The NHL Scouting Combine has come a long way since the days of fitness testing in the basement of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
That was evident this week when the 21st installment of the Combine was held at the Westin Bristol Place and The International Centre.
A total of 119 of the top prospects from North American and Europe did their rounds of interviews and fitness exams at one of the NHL's premier events leading up to the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on June 27-28.
This year's format was revised to include a trio of more dynamic test stations for overhand pull-ups, single-leg squats (both legs) and a pro agility shuttle. Live display monitors allowed NHL personnel to view immediate results with height and weight, pro agility shuttle and vertical jump scores.
"Pro agility is kind of my specialty area, so I was glad it was added," Portland Winterhawks forward Chase De Leo told NHL.com. "I'm a smaller guy so I'm always trying to be quicker and faster than others. I think it went well and I felt confident in that."
While center Samuel Bennett, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters eligible for the 2014 Draft, didn't score well in pull-ups, NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr is confident it certainly won't be held against him in the early stages of the first round.
"The fact he can play the game the way he plays the game, I think teams feel he's a pretty complete package and the combine process allows teams to fill in any blanks," Marr said. "The team that will get Sam Bennett knows what work is needed and they'll be able to put him on the proper path for development."
Bennett was glad to be given the opportunity to let teams get to know him.
"The Combine was definitely a chance for the teams to get to know me off the ice and get to see how I do in the gym and how I can push myself," Bennett said. "I did have a lot of fun this weekend and it was really cool talking to all the teams and getting to know them. I was honest and just wanted them to get to know me."
Marr, who was overseeing his third Combine, was impressed by how well the members of this year's draft class represented themselves.
"If you go back 10-15 years, they were more overwhelmed but now it's impressive how well the players get the support of their junior teams and agents prepare them for this event," Marr said. "This is a genuinely good group of kids. There used to be a time when all these prospects had that deer-in-the-headlights look and were a little apprehensive when they get here.
"Now they know what's coming because they hear from their friends who have already gone through it. I think the guys in the first testing group are more apprehensive than the others, but once they get going they're just fine."
This year's fitness venue at The International Centre was constructed in a 16,302-square foot room that was a little more than 200 feet long, up from a 12,807-square foot space last year. The size of the fitness floor not only provided more room for the prospects but for the scouts and general managers in attendance as well.
Unlike previous years, the interviewing stage of the Combine was conducted during a five-day period; the functional movement screening was held on Thursday, medical examinations on Friday and the fitness tests were completed in one day on Saturday.
"I thought the kids were well prepared but also seemed to be a little more engaging and comfortable," Edmonton Oilers head scout Stu MacGregor said. "There were a few nervous guys, but maybe not quite as many as previous years. A lot of them seemed to be comfortable in communicating which I thought was good. Overall it was a real solid group. We didn't have any real poor interviews; just a lot of good ones."
Two extra bikes were included this year, increasing the Wingate Cycle Ergometer total to three and the VO2 Max to five. The added equipment created a smoother transition between tests.
"The combine fitness segment isn't a competition or a pass-or-fail type of test," Marr said. "It allows the NHL strength coaches to see where these players are in their current state of development and identify areas for improvement."
The late E.J. McGuire was still very much in the minds and hearts of everyone at the Combine.
McGuire, who served as Director of Central Scouting for seven years, passed away on April 7, 2011, following a five-month battle with leiomyoscarcoma, a rare form of cancer. McGuire, 58, was the architect of many of the innovations Central Scouting pioneered in the past decade to achieve its mandate of providing the League's clubs with the most comprehensive list of NHL Entry Draft-eligible prospects each season. The Combine was a major part of that process.
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