For 101 of the top draft prospects in the world, this week in Toronto is nerve-wracking, physically taxing and mentally draining.
But, if the ultimate goal is to reach the NHL as a hockey player, it’s a necessary rung on the ladder.
Welcome to the NHL Draft Combine.
Interviews, tests, photo shoots, fitness exams, media coverage, riding a stationary bike as hard and fast as you can with cameras in your face… it’s almost surreal and definitely unnerving.
Flyers prospect Scott Laughton went through it a year ago.
“It’s a pretty stressful time,” said Laughton, who was selected by the Flyers with the 20th overall pick in the first round. “Knowing a lot of guys going there, made it easier, but its definitely stressful. You are trying to impress but you are also trying to recover physically after the junior season and you have to get to Toronto and spend a few days in a hotel going through all of this [scrutiny].
“My combine I had 28 interviews. I was running around for a few days for those. Then you try to prepare as best you can for the physical testing and it’s definitely nerve-wracking. It’s a couple hours and your doing heart tests, the scouts are taking pictures of your body – you just try to adjust as best as you can.”
Consider these are 18-year-old kids who are being paraded in front of a throng of scouts and media trying to get a glimpse of what makes these players the perceived-to-be next great stars of the NHL.
“You come out from behind the curtain and there’s a bunch of scouts there and all the media and they’re all looking at you - It’s weird,” Laughton said. “I was a little lucky because I happened to be at the end of the day and by then there weren’t as many media left. Doing all these tests in such a short period of time is tough and you try to do as best you can. That’s all you can do.”
Most prospects complain the most about the Wingate bike test, which basically requires the prospects to bike as hard and fast as they can for 30 seconds with the bike tension constantly increasing, but Laughton felt that was easier than the VO2 – or oxygen test – on the bike.
“The VO2 test, the bike test at the end is the hardest in my opinion,” Laughton said. “The Wingate is pretty tough too, but that’s just 30 seconds of hard sprinting on the bike. The VO2 is 10-12 minutes and you have a tube in your mouth, they plug your nose and someone yelling at you while you’re doing it.”
Since many of the players taking part in the Combine know one another either because they are teammates, or played against one another, or were at national camps together, there is certainly an air of competitiveness surrounding the Combine, but often the bragging rights for the test scores can’t be squawked about until after the Combine is over.
“You can’t find out your scores right away,” Laughton said. “Let’s say you do push ups. If you turn to the person assigned to you who is tracking your results and ask how many you did, he can’t tell you. So, you don’t know how you did comparing to other guys there at the combine. But, there’s always a competitiveness there that you want to be better than the other guys, but you don’t find that out until later on. You don’t know your scores until it’s all over.”
Laughton said that the interview process is probably the most important part of the event, and perhaps the hardest to prepare for because you just don’t know what teams are going to ask in the 10 minutes they have to sit down with you.
“Definitely a few teams had a different approach,” said Laughton, who met with the Flyers somewhere in the middle of the 28 interviews he did. “I’d say about seven teams did things differently than everyone else. Mostly the interviews are just background questions and trying to find out how you are as a person. For me, my first couple interviews were the hardest, because you didn’t know what to expect. But from there I kind of settled in and it got easier moving forward.”
As for some of the different requests that teams had in the interviewing process…
“Boston has a thing where you have to do a color test where you have to read colors and shapes off a paper and they change constantly,” Laughton said. “That was kind of nerve-wracking. Columbus asked me what kind of car I would play like. I was kind of stumped on that one. There are a few other questions teams give you to try to throw you off, but other than that it’s a pretty neat experience for sure.”
In the end though, the Combine serves as the final piece of the lengthy scouting puzzle for most teams as they simply dot I’s and cross T’s in preparation for next month’s draft.
“It’s just the finishing touches for most teams,” Laughton said. “I didn’t worry too much about it after the fact because the scouts have been watching you all year and they know how you are on the ice. That usually takes care of where you are going to go. You just want to be an honest guy in the interviews and let them get to know you as a person and let your play on the ice dictate everything else.”
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