With the top spot for the 2011 Entry Draft as wide-open as ever, it could make the NHL Scouting Combine that much more of an important event.
The 102 best draft-eligible players from North America and Europe will spend May 30 to June 4 in Toronto, going through a vigorous round of physical, medical and psychological tests that could determine where they are chosen.
Among the most sought-after players will be Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Swedish defenseman Adam Larsson.
The 6-foot, 164-pound Nugent-Hopkins was No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters. He led the Western Hockey League this season with 75 assists and was tied for third with 106 points. He then had 11 points in nine WHL playoff games.
"A couple of people high up in the Oilers' organization -- and I'm not naming names -- said Hopkins has the best vision on the ice since No. 99 (Wayne Gretzky)," , who mainly scouts WHL prospects, told NHL.com. "That's the highest compliment you can get, but also another thing is the way Ryan competes. He never takes a night off and he works as hard in his own end as he does in the offensive zone. It takes a special player with special skills to be able to do that."
Larsson (6-3, 200) has been Central Scouting's top-rated European skater all season. He had 9 points in 37 games with Skelleftea in the Swedish Elite League, his third season playing against men in the nation's top professional league. He also had 4 points in six games for Sweden at the 2011 World Junior Championship and played for his country at the 2010 WJC.
"Adam is one of the best skaters in this year's draft," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He has excellent speed and mobility. He also has patient puck-handling abilities and can surprise an opponent with a solid hit. His size and skating ability make him comparable with Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman."
The Scouting Combine features a three-pronged approach. Teams are allowed four days to interview as many prospects as they wish. Players are given medical examinations by independent doctors, and then go through a rigorous off-ice physical test.
There is no on-ice component to the Combine, and that's done for a reason.
EJ McGuire, the former director of Central Scouting who died last month, told NHL.com that for one, the top players already have been viewed multiple times by scouts either in person or on video.
Also, there's the fact that some players, including many in U.S. colleges and high schools, haven't been on the ice since February -- compared with players with Canadian Hockey League teams who could be coming off long playoff runs that could end weeks or days before the start of the Combine. The championship game for the Memorial Cup is scheduled for May 29 in Mississauga, Ont., the day before the Combine starts.
"Is it fair to the kid whose high school season ended in February to stand next to the kid who played in a championship game on Sunday?" McGuire told NHL.com last year. "It might be unfair to the Memorial Cup participant if the (high school) kid had just been doing the Combine tests, sprinting five times a week and not having to practice. That Memorial Cup guy, did he block a shot to win a championship and his ankle is sore?"
Instead, the players are put through their paces in a three-hour crucible which includes events as simple as the sit and reach, push-ups and sit-ups, right through a pair of high-tech stationary bike tests -- Wingate anaerobic measure and an aerobic-max VO2 test.
The top 76 North American skaters as rated by NHL Central Scouting will be taking those tests. Besides Nugent-Hopkins, those looking to make an impression on the scouts are Kitchener Rangers left wing Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Ryan Murphy; defenseman Dougie Hamilton and center Ryan Strome of the Niagara IceDogs; Drummondville Voltigeurs center Sean Couturier; Portland Winterhawks left wing Sven Baertschi; and a group of players from the Saint John Sea Dogs that includes centers Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, and right wing Tomas Jurco.
A number of top European players scouts will be examining beside Larsson are Swedish center Mika Zibanejad, Finnish right wing Joel Armia, Swedish defenseman Jonas Brodin and right wing Dmitri Jaskin from the Czech Republic.
Among the goaltending prospects in attendance will be John Gibson of the U.S. National Team Developmental Program and Christopher Gibson of Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Central Scouting's top two-rated goaltenders.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Scouting Combine invite list
Name Club League Ht. Wt.
Seth Ambroz Omaha USHL 6-2 211
Olivier Archambault Val-D'Or QMJHL 5-11 170
Joel Armia Assat Finland 6-3 191
Sven Baertschi Portland WHL 5-10 181
Tyler Biggs USA U-18 USHL 6-2 210
Jeremy Boyce Rotevall Timra Sweden 6-0 169
Austen Brassard Belleville OHL 6-2 191
Daniel Catenacci Sault Ste. Marie OHL 5-10 183
Nick Cousins Sault Ste. Marie OHL 5-11 166
Sean Couturier Drummondville QMJHL 6-4 197
Joseph Cramarossa Miss. St. Michael's OHL 6-0 188
Phillip Danault Victoriaville QMJHL 6-0 170
Travis Ewanyk Edmonton WHL 6-1 178
Max Friberg Skovde Sweden-3 5-11 185
Markus Granlund HIFK Jr. Finland-Jr. 5-10 169
Rocco Grimaldi USA U-18 USHL 5-6 163
Gregory Hoffman Ambri Swiss 6-0 170
Jonathan Huberdeau Saint John QMJHL 6-1 170
Phillipe Hudon Choate-Rosmry Hgh. Ct. 6-0 190
Colin Jacobs Seattle WHL 6-1 197
Dmitri Jaskin Slavia Czrep 6-1 196
Boone Jenner Oshawa OHL 6-1 204
Nicklas Jensen Oshawa OHL 6-2 187
Tomas Jurco Saint John QMJHL 6-2 187
Alexander Khokhlachev Windsor OHL 5-10 188
Nikita Kucherov CSKA2 Russia-Jr. 5-10 163
Sean Kuraly Indiana USHL 6-2 192
Joseph Labate Holy Angels High Minnesota 6-4 180
Gabriel Landeskog Kitchener OHL 6-1 207
Zac Larraza USA U-18 USHL 6-2 192
Maximilien Le Sieur Shawinigan QMJHL 6-2 203
Lucas Lessio Oshawa OHL 6-1 197
Luke Lockhart Seattle WHL 5-10 180
Adam Lowry Swift Current WHL 6-4 186
Mario Lucia Wayzata High Minnesota 6-2 183
Mark McNeill Prince Albert WHL 6-2 201
Jonathan Miller USA U-18 USHL 6-1 198
Vladislav Namestnikov London OHL 6-0 166
Joachim Nermark Linkoping Jr. Swe-Jr. 6-1 187
Matthew Nieto Boston University H-East 5-11 175
Marcel Noebels Seattle WHL 6-3 195
Stefan Noesen Plymouth OHL 6-0 195
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Red Deer WHL 6-1 164
Scott Oke Saint John QMJHL 6-3 185
Zack Phillips Saint John QMJHL 6-1 178
Shane Prince Ottawa OHL 5-10 174
Matt Puempel Peterborough OHL 6-0 196
Alan Quine Peterborough OHL 5-11 178
Rickard Rakell Plymouth OHL 6-0 191
Victor Rask Leksand Sweden-2 6-2 194
Ty Rattie Portland WHL 5-11 163
Tobias Rieder Kitchener OHL 5-11 173
Brett Ritchie Sarnia OHL 6-3 210
Alexander Ruutuu Jokerit Jr. Finland-Jr. 6-1 183
Brandon Saad Saginaw OHL 6-1 208
Miikka Salomaki Karpat Finland 5-11 198
Mark Scheifele Barrie OHL 6-2 182
Logan Shaw Cape Breton QMJHL 6-3 197
Nicholas Shore U. of Denver WCHA 6-0 195
Michael St. Croix Edmonton WHL 5-11 176
Ryan Strome Niagara OHL 6-0 175
Ryan Tesink Saint John QMJHL 5-11 157
Vincent Trocheck Saginaw OHL 5-10 184
Mika Zibanejad Djurgarden Sweden 6-2 191
Nathan Beaulieu Saint John QMJHL 6-2 174
Myles Bell Regina WHL 6-0 214
Rasmus Bengtsson Rogle Sweden-2 6-3 189
Jonas Brodin Farjestad Sweden 6-1 169
Adam Clendening Boston University H-East 5-11 190
Joel Edmundson Moose Jaw WHL 6-5 191
Dougie Hamilton Niagara OHL 6-4 187
Karl Johansson Brynas Jr. Swe-Jr. 5-9 167
Oscar Klefbom Farjestad Sweden 6-4 200
Patrick Koudys Rensselaer ECAC 6-2 190
Adam Larsson Skelleftea Sweden 6-3 200
Scott Mayfield Youngstown USHL 6-4 197
Joseph Morrow Portland WHL 6-0 197
Connor Murphy USA U-18 USHL 6-3 185
Ryan Murphy Kitchener OHL 5-11 166
David Musil Vancouver WHL 6-3 198
Jamieson Oleksiak Northeastern H-East 6-7 244
Xavier Ouellet Montreal QMJHL 6-0 174
Stuart Percy Miss. St. Michael's OHL 6-1 186
Jonathan Racine Shawinigan QMJHL 6-1 182
Mike Reilly Shat. St. Mary's High Minnesota 5-11 163
Robbie Russo USA U-18 USHL 6-0 189
Reece Scarlett Swift Current WHL 6-1 164
Duncan Siemens Saskatoon WHL 6-3 192
Ryan Sproul Sault Ste. Marie OHL 6-3 175
Colin Sullivan Avon Old Farms High Ct. 6-1 190
Andy Welinski Green Bay USHL 6-0 188
Tyler Wotherspoon Portland WHL 6-1 203
Zachary Yuen Tri-City WHL 6-0 205
Jordan Binnington Owen Sound OHL 6-1 156
Laurent Brossoit Edmonton WHL 6-3 193
Christopher Gibson Chicoutimi QMJHL 6-1 193
John Gibson USA U-18 USHL 6-3 205
Matt Mahalak Plymouth OHL 6-2 183
Matt McNeely USA U-18 USHL 6-2 205
Stephen Michalek Loomis-Chaffee High Ct. 6-2 183
Michael Morrison Kitchener OHL 6-0 177
Samu Perhonen Jyp Jr. Finland-Jr. 6-4 172