BUFFALO — The NHL draft combine returned this year, bringing with it a wealth of information — both useful and not — about the 2022 draft class. The key of course? Sift through this information and try to pull out the nuggets.
The first obvious clue about this year’s combine is that it appears to have been less attended by the NHL teams themselves. You used to have a lot of scouts and GMs (not to mention strength coaches), but this one definitely felt more media-heavy. Of course, teams generally find the interview part of the combine more important and that it all happens behind the scenes, but there’s also the fact that some events (like the infamous V02 Max bike test) have been moved to the day before in recent years.
Also obvious? This year’s event did not feature players from the Russian leagues. Pavel Mintyukov, Maxim Barbashev and Russian-born Danny Zhilkin (who even played internationally for Canada at the U18 World Cup last year) have been here, but they all play over here in the CHL. How this will affect Draft Day is still up in the air for many teams. As one GM told me, when it comes to picking players from Russia, Montreal teams may look at each other and say, “Yeah, you go first.” Because frankly, no one knows if relations between Russia and the rest of the world will deteriorate any further.
A few fun nuggets of the day: Montreal quickly became the players’ favorite answer for the “team with the toughest interview questions” – guess the hosts want to make sure they leave no stone unturned. The Sabers were also notable for the fact that owner Terry Pegula participated in his team’s interviews with the players. This is the first time I’ve heard from an owner participating in the combine. As for the most impressive brass, several players mentioned how cool it was to be part of an interview with Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman.
In terms of innovation, another first for me was Toronto’s use of video clips in its interviews with players. The Maple Leafs queued up clips of games (both offensive and defensive) then paused and had the kids predict what happened next.
Also new this year? Some teams asked kids if they had sports betting apps on their phones. The future is here folks.
What has always intrigued me is how many elite hockey players grew up playing other sports. It’s not a hard rule – I remember Kirby Dach telling me he only played hockey growing up and he got good – but interesting nonetheless. Here is a cross-section of this year’s harvest:
Seamus Casey: A bit of lacrosse and golf, but nothing competitive
Calle Odelius: football and floorball
Noah Warren: football, basketball and swimming
Jeremy Langlois: Baseball, football, soccer, pretty much everything
Adam Ingram: High school badminton, soccer, baseball, lacrosse, and his dad is a PGA golf coach, so Ingram has a plus 2 handicap
Owen Pickering: Baseball (Triple-A, Team Manitoba), basketball
Lian Bichsel: football, volleyball (mum also plays), tennis, basketball
Ty Nelson: Lacrosse with Mimico Mountaineers through 12, 13
Liam Arnsby: a little football
Ryan Greene: Soccer through 12 (played provincial for Newfoundland), basketball
Bryce McConnell-Barker: cross country/track and field, basketball
Owen Beck: football, basketball, rugby
Cruz Lucius: Soccer, Golf, Pickleball
Jagger Firkus: Fastball Pitcher and Golf
Michael Fisher: Lacrosse (that was the first year he didn’t play)
Jack Devine: cross country, baseball
Last week I blogged about a new study from the University of Guelph trying to figure out which combined events correlate to future NHL success. The V02 Max and Peak Leg Power force plate were considered the best. So who did well there? In terms of leg strength, the power plate was measured three different ways (vertical jump, squat jump, no arm jump) and top performances included OHL London defender Isaiah George, NTDP center Frank Nazar, Finnish winger Joakim Kemell and the Swedish right winger Fabian Wagner. It’s also worth noting that top contender Shane Wright finished in the top 20 in all three leg categories.
For the V02 Max, the top five were Topi Ronni, Julian Lutz, Marco Kasper, Noah Ostlund and Tristan Luneau.