CALGARY, AB -- The majority of the heavy lifting is done, but the likes of Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving, assistant GM Craig Conroy and director of amateur scouting Tod Button aren’t quite ready to put their feet up just yet.
At least, that was the message coming out of the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto two weeks ago when the Flames auditioned over 60 members of the 2014 NHL Draft class. With two weeks remaining until draft day in Philadelphia, there’s still time for movement on Calgary’s board.
But just how important (or insignificant) was the combine for Treliving & Co.?
“It all has to be taken in context,” he said. “It’s part of the information gathering and you’ve got to slot it accordingly.
“You’ve got to be very careful with the whole combine event. I think it’s a very important and very informative few days but again, you’ve got to keep it all in context and realize the most important thing is what you saw over the course of the last seven or eight months watching them play. They’re prepared. They come in prepared and you try to find out and dig to find out that last piece of information.”
The combine, divided into four days of individual team interviews before a day of workouts in front of all 30 National Hockey League clubs, gives teams a chance to get a feel for what a potential draft pick is made of, both mentally and physically.
Figuring out what exactly that means is becoming more and more difficult, the Flames GM admitted, especially when it comes to the interview portion of the combine.
“They come in here pretty prepared,” Treliving said. “I know they spend some time with their representatives and go through this process in a mock basis. They’re prepared for a lot of the questions that you may come at them with. Again, you’re trying to get a sense of the personality. This is a piece of the process.”
The other piece of the combine is a little more cut-and-dry. What teams are looking for in terms of results, however, aren’t.
And it’s not so much about what a prospect can do now, but projecting what he can accomplish as more of a finished product down the road.
“All these kids, for the most part, they’re 17 and 18 years old,” Treliving said. “Apart from the odd exception, they all have to grow and mature physically. This is not the finished product so for us, it’s just getting a look at the frame, seeing where they are physically, what work needs to be done and in what areas, but again, keeping it in the proper frame of mind that the game is played on the ice, it’s not played on the testing rooms.”
It’s a barrage of information in a short period of time.
“You take all that stuff into context,” Treliving re-enforced. “This tries to round out the picture as you’re profiling each guy. It’s educational but I always say you’ve got to be guarded when you come to these events.
“It’s all about gathering some final information for a book that’s been penned over the past calendar year.”
“You’ve got 10 chapters of an 11-chapter book throughout the season,” he said. “This is the final chapter that you’re trying to tie all together. I don’t necessarily think there are dramatic swings in terms of where that player falls on your list based upon what happens here this week but it rounds out of the picture.”
And now, some points to ponder:
In light of Treliving’s comments about hockey not being played in the testing room, is there a chance Sam Bennett, Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater, falls at all after failing to complete a pull-up? No chance. If the 18-year-old can manage 36 goals and 91 points in 57 games with his current frame, clubs will salivate over what he can do at full strength.
Bennett handled the manufactured controversy well, too: "I was definitely disappointed with myself," Bennett said. "I was wanting to do the best I can in every test. But, I guess, ultimately games aren't won or lost if you can do a pull-up in the gym."
For those scoring at home, Josh Ho-Sang of the Windsor Spitfires paced the combine crop with 13. Four other players settled at 12.
Pull-ups replaced push-ups this year at the combine. In the previous six combines, the top-3 finishers in the push-up category have combined for just 166 career NHL games. Kyle Palmieri of the Anaheim Ducks, who led in 2009 with 41, accounts for 141 of those 166 games. Only four of the 18 players who have finished in the top-three, including Palmieri, have seen NHL action, too (combine results via Topend Sports).
Further, only Gabriel Landeskog, who went second overall to the Colorado Avalanche in 2011, is among his draft’s top-10 in both NHL scoring and the number of push-ups he was able to complete at the combine.
The other commotion, albeit different in nature, came via the NTDP’s Sonny Milano after his ‘Stick Tricks’ video immediately went viral on the web. The clip showed Milano with just a stick, a puck and a plethora of jaw-dropping tricks in the parking lot of the parking lot of the combine’s Westin Bristol Place in Toronto.
But Milano, whose video is closing in on 150,000 views on YouTube, wants to be known for more: “You want to be a hockey player,” he said. “You don’t want to be a guy who just flips pucks off the ice. That’s not really going to help your game. That’s just something you do for fun to mess around when I’m bored or something. I don’t think it reflects anything in my game. It’s just something fun to do.”
Milano might’ve owned the heaviest handshake at the draft, too. His massive paws definitely helped him finish in a tie for sixth in wingspan at the combine, despite being listed at 5-foot-11.5 by Central Scouting. He tied with the 6-foot-3.5 Aaron Ekblad. At 6-foot-1.5, Leon Draisaitl was the only other player under 6-foot-2 to finish in the top-10 in the measurement.
To re-enforce Milano’s wingspan, Beau Starrett took the Wingspan title at an impressive 81 inches. At 80 inches, Hunter Smith and Ryan Mantha rounded out the top three. All three were also ranked in the top-four in height.
The wingspan was just one of over 20 measurables that draft eligibles were put through in the fitness testing.
Understandably, the six-day combine is one of, if not the most exhausting week in the life of a draft eligible prospect. Some players met with all 30 teams and, at 20 minutes per interview with but a 10-minute break in between, equates to 10 hours of intrusive interviews over the course of four days.
That doesn’t sound too bad…until you’re there: “The mental grind of having an interview and having half an hour off and not really any time to do anything in between was tough,” said Red Deer Rebels captain Conner Bleackley, who met with 29 teams. “The fitness testing was good, too. Obviously it’s over now and the other stuff was four days. It’s hard to say which was tougher but they’re both tough.”
For the most part, teams were twice as busy as players, but that didn’t phase Calgary’s Conroy, who enjoyed being on the other side of the table. Drafted in the sixth round by the Montreal Canadiens in 1990, the newly minted Flames AGM didn’t have to sit through a grilling nor run through VO2 Max and Windgate tests.
Said Conroy: “They didn’t have any combine. They didn’t have anything. I got a phone call and they told me I was drafted by Montreal in the sixth round. That was it. It wasn’t like it is now where you have the combine. I think with social media, everything that goes on, it’s just so much bigger.”
He didn’t have to go up against Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke, either. “A couple times Brian made me nervous in there. I was like ‘Woah, Brian’s on my side and I’m still nervous’,” Conroy said. “The kids really respond to Brian. They’ve seen him over the years so when they walk into the room and see Brian they go ‘Woah, Brian Burke’s here’. They really enjoy that.”
Burke’s exchange with Calgary Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen was something not to be missed. Flames TV was fortunate enough to catch the interaction in a behind-the-scenes video.
After shoulder surgery in May, Virtanen showed up to his interview with the Flames with a perfectly executed double-knot. Burke, with his tie draped over his shoulders in what can only be described as his patented style, questions him on it. The 18-year-old offered to teach Calgary’s president of hockey operations his tricks.
Making the quip even better was teammate Ben Thomas, who walked into his interview, immediately following Virtanen’s, sporting a golf shirt. He took a good-natured ribbing because of it but to his credit, Thomas took it in stride.
The video gave a bit of a glimpse into what Button and the Flames were trying to accomplish in their interviews: “I think the one thing is he makes everyone feel comfortable right off the bat and I think we get more information from that,” Conroy said. “They’re relaxed, they just kind of let things flow.”
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