The NHL combine has been said to offer the mentally and physically most demanding days of a draft prospect’s year.

In 2018, the league held its 25th edition of what is formally known as the NHL Central Scouting Service’s draft combine. What began in a basement ballroom of a Toronto airport hotel now, due to the increased technological demands of the testing and vastly greater media interest, occupies two venues in Buffalo, including the Sabres’ home arena — even though no sticks, pucks or skates are involved.

Instead of fans, media fill the arena seats. Each NHL team occupies a suite, from which it conducts interviews with most of the roughly 100 prospects on hand.

The results of a battery of physical tests and a rigorous interview process can make or break a prospect’s draft status.

The Basics
Buffalo has hosted the last four combines, and will do so again in 2019. The 2018 combine covered seven days, from May 27 through June 2, and invited 104 players.

The breakdowns:

  • 82 North American players
  • 22 international players
  • 61 forwards
  • 36 defensemen
  • 7 goalies

Unlike the NFL, where some of the highest-echelon prospects skip the combine in favor of a college “pro day” or private workout, or the NBA, where virtually all of the top picks go the private workout route and eschew the draft camp, the NHL combine typically gets all the studs. Of course, the league doesn’t allow teams to conduct their own fitness and conditioning tests, so that makes the combine essential for prospects.

The Physical Tests
At the 2018 combine, the physical testing was separated into two days. At the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, basic checkups were included with balance, functional movement, grip strength testing and the V02 max cycle aerobic fitness test.

At the Sabres’ complex, the assembled team and media personnel watched players go through eight tests, including four jumps, bench press, agility, pullups, height, wingspan and the Wingate cycle test. Here’s an in-depth look at some of those tests:

  • Bench press: Revised for 2018, prospects lift roughly half their body weight. The amount of reps are counted, but new for 2018 is the ability to measure the velocity of the bar and the athlete’s production of power in watts per kilogram.
  • VO2 max: Measuring the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can utilize during intense activity, the test involves maintaining a set let level of RPMs on a stationary bike under increasing resistance. Used to gauge cardiorespiratory fitness, the test can last several minutes.
  • Wingate: In past years an all-out sprint against resistance on a stationary bike for 30 seconds, the Wingate in 2018 was adjusted to 45 seconds with max-effort intervals of 10, 5, 5 and 5 seconds interspersed with rest intervals. Though the shorter of the two cycling tests, it is said to be the one more likely to induce vomiting.
  • Agility: The Pro Agility test is a shuttle run of 5, 10 and 5 yards. It is performed twice — once starting to the left and once to the right.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, upchucking after a bike test might not be a bad thing. It shows effort.

By the time a player gets to the combine — just a few weeks before the NHL Draft — the teams know what those players can do on the ice. They want to see what’s not on the highlight reel, the things that come out when a player is under the physical duress of a cycling test or the mental strain of going from interview to interview — with teams and media alike.

“That’s why you have the interviews,” then-Arizona Coyotes GM Don Maloney, now Calgary’s VP of hockey operations, told the Hockey News in 2015. “If there are rumblings, rumors, teammates, on-ice situations, off-ice, usage, sitting out, coaching — it will all come out in the interviews.”

If not during the Wingate.

Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online hockey shop that offers pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.
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