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RECAP: 2014 NHL Scouting Combine

Interviews, video, audio and more with plenty of prospects and Oilers staff at the 2014 NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto

Saturday, 31.05.2014 / 7:37 PM / 2014 NHL Entry Draft
By Chris Wescott & Marc Ciampa  - edmontonoilers.com
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RECAP: 2014 NHL Scouting Combine
Interviews, video, audio and more with plenty of prospects and Oilers staff at the 2014 NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto
MISSISSAUGA - We will be spending the entire day at the International Centre where the Top 120 prospects are going to be through the paces at the 2014 NHL Scouting Combine. Stay tuned throughout the day as we'll be providing live updates, audio, video and more.

On Thursday, our panel set the scene at the top of the CN Tower and we caught up with Oilers Head Amateur Scout Stu MacGregor as well as Sam Reinhart.

THURSDAY'S CONTENT
  • The Panel sets the scene for the 2014 NHL Scouting Combine at the CN Tower - Video
  • Jack Michaels goes one-on-one with Stu MacGregor - Video | Article
  • Tom Gazzola speaks with Sam Reinhart - Video | Article
Friday we sat down with the other three consensus top-four prospects: Leon Draisaitl, Aaron Ekblad and Sam Bennett. Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins also stopped by to chat with our panel.

FRIDAY'S CONTENT
  • The Panel chats with Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins - Video | Article
  • Jack Michaels speaks with Aaron Ekblad - Video | Article
  • Bob Stauffer sits down with Leon Draisaitl - Video
  • Chris Wescott goes one-on-one with Sam Bennett - Video | Article

*** WATCH: Exclusive One-on-One with Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr ***

*** WATCH: The Panel wraps up the 2014 NHL Scouting Combine ***


TESTING GROUPS

(ALL TIMES MT)

5:30 AM - Gavin Bayreuther, Tyler Bird, Miles Gendron, Matheson Iacopelli, Dylan Larkin, Darby Llewellyn, Thomas Perry, Austin Poganski, Hunter Smith, Ben Thomas, Josh Wesley, Blake Weyrick

GROUP 1 INTERVIEWS

Dylan Larkin, the 17th ranked North American skater by Central Scouting, put in a good World Juniors performance for the United States Under-18 program. He was a second-line winger for the Americans en route to a gold-medal finish.

Dylan Larkin at the Combine. Photo by Getty Images.

The Detroit native is committed to the University of Michigan and he says the U.S. development program has helped him get prepared to enter the college ranks.

“I think it is one of the best programs in junior hockey and it developed me as a man. I feel that I’m ready for college.”

Heading to the University of Michigan was an easy choice for the forward who is looking to contribute to a winning program.

“I’m looking forward to every year the team is expected to win and I want to be in an environment like that.”

Hunter Smith is a massive winger, standing at close to 6-foot-7. The 39th ranked North American skater by Central Scouting towered above the other prospects who tested in the first group this morning.

It was a breakout season for Smith who had just two points in his first two OHL seasons before posting 40 (16-24-40) in 64 games this year with the Windsor Spitfires. He finished the 2014 playoffs on close to a point-per-game pace with 11 (3-8-11) in 12 games.

“I think going through last year’s draft kind of flipped the switch for me,” Smith said. “I kind of turned the corner and I really committed myself to having a good year this year. It was tough to watch obviously but I turned it around. I think this year we took the team deep and I think I was a key part of that but I was playing with some key players and as a team we all kind of stuck together. Unfortunately, it didn’t tie together in the end.”

With the shift in mentality after slipping through the draft last year, Smith also improved his skating in particular.

“I think the skating. My skating from the past two years has just come miles. It still has a ways to go before I am ready to play at the pro level but my skating came and everything slowed down for me. I kind of let pucks come to me with a little more time and a little less panic on my stick and the opportunity I got I think.”

Being one of the first few prospects to go through the fitness testing was something that might seem intimidating but Calgary, AB native Ben Thomas prepared for this moment.

“It was a little bit intimidating coming in,” Thomas said. “I was in the first group at 7:30 a.m. so I didn’t really know what to expect, I didn’t get to see anyone else do it. I just kind of went in and took everything as it came but I’ve done most of these tests while training before I got here so it was hard but nothing too unexpected.”

Thomas took big steps forward in his second year with the Calgary Hitmen, with 31 points (7-24-31) in 72 games.

“I guess I was a little bit of a late bloomer. Every year I kind of pushed myself and got a little bit better. The jump to major junior was probably my biggest one but overall I think I adjusted well but with the help of all of the veterans on my team and my coaches I was able to find some success for sure.”



6:30 AM - Ryan Collins, Michael Dal Colle, Shane Eiserman, Brandon Hickey, Joshua Jacobs, Kasperi Kapanen, Ryan MacInnis, Nicholas Magyar, Sonny Milano, Nick Schmaltz, Vladimir Tkachev, Dominic Turgeon

GROUP 2 INTERVIEWS

Kasperi Kapanen attempts a pullup at the Combine. Photo by Getty Images.

Michael Dal Colle of the Oshawa Generals is in the conversation for being a top five or six pick in the upcoming draft. He holds the fifth spot overall in Central Scouting’s rankings of North American skaters.

Dal Colle built off of his 48-point rookie OHL season by posting 95 points (39-56-95) in 67 games this year. He finished the 2014 playoffs with 20 points (8-12-20) in 12 games.

“I think my first year in Oshawa I played with a lot of good players, good leaders and I think as a 16 year-old I learned a lot from them and carried it on to this year,” he said.

After fitness testing, the winger says he doesn’t have any more of an impression just where he might go in the draft.

“I don’t know if I have a better read of what’s going to happen. I think my rankings are going to stay pretty consistent depending on how teams view me. Every team views me different so I don’t know.”

Hockey runs in Kasperi Kapanen’s blood, being the son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen. Throughout the pre-draft process Kasperi has been referred to as ‘Sami’s son’ but the Finnish winger is out to make his own name known.

“Now that it’s draft year, hopefully I will get picked and I’m going to start making a name for myself of course,” he said. “Of course they won’t forget Sami but it’s my turn now.”

Kapanen says his father, who played over 800 NHL games, is his idol.

“I’ve always watched him during games and every shift so he’s been my idol and my trainer and he just teaches me a lot of stuff mentally and physically.”

The forward says he will look to improve on his physicality as he looks toward having a career in the NHL.

“Probably just that forechecking and checking play and physicality. I think I can be better at that and just my defensive-zone play. I have to be better at that if I want to make the NHL some day.”

Kapanen is the top-ranked European skater by the NHL’s Central Scouting.

Leduc, AB native Brandon Hickey is one of a few AJHL invites to the Scouting Combine.

“It’s really a special feeling,” Hickey said. “It just shows that all the hard work I’ve put in has paid off and it’s really special to be here with all these great players that play in the wHL and QMJHL and I think it’s just an outstanding feeling to be selected to come here.”

The Spruce Grove Saint is ranked as the 63rd North American skater by Central Scouting.
 



7:30 AM - Sam Bennett, Clark Bishop, Connor Chatham, Chase De Leo, Thatcher Demko, Ryan Donato, Reid Gardiner, Keegan Iverson, Ondrej Kase, Nelson Nogier, John Quenneville, Jake Virtanen

GROUP 3 INTERVIEWS

Sam Bennett does a strength exercise at the Combine. Photo by Getty Images.

Sam Bennett is regarded as a consensus top-five pick. Central Scouting places him as the number one overall North American skater heading into the draft. As for where he eventually ends up, Bennett says it would be great to be the first off the board but it won’t matter in the end.

“It definitely would be pretty special,” he said. “At the end of the day it is just a number and everyone is going to be in the same spot coming into training camp, trying to make the team. Obviously it is every kid’s dream to go as high as they can into the NHL and it would be pretty special.”

“Ultimately just to be drafted into the NHL is going to be a huge honour. I’m looking forward to June 27, and whatever happens happens.”

When asked what sets him apart from the rest of best, Bennett says it is probably his compete level.

“There are so many great players in the draft this year. I think it’s really a combination of my hockey sense along with my compete level. I think I compete as hard, if not harder than anyone else so that’s my strongest asset.”

John Quenneville scored 58 points (25-33-58) for the Brandon Wheat King this season. The centre led Brandon in playoff scoring with 13 points (5-8-13) in nine playoff games as Brandon lost to the Edmonton Oil Kings in the second round.

“We had a good year,” Quenneville said. “At the start of the season we probably weren’t at the top of the pile but we continued to improve as the season went on and by the end of the year we were a real powerhouse team I think. Moving forward I think we’re going to be a premiere NHL team.”

The 23rd-ranked North American skater (Central Scouting) and Edmonton native is the second cousin of Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and Boston’s Johnny Boychuck is his uncle via marriage. He’d have plenty of insider tips going into the Combine if he needed them. But Quenneville says it became natural to him as the interview process went on.

“I think the more interviews I did the more comfortable I got with the whole process and the better I was in my later interviews,” he said. “It’s definitely an interesting process just to see how different teams operate within their organizations and I have a lot of fun with it.”

Quenneville says he met with “almost every team.”



8:30 AM - Eric Cornel, Anthony Deangelo, Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Halverson, Aaron Haydon, Vladislav Kamenev, Jonathan Macleod, Edwin Minney, William Nylander, Travis Sanheim, Blake Siebenaler, Beau Starrett

GROUP 4 INTERVIEWS

Aaron Ekblad rides the bike at the Combine. Photo by Getty Images

Defenceman Aaron Ekblad is very much in consideration for the number one overall pick and it’s an honour he has been working hard for.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It’s a life-long dream for sure. It’s something I was working towards all through the season and most of my life. Obviously it would mean a lot. Does it matter? Not so much. I think wherever you go you just have to embrace that and have a lot of fun with it.”

As for the Combine testing, Ekblad says that’s something he has also trained hard for so he was prepared for the rigours of the day. Now that the fitness testing is over, there is some time off before the draft but don’t bet on Ekblad just hanging around.

“I won’t be relaxing at all whatsoever. I think it’s going to be a long month of working out and getting stronger, hopefully get a few ice times in and making sure I’m ready for that post-draft training camp or rookie camp.”

Ekblad tested well in the musculoskeletal testing on Saturday. He bench pressed 150 pounds 13 times and did nine pull-ups. He tested near the top in most of those categories.

William Nylander is described as one of the more dynamic offensive players in the upcoming draft. The 5-foot-11, 169 pound forward is listed as the second best European skater by NHL’s Central Scouting.

When asked to describe just what type of player he is, Nylander was short and to the point.

“I’m an offensive player,” he said. “I like to score goals and make plays.”

Playing for Sweden’s under-18 team at the World Junior Championships, Nylander posted 16 points (6-10-16) in seven games. He says his offensive creativity is something he’s always had.

“I don’t know. It’s something that’s always been there. I don’t know what makes me play like that. I guess it’s just something I have inside of me.”

There is a lot of interest surrounding William, son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, who says 28 teams interviewed him at this week’s Combine. He says after talking to the teams around the league he now has a better idea of where he might go.

“I set high goals for myself so I’d like to go as high as I can.”



9:30 AM - Jayce Hawryluk, Aaron Irving, Olivier Leblanc, Brendan Lemieux, Brett Lernout, Ryan Mantha, Brycen Martin, Dominik Masin, Alex Nedeljkovic, Julien Pelletier, Sam Reinhart, Nicholas Ritchie

GROUP 5 INTERVIEWS

Nick Ritchie's height measurements are taken at the Combine. Photo by Getty Images.

Aaron Irving was the first Edmonton Oil Kings player to go through the fitness testing on Saturday. Coming off a Memorial Cup victory, Irving’s extended season didn’t do him any favours when it comes to resting before the Combine.

“I don’t have much right now, I kind of left it all out there,” Irving said after the fitness testing. “I’m feeling a little bit out of breath but hopefully I get it back soon.”

Irving just finished up his first full season in the WHL and played 63 games for the Oil Kings.

“It’s been a tremendous experience,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed every second of it, the highs and lows and it’s definitely been a learning curve for myself and I think being able to be a part of this team as a rookie is going to help me in my future and the stuff I went through this year is only going to help me in my coming years.”

Irving finished the regular season with 30 points (9-21-30).

Nick Ritchie is a big forward who stands at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds. The Orangeville, ON native projects to be a power forward in the NHL and says he models his game after Boston’s Milan Lucic of Dallas’ Jamie Benn.

In pursuit of one day becoming a player like Lucic or a Benn, Ritchie has made an effort to get stronger.

“I’ve obviously gotten a lot bigger the last couple of years and a lot faster so I’d say those two things,” he said.

Ritchie more than doubled his goal production from a year ago, finishing the 2013-14 season with 39 goals and 74 points (39-35-74) in 61 games for the Peterborough Petes.

There is some interest in Ritchie, the seventh best North American skater per Central Scouting. 25 teams interviewed the forward.

“They all do it a little bit differently. Some teams do it a little more relaxed, some teams want to see how you do under pressure. But overall I got a lot of both of those ways and it was a cool experience.”



11:30 AM - Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Kevin Fiala, Ivan Barbashev, Conner Bleackley, Blake Clarke, Leon Draisaitl, Reid Duke, Haydn Fleury, Jared McCann, David Pastrnak, Brendan Perlini, Alex Schoenborn, Alex Tuch

GROUP 6 INTERVIEWS

Leon Draisaitl participates in the Combine fitness testing. Photo by Getty Images.

Leon Draisaitl is sure to become the highest drafted German player ever when his name is called at the 2014 NHL draft. The big centre was an offensive force for the Prince Albert Raiders this season, scoring 105 points (32 more than his nearest teammate).

With his offensive skills already well known around the league, the Combine was all about finding out who Draisaitl is as a person.

“They need to know what kind of a guy you are and I think it’s really important for them to know what kind of a guy I am and how I work off the ice and I think that’s a really important part of it,” Draisaitl said. “It’s not only everything about the ice. I think that’s something really important as well.”

The potential top-five pick says he feels like him and the rest of the prospects left it all on the table this week. Now he is one step closer to achieving his dream of playing in the NHL, which is partly why he came to North America from Germany in the first place.

“It’s an exciting time. It’s really exciting. It has always been my goal to play in the NHL one day and I’m close. I’m not there yet, I have a lot of work in front of me but it’s an exciting time and it’s kind of surreal so far.”

He’s the ninth overall North American skater per Central Scouting and the second best of the defencemen. Haydn Fleury had a breakout season in the WHL, doubling his point totals from the previous season and rounding into form defensively.

Haydn Fleury rides the bike at the Combine. Photo by Getty Images.

Fleury posted 46 points (8-38-46) in 70 games for the Red Deer Rebels. The key to his success this season may have been the exit of a teammate.

When Mathew Dumba, the seventh overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft, was traded by the Rebels to the Portland Winterhawks, Fleury stepped into a bigger role on the blue line.

“I think I progressed a lot in my defensive game,” he said. “That’s something I really needed to work on coming into this season. I know I can do all of that stuff offensively, I just wanted to get my game more well-rounded and I think I really accomplished that this year. I got a bigger opportunity with (Dumba) being gone and I really benefited from that.”

A fun fact about Fleury is that when he was at the age of three, his babysitter was Brenden Morrow, winger for the St. Louis Blues.

Brendan Perlini is the son of long-time international standout Fred Perlini, who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs at one point in his career. Eventually, Fred’s playing career brought him to the British Hockey League. Brendan was born in Guildford, England. It’s a unique story at the draft.

“My dad grew up and played in the OHL and played professional for the Leafs,” Perlini said. “Funny enough, at the end of his career, he ended up in England and that’s where I was born and raised. It’s kind of a weird start as not really too normal but I think my time over there was pretty cool and I’ve definitely sort of added that international experience to my game. I’m kind of grateful for that.”

Perlini’s family has been a driving force behind his hockey career, which has culminated in a top-10 ranking amongst North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting.

“My parents and brother have done everything for me. I can’t really thank them enough. To move an ocean away and then another country to Detroit, it was kind of a weird start and I really can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done for me.”

Perlini finished the 2013-14 season with 71 points (34-37-71) in 58 games for the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL.



12:30 PM - Michael Amadio, Daniel Audette, Michael Bunting, Robert Fabbri, Joshua Ho-Sang, Julius Honka, Roland McKeown, Francis Perron, Brayden Point, Brett Pollock, Luc Snuggerud, Jakub Vrana

GROUP 7 INTERVIEWS

Joshua Ho-Sang is an interesting story at the Scouting Combine. While ranked as the 22nd best North American skater by Central Scouting, Ho-Sang comes with some question marks.

“Yeah it’s definitely different to have a team kind of grill you about your imperfections I guess,” Ho-Sang said. “It’s a tough thing to get prepared for because even when you have people asking you questions, a lot of guys get the standard questions and you’ll have your mom ask you them or you’ll have your agent ask you them and it’s not quite the same as having a head scout yell at you. Some teams come hard, some teams come soft, some teams see how honest you are. Every team has a different strategy and it comes through definitely in the meetings.”

You would be hard pressed to find a young man answer those questions with more honesty. Ho-Sang was very open about his interviews with NHL teams.

“Definitely free-flowing and honest. It’s a lot easier for me because I’ve corrected and am correcting a lot of things that I’ve done in the past so it’s easier to be open when you’re excepting of what you’ve done. But I can’t speak for other guys but I’d imagine if it’s something that you didn’t know that they knew or if it’s something that’s kind of your dirty little secret, it’s tough to hear and it will kind of throw you off.

Joshua Ho-Sang has his height measurements taken. Photo by Getty Images.

“There was a couple of things teams said to me. One morning my first four meetings were amazing. The guys were really nice and they kind of just talked to me and then my fifth meeting, right off the bat they just started yelling at me. It kind of throws you off and it’s definitely confusing but you’ve got to battle through it.”

The Hockey News said this about Ho-Sang, “if you’re looking for pure talent, few in this draft have more than Ho-Sang. But there are real concerns in the scouting community that Ho-Sang is too much of an individualist on the ice and lacks discipline off it.”

Ho-Sang was given a 15-game suspension to start next year for a shove which contributed in London Knights’ Zach Bell breaking his right fibula. That was later reduced to six games. It could have been one of the questions scouts had for the prospect.

But as for what type of player Ho-Sang is on the ice, his play really speaks for itself. He is coming off a season with the Windsor Spitfires where he posted 85 points (32-53-85). It wasn’t him as a player that Ho-Sang had to answer for it was other questions from the scouts and management teams.

“I didn’t really feel like I had to sell myself to these teams. I felt like I had to answer their questions. A lot of teams compliment me on my skill level and a lot of teams will acknowledge the fact that they think I could be higher in the draft than where I am but there’s questions and they asked them. I wouldn’t be surprised if I impressed a team enough to take me at seven and I wouldn’t be surprised if a team took me at 14 or 15 or 30. That’s just the draft.”

Edmonton Oil Kings forward Brett Pollock is the highest ranking prospect of his draft-eligible teammates. Pollock is 34th on Central Scouting’s list of the top North American skaters.

Pollock’s production really picked up after November and December when he generated a 14-point month in January and followed that up with an 11-point month in February. He said it all started just before that, when he began feeling comfortable with his role.

“I think November and December, before Christmas, I really found my game and my role on the team,” he said. “I was starting to get some consistent minutes and ice time with guys and I’d say after Christmas I really tried to pick my game up and I created a lot of chemistry with Curtis Lazar and Edgars Kulda and guys like that and from there it really just took off to the playoffs.”

Pollock had to put his 6-foot-2, 182 pound body through the rigours of the fitness testing on Saturday without much of a break after the season. With Edmonton winning the Memorial Cup last week, Pollock hasn’t had much of an opportunity to reboot before the Combine.

“Looking down the week, having this at the end of the week is definitely a tough thing. There’s not a lot of juice left in the body. Obviously playing 98 games, 100 games or however many we played this year it is physically and mentally fatiguing. Then to have meetings all week is another mentally fatiguing thing. But I woke up this morning and I wouldn’t say I was very excited for the day but I feel good now and it’s good to get it over with.”

2014 NHL DRAFT COVERAGE
INSIDE THE OILERS
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2013 - WHO THE OILERS PICKED
  • 7th overall - Darnell Nurse
  • 56th overall - Marc-Olivier Roy
  • 83rd overall - Bogdan Yakimov
  • 88th overall - Anton Slepyshev
  • 94th overall - Jackson Houck
  • 96th overall - Kyle Platzer
  • 113th overall - Aidan Muir
  • 128th overall - Evan Campbell
  • 158th overall - Ben Betker
  • 188th overall - Gregory Chase