He might be available in the range when they pick in the first round.
  • Another prospect who made a good impression this week was Cutter Gauthier. He admitted teams asked him about playing center. Three teams we know he spoke to were Detroit, Buffalo and Columbus. He said when he first saw Steve Yzerman, he was a little star struck. The Blue Jackets have two firsts and it’s certainly within reason to think he’d be on their short list of guys who could go in the 6-12 range.
  • I’ll say this much about the Blue Jackets. No matter what they do in Montreal, you can’t say they won’t be prepared. On Combine Saturday, GM Jarmo Kekalainen, Director of Amateur Scouting Ville Siren and others were in the stands watching the fitness testing. While some argue this doesn’t impact draft stock all that much, it can in certain situations. The Blue Jackets are doing their homework in order to have their final list ready to go.
  • Among the top prospects who we know talked to the Blue Jackets: Brad Lambert and Joakim Kemell. This list also includes the two Mississauga centers Luka Del Bel Belluz and Owen Beck. Blue Jackets fans should keep the two centers in mind. Del Bel Belluz called his interview with them “great.” He also said they asked him about prospect Ole Julian Bjorgvik-Holm. Beck said that the one word that came to mind for Bjorgvik-Holm was “professional.” If any team is going to know about the two centers, it’s the Blue Jackets. With other Steelheads connections such as their Hockey Analyst Zac Urback on staff, don’t be surprised if one of these centers become a Blue Jacket.
Luca Del Bel Belluz Mississauga Steelheads
Luca Del Bel Belluz called his Blue Jackets’ interview “great.” (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)
  • This should finally be the year that James Hardie hears his name at the draft. Del Bel Belluz and Beck each spoke very highly of the talented winger. They’ve learned from him what it takes to keep working even if things don’t go your way.
  • Another question that came up at the draft was about sports books. Some prospects were asked if they had an app like Draft Kings or Fan Duel on their phone. The team that asked about it: the Ottawa Senators.
  • A personal observation, I felt like I was speaking to Patrik Laine when I spoke to Lambert on Saturday. They’re very similar in the way they speak. Lambert is fully fluent in Finnish. Makes me wonder if he’s a little misunderstood at times like Laine was especially if some question work ethic.
  • One more thing on Lambert. He is not under contract next season in Finland. He is willing to come to North America but said that will depend on the team who drafts him. His CHL rights are owned by the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.
  • North Bay star defenseman Ty Nelson was supposed to test Saturday but ultimately didn’t. He did speak to the media on Saturday though. We are unsure of the reason for him not taking the testing. His team was recently eliminated by Hamilton in the OHL playoffs.
  • Jagger Firkus knows he’s small. He also doesn’t care what you think of him. He weighed in at 151 pounds on Saturday. “I honestly don’t care. I’ve been small my whole life.” He also has a pretty epic stache growing in. He jokingly said it was a tribute to Lanny McDonald.
  • Sam Rinzel believes that those going the high school path can find success despite it being a lower level of hockey. As you would expect, he got questions about that. He’s eventually off to Minnesota after one more season.
  • Quinn Finley is proud of the run his Madison Capitols had this season in the USHL. He credits his teammates for helping turn the franchise around after not being able to play due to the pandemic. He says their success is not just because of him. He eventually will stay in his home state of Wisconsin and play with the Badgers.
  • Christian Kyrou showed well this week. He spoke to 14 teams including the St. Louis Blues. Shocking, right? In a fun moment, I asked him if he could shut down his brother Jordan if lined up against him. “I believe I can, yes.” Have to love his confidence.

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  • Some prospects and how many teams they spoke to. Pavel Mintyukov, 28 teams. Jiri Kulich, 32 teams. Lian Bichsel, 32 teams. Brad Lambert, 26 teams. Liam Ohgren, 30 teams.
  • Overheard at the Combine, prospects said they’d forgotten what happened in some interviews. Some had upwards of 29-32 interviews with a lot of the same questions. Their challenge was to give a great first impression to everyone no matter how they were feeling or if it felt repetitive. I think teams look at that when a prospect comes into their room.
  • Wanted to save the last thing to comment about being back in Buffalo at the Combine. This was our first trip back for this event since 2019. It was good to be back covering this event and talking to the prospects. It was also really good to see other members of the media in person as well. I think we can all agree that having some semblance of normalcy is a good thing for everyone. Hopefully we continue on a good track and have a full, normal season moving forward. I think we can all say cheers to that.