With three weeks to go before the 2007 NHL Entry Draft at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, all teams - including the Vancouver Canucks - will be well-represented at the league's annual scouting combine in Toronto this weekend.
It's basically a cattle-call for the top 100 or so kids who will hear their names called during the June 22-23 draft as they're paraded in front of their prospective professional employers. A big part of the combine is the chance for teams to meet with the players and conduct pre-draft interviews. The other, equally important portion of the combine is the rigorous strength and fitness tests the prospects are put through by an independent panel of experts from York University.
There's no question the combine is a big weekend for any young hockey player with aspirations of playing in the NHL. It's also a great opportunity for the teams to find out what these kids are all about and whether they're the types of players a team wants to add to its stable.
"It is a useful tool, but at the same time we have to look at it as just being a piece of the puzzle. I always tell our scouts I can make a guy stronger, faster, bigger, more powerful, whatever you want, I can do that with anybody," says Canucks strength and conditioning coach Roger Takahashi who will be on hand monitoring the fitness component of the combine. "But what has to be there is his hockey sense, his skill, his ability to skate, all those items. If he's got that, then I can tell you from my aspect where he's at now and possibly what kind of potential we see in this player developing physically. That's what I can do."
To that end, Takahashi has a couple of things he's looking for in all of the players who are put through their paces at the combine.
"I think lower body explosiveness and the energy systems (aerobic and anaerobic conditioning) those are the top ones for me. Those and body fat measurement. You're looking at 10 percent or under, you don't want to get too low especially at that age, but around 10 percent is good," he says. "But in addition to specific tests, I look for a player's ability to compete. If a guy's on a bike and he shuts it down when he looks like he could go for more, those are the types of things I look for the most."
Takahashi spends the entire combine monitoring the players as they're put through the standardized set of tests. He says he's usually the only member of the Canuck contingent watching the workouts, although he says it's not uncommon for scouts to pop in if they have a particular interest in how a specific player fares in the testing.
Overall, the Canucks strategy at the combine is to formulate a short list of players they're keen on and have Takahashi pay particular attention to those individuals. But things in hockey can change in a hurry, so Takahashi knows he has to have a handle on how all players perform for the tests.
"We'll discuss who they want me to look at, but I'll look at everybody because inevitably there'll be a: Did you look at this guy because he was great in the interview but he wasn't on the list," Takahashi says with a laugh. "Then we have a big meeting about the results of the combine and we break guys down. It's remarkable how fine-point they go, but we break them all down and discuss them and then I'll rank my guys according to what I see as the top players -- usually the top eight to 12 players or even eight to 20 depending on what they want."
On draft day, Takahashi won't be among the Canucks staff in Columbus, but he's always just a phone call away in case the hockey club needs information or a second opinion about a player it's looking at either drafting or trading for.
So this weekend's combine is just another in the long list of important off-season events for NHL teams as they all try to build for the future. From his standpoint, Takahashi thinks the weekend serves a valuable purpose for both the hockey clubs and the prospects.
"I think it's a good tool, but I think it could be improved. I think the tests could get a little more sport-specific and they'll need to get an on-ice component to it. But I think it's a step in the right direction for us," he says. "And it also introduces a lot of these kids to that style of testing which they're going to have to do if they're going to attend a pro camp at some point."
It's a busy time for NHL teams and the prospects they'll be watching. The tests happen this weekend, but who passes those tests and with what kind of grades won't be revealed until draft day in Columbus.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org