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Excitement, some jitters, characterize Combine invitees

Thursday, 29.05.2008 / 11:30 AM / Features
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Excitement, some jitters, characterize Combine invitees
There\'s a lot of energy surrounding the Westin Bristol Place Toronto Airport Hotel as the 107 top prospects in this year\'s NHL Entry Draft take part in the combine that precedes the big event in Ottawa later this month.

Colby Robak, Central Scouting's 13th-ranked North American skater, took a relaxed approach at the 2008 NHL Draft Combine, stating that the NHL GMs and coaches interviewing him already know what he's all about.
TORONTO – The future stars of professional hockey participating in this year's NHL Draft Combine were bustling through the corridors of the Westin Bristol Place Toronto Airport Hotel Wednesday afternoon interviewing with NHL teams with the hope of making a lasting impression.

For Sarnia Sting forward Steven Stamkos, the dynamic skater projected to be the No. 1 overall choice at the 2008 Entry Draft on June 20-21 in Ottawa, it's a time to enjoy and become familiar with potential future employers.

"Teams are just trying to get a feel for you as a player and it's great to meet all the different scouts and general managers," Stamkos said. "They're all great people and they're all interested to hear what you have to say about your family, your past and what you've done this year. The questions they ask are great and really get you thinking because they really want to know who you are, not only as a player on the ice, but how you are off the ice."

The Combine has drawn 107 of the best prospects for the Draft.

For some, like the Moose Jaw's Travis Hamonic, who was the 75th and final North American skater invited to the Combine, it's an opportunity to prove he belongs.

"Every meeting with a team is different," Hamonic said. "But if they asked me, I'd do it 150 times because I'm just trying to live out my dream right now. My dream is to play in this League and now is the time where I get to show my stuff."

"The most stressful thing is when they hit you with a question that you don't really have an answer for," said defenseman Drew Doughty, who is rated third among North American skaters by Central Scouting. "It's tough to answer when they leave you in a pickle, but it's all good and it's fun to be a part of it."

Defenseman Colby Robak, rated 13th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, isn't overwhelmed by the whole process.

"I think (the scouts and GMs) know more stuff about us than we know about ourselves," Robak said. "So if you try and lie about something, they're going to know. They will test you to find out just the type of person you are, so I'm just going to be myself and hopefully that will help me go a long way."

- Mike G. Morreale

The Marathon Man – St. Louis Blues Assistant General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen always has kept himself in good shape, and now he's got a new hobby to help him stay that way – running marathons.

Kekalainen, along with Blues scout and former NHL player Basil McRae, ran the Ottawa Marathon.

Kekalainen won the personal race, finishing in 3:06.

- Adam Kimelman

Second year for Snow – New York Islanders General Manager Garth Snow is here for his second NHL Scouting Combine. He said last year was an eye-opener and that he learned a lot.

"I was 11 months into the job and for me it was a good learning experience," Snow said. "It was my first opportunity to come to a Combine and get to know some of the players that you ultimately end up drafting. I talked to Mark Katic, whom we selected.

"We will also have some meetings, meetings with our amateur scouts, and it's a good time frame to get that done. Ultimately, it can save a trip to Long Island for a lot of our scouts. Last week at the Memorial Cup and this week at the Combine we got a lot done."

Snow said he didn't think they had a Combine when he was playing at the University of Maine, where he split goaltending duties with Mike Dunham and won the 1992 NCAA championship.

"Combine? I never even got a call that I was drafted (by the Quebec Nordiques in the sixth round, 114th overall)," Snow recalled. "I read it in the Boston Globe."

- John McGourty

A Harri predicament – Only two goalies have earned the distinction of being chosen No. 1 overall in an NHL Entry Draft over the last 28 years – Marc-Andre Fleury by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003, and Rick DiPietro by the New York Islanders in 2000.

Harri Sateri (5-foot-11, 194 pounds), the Finnish netminder ranked second among international goalies by Central Scouting, isn't sure why it doesn't happen more often.

"I really don't have an answer," Sateri said. "I think some teams are scared to take a risk on a goalie too early in the draft. Sure, I'd be disappointed if I wasn't drafted early, but it's not the end of the world. You just have to work your way onto the roster."

Sateri was supposed to be Finland's backup going into the 2008 World Junior Championship, but worked his way into a tandem role with Riku Helenius, and even started against Team Canada in a 4-2 quarterfinal-round loss. He exhibited good poise and mobility, and solid positioning as well as quick reflexes behind a mediocre Finnish defense. In three starts at the WJC, Sateri sported a 3.98 goals-against average and .878 save percentage at the World Juniors.

He could go as high as the second round in the 2008 Entry Draft.

"It all depends on a team's greatest need," said Central Scouting's Chris Edwards. "If you finish that low in the standings and are picking (among the top five) in the draft, you probably need a high-end forward or defenseman more than a goalie, (someone) that will perform on your top line or on the top pairing."

- Mike G. Morreale

To each his own – Each of the 30 NHL teams on hand at the Combine will be making their own assessments of each player that strolls through their hotel door during the interview process this week.

Chris Edwards, who scouts the Ontario Hockey League for NHL Central Scouting, said each team has its own agenda when evaluating talent at the Combine.

"Some teams will just want to meet the players and put a face with a name and others will go in depth with psychological testing by having their people look at them and do tests with them," Edwards told NHL.com. "And still other teams put a lot of stock in the fitness end of it, so I really don't think there's one thing you could say is a key for every team. The Combine is a time where you get the top 100 or so players in one place and do what you want with them, whether that be from a fitness standpoint or psychological one. All teams want to narrow down their selection process and the Combine is a way to facilitate that for each club."

While many players expressed anxiety over the upcoming fitness tests, in particular the infamous "bike test," Edwards said all are well prepared.

"These players got to this level and they've probably done this test several times with their junior and college teams, so I really don't think that the bike test will bother them one bit," Edwards said. "They're going to be nervous, though, because they've never done it with 200 people watching."

- Mike G. Morreale
Author: NHL.com Staff