While you can debate the merits of the Combine in terms of its impact on drafting decisions, there is NO debate about just how grueling the Combine is. You can look at pictures in the newspaper, watch video clips on TV, but there’s no way to appreciate just how demanding the fitness testing portion of the NHL draft process is unless you’re there to witness it for yourself.
Over the past two days, 102 of the top prospects in the NHL draft have been shuffled through the Toronto Congress Centre for a taste of the physical and mental demands of NHL life. The fitness testing portion of the Combine weekend would put any average person’s gym workout to shame. I witnessed 14 separate stations that each prospect was directed through that tested all aspects of their physical fitness.
The NHL hopefuls are eased into the fitness test with the (1) height, weight, wingspan, (2) skinfold measurement, and (3) grip strength measurement stations. For these opening three stations, the NHL staff on hand has to exert more effort than the draft hopefuls. The prospects do have to deal with the constant photos and hundreds of eyes of discerning scouts, general managers, and media evaluate every inch of their well-toned bodies.
The real workout begins as the rookies make their way through the (4) upper body push & pull strength, (5) vertical jump, and (6) 150 lb bench press. The 2011 draft class average push ups was 24.9 with Michael Morrison of the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) topping out at 45. Toronto-born Jamieson Oleksiak finished tied for a 10th-best push-ups. The vertical jump seemed to be the most important station of the day. According to many scouts and observers, they have found that there is a correlation between vertical jump scores and speed & acceleration on the ice. The 6’1.75”Maximilien Le Sieur may move up the picking order after he scored the highest in the vertical jump at a mark of 31.5”.
Next it was off to the (7) jump timing mat, (8) trunk flexion, and (9) standing long jump. The standing long jump was another station picked by scouts as one to watch. With these physical tests, NHL teams are looking for players with explosive energy and the vertical and standing jump tests seem to be the best indicators of this seemingly intangible stat. 6’1” Jonathan Racine blew away the competition, and the average of 103.8, with his standing long jump mark of 119.3”.
The prospects then made their way over to the (10) 4 kg ball throw, (11) hex agility test, and (12) equilibrium test stations. The 190 lb prospect out of Boston University, Adam Clendening, lead the way with a throw of 248”, a full 50” better than this year’s average.
As if all of those previous tests weren’t enough, the final two challenges were the most daunting of all. The prospects were asked to summon whatever energy they had left to go all-out pedaling on a stationary bike for a full 30-seconds in the (13) wingate cycle ergometer test. All eyes were on the prospects as they completed this task and it was a hard station to ignore as each player had a full team of NHL Combine staff shouting encouragement and challenging each player to go all out for the full 30. Check out Niklas Jensen’s wingate cycle ergometer test video on the left side of the page.
The prospects were given about a 20-30 minute break before they were brought back out for the final station – the dreaded (14) VO2 max test. For those unfamiliar with this test, the VO2 test measures the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen during incremental exercise. This test lasted about 15 minutes for most players as they pushed their bodies to their physical limits on those exercise bikes. They were helped along by the encouragement of the Combine staff once again with words (and shouts) of encouragement. It was no surprise to see that some players added a “15th station” behind the backstage curtain to relieve themselves of their breakfast after completing the gauntlet, which took a full 2 hours from start to finish. After all that was finished the prospects were made available to answer questions from the media.
There has been much debate about the inclusion of on-ice skills and testing for future NHL Combines. It would be a great move on the part of the NHL to take a page out of the NFL Combine book where the results of on-field testing are an integral part of football drafting. On-ice testing would go a long way to increase the value of the NHL Combine in the draft decision-making process.
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