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Combine testing gives teams a feel for prospects

Potential draftees attending the NHL Scouting Combine go through physical exams and mental tests as teams determine the proper fits.

Tuesday, 25.05.2010 / 3:13 PM / Features
By Adam Kimelman
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Combine testing gives teams a feel for prospects
Potential draftees attending the NHL Scouting Combine go through physical exams and mental tests as teams determine the proper fits.
So what, exactly, are teams looking for when they see players at the NHL Scouting Combine?

There are two key elements to the Combine -- the interview process and the physical testing. The interviews take place in 15-minute blocks, where general managers, scouts and psychologists meet with the prospects face to face in their hotel suite.

Then there's the physical testing, which sees the players run through a gamut of exercises used to rate their strength, stamina and explosiveness.

So, is one more important than the other?

"It's all important," Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee told NHL.com. "You try to take in, absorb as much as you can of every player in every regard, put it all together and make a decision."

For some teams, the interview process takes on a greater importance because it's probably the first time teams can talk to a player in a one-on-one setting. Some teams will visit with upwards of 50 players, and use their time to get a judge on the player's character, as well as get answers to any questions pertaining to on- or off-ice issues.

It can be a bit tricky, because players are so well coached for the interview process by agents and advisors, and are given hints from teammates and friends who have gone through the process previously.

"You're getting a feel for the players," New York Islanders Director of Amateur Scouting Ryan Jankowski told NHL.com. "We get a chance to meet them face to face, get an understanding of what they went through during the season, what they see in their game and if we correlate it the same way."

Teams also have started to employ psychologists to sit in and analyze players and their answers.

"I don't pretend to be equipped to deal in the mental skills part of an interview where you evaluate what's been said," Atlanta Thrashers GM Rick Dudley told NHL.com. "I'll sit in on the interviews, get a comfort level with a player, but we'll have a couple people, psychologists and psychiatrists, brought in to evaluation the answers from these guys. How much stock we put into it I'm not sure at this point."

Dudley, who played nine seasons in the NHL and WHA, finds the physical testing easier for him to judge.

"I am somewhat of an expert in the physiological part of it," he said, "so for me I like to watch how they work out in the testing."

What he's looking for, however, isn't the results -- it's how they gut their way through the circuit, especially the grueling bike tests.

"The physical testing is a great opportunity for us to see the kids put through the measures of each area," said Jankowski. "Get a chance to see where they are from a physical standpoint and how much of a chance there is to grow physically."

While the Combine is useful, McPhee said when the final decision on who to draft will be made in Los Angeles on June 25-26, what happened at the Combine will be a part of that puzzle; how big a part, though, depends on a number of situations.

"Really it comes down to a hunch," said McPhee. "You can't explain what's more important or what a certain player does. You just watch them all year and try to make a decision as best you can with all the information you have. It usually comes down to an instinct, a hunch. After watching them do everything, you like a certain player and that's who you draft.

"It (the Combine) is a very helpful piece (of the puzzle), but one part of the whole package."