The NHL's scouting combine wrapped up this weekend, leaving team scouts and GMs with some interesting things to consider. This year's entry draft has been widely publicized as one of the deepest in many years, and the 30 teams touched down in Toronto eager to get an up close look at the prospects.
Perhaps the biggest story surrounding the fitness testing portion of the event was the potential top four picks declining to take part. Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Seth Jones and Aleksander Barkov all attended the event but opted out of the physical testing components. The reason? MacKinnon, Drouin and Jones reported to the combine after competing in the Memorial Cup, which concluded May 26. Barkov continues to rehab a shoulder injury he suffered late in the season. Highly touted defenseman Darnell Nurse also sat out the tests due to injury.
The story created a little buzz, mostly because that group contains such highly touted prospects. But the big question is what impact it will have on their draft prospects.
My answer? None.
This sort of thing has happened before. Just one recent example: During the 2010 combine, eventual first overall pick Taylor Hall opted out for Memorial Cup reasons after his Windsor Spitfires had finished playing in the tournament. It didn't harm him in the draft, and it won't harm any of these highly desirable prospects.
One Western Conference scout put it into perspective: "If we think we are going to draft any of those players who are not testing ... teams usually bring top potential picks to conduct their own specific testing anyway."
Asked if the opinion changed on any players not testing, his answer was simple: "Absolutely not."
A few more notes on prospects who impressed in Toronto:
• Craig Custance already touched on the impression that Russian Valeri Nichushkin made in the interview room, but his impressive size and frame was on display as well. When he walked into the room, there was an audible buzz, and heads turned as he went through the stage by stage testing. His size and physical development certainly did not go unnoticed. He could spark a trade frenzy as teams move into the top four slots to try to select him.
• Day 2 saw a pair of Memorial Cup teammates make different decisions regarding the testing. Bo Horvat took the tests, but Max Domi, his teammate on the London Knights, decided not to. This certainly was a hot topic given that the two played a similar role on the same team in the Memorial Cup. One scout suggested it might be because Domi feels he is a top-five pick. He may be. I feel Domi would have been better served if he provided a specific reason for forgoing the tests. While sitting out may not harm his stock, there's a difference if the decision was based on a nagging injury or simple fatigue and lack of prep time.
• Some of the more visual surprises involved top picks. Among the top prospects, MacKinnon took his shirt off and was extremely well defined and fit, while two of the more high profile defensemen -- potential top pick Jones and Rasmus Ristolainen -- looked like they are in need of a strict diet and weight program. I was asked by other media members whether this would affect their status, and my answer was flat out "no." If anything, some teams will view it as a positive.
As one scout said, "Just imagine how good Jones will be when he is stronger and fit. And how scary and gritty will Ristolainen be when he is a man?"
• Elias Lindholm, whom I have ranked No. 5 overall, was the best interview I heard all weekend. When asked about his season, he used words like "we" and "us" and never referred to any personal achievements. He was always crediting his successful season to those he played with. His comments were sincere while giving an honest and real assessment of his play. When asked if he plays like Henrik Zetterberg (a player I have likened him to in the past), he was quick to talk about how good Zetterberg is and had a hard time comparing himself to such a star player. He appeared humbled. That appeals to scouts.
• Perhaps the one test that gives the truest measure as it relates to skating is the vertical jump. Last year's average score was 24.9 inches. This year, the average was 25.4, and Remi Elie, Ryan Pulock and Tommy Vannelli tied for the top mark with a vertical jump of 30.5 inches. The correlation of vertical jump to skating quickness and speed is almost always bang on, and these three performers are all excellent skaters.
Finally, here are a few final pearls picked up by colleague Craig Custance:
• With the trend toward bigger forwards popular right now in the playoffs, a couple of big Americans hope to capitalize on the increased demand for size.
One is Hudson Fasching, a 6-foot-3 forward from Minnesota who had 11 points in 25 games with the U.S. National Development Team this year. He's a natural power forward who said he's still developing his physical game into one that could thrive in the NHL playoffs.
"There's a lot of hitting in [the playoffs]," he said. "That's part of my game I'm definitely trying to work on and something I definitely want to work on at the next level."
The other American power forward is 6-5 Michael McCarron, who had 10 points in 19 games with U.S. National Development Team. He is confident his size can translate into the NHL and make him the kind of forward who is successful in the postseason.
"I can definitely be that in the NHL," he said. "I think the NHL needs that now, like it used to be. Those big power forwards that carry the team. I watch Milan Lucic all the time [and] Rick Nash. Those are two guys I really like to model after. They play rough and tough every shift. That's one of my downfalls, my consistency. When they're out there, they're a force every shift. That's what I have to do every shift."
• In the days before his testing at the combine, Drouin said he interviewed with 19 teams, two more than fellow top prospects Jones and MacKinnon. There were definitely a few more nerves when he walked into the room of the Lightning, owners of the No. 3 pick. More than a few mock drafts have Drouin headed to Tampa.
"For sure, it's more nervousness than anything," Drouin said. "You can end up there, for sure. When you go in there, you want to make a good impression."
The other part of it was sitting across from Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman.
"At the beginning of the interview [there's nerves]. It's Steve Yzerman. He won a gold medal, Stanley Cups," Drouin said. "As the conversation goes, he's a nice guy."
• There has been a lot made about the addition of Jim Nill to the Dallas Stars as general manager, but it's the combination of Nill and Les Jackson, Dallas' director of scouting and player development, that makes the Stars especially dangerous. Both are known for their experience scouting and developing, and the Stars own two first-round picks with which to capitalize. That's serious ammunition for these two longtime scouts.
"We've been friends a long time," said Jackson of the Nill hire. "It's great for our franchise for sure."
The pair of picks isn't something Nill is necessary used to after drafting at the bottom of the round for years with the Red Wings, especially a pick as high as No. 10 overall -- although the way this draft is set up, a pick at No. 10 might as well be No. 20 with the depth in the first round. It's still a nice change for Nill.
"He is pumped about this," Jackson said. "It's a good draft. For all the teams picking high, it's going to be nice. The good teams that do well usually draft well through all seven rounds. I think Jim has a history of that, and that's going to help us."