Just because Red Deer Rebels center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top North American skaters, it doesn't necessarily mean he'll have the highest average power output of any other player on the board upon completion of the anaerobic fitness exam.
The proof will be in the pudding, as the old adage goes, when Nugent-Hopkins is among the top 102 draft-eligible players from North American and Europe to undergo rigorous testing and medical examinations at the NHL Scouting Combine from May 30 to June 4 in Toronto.
"I'm definitely looking forward to it," Nugent-Hopkins told NHL.com. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it's going to be a lot of fun. I know I'm really looking forward to talking with some teams and being able to meet some of the top prospects from around the world."
Nugent-Hopkins led the Rebels and finished tied for third in the Western Hockey League with 106 points in 69 games during the 2010-11 regular season. His 75 assists led all WHL players.
"The fact that nothing will be done on the ice is an interesting concept because it gives the general managers and scouts an opportunity to look at us off the ice and what we're like as people instead of just hockey players," Nugent-Hopkins said. "It's a whole different aspect."
The Scouting Combine will allow all 30 NHL clubs to interview as many prospects as they wish over a four-day period while reviewing medical reports by independent doctors of York University in Toronto. They'll also be put through a series of endurance tests that have become an unruly staple of the Combine.
Of the 102 players attending the Combine, 61 will be representing the Canadian Hockey League -- over 70 percent of all North American invites. That list includes 28 from the Ontario Hockey League, 19 from the Western Hockey League and 14 from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Additionally, 12 players who spent this past season in the United States Hockey League, including eight from the U.S. National Team Development Program, will also be in attendance.
"Our protocol is not something that's private," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "It's very public so they can prepare for this kind of testing and that's OK. It's an interesting thing … you get some players like Taylor Hall, who came to the Combine last year one day after finishing the Memorial Cup and went to the testing and went through it with a bunch of bumps and bruises. Tyler Seguin had been out a few weeks and was recovering from his playoff and had been training for the Combine, so there are different ways you can view that."
Hall, of course, helped the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires to two consecutive Memorial Cup championships in 2009 and 2010 and was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament both years. He eventually went No. 1 to the Edmonton Oilers at the 2010 Entry Draft at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Seguin, a center for the OHL's Plymouth Whalers, was chosen second by the Boston Bruins.
There are 13 individual tests designed to evaluate the strength and fitness of the draft hopefuls, administered by Dr. Norm Gledhill, a professor of kinesiology at York University. This will be the 17th year Gledhill has tested the athletes at the Toronto-based Combine. Each test is held at a separate station under the watchful eyes of several dozen of Gledhill's employees and graduate students from the York University Human Performance Lab.
Unlike previous years, the fitness testing portion of the Combine will be held at the Toronto Congress Center, which is two miles down the road from where the prospects will be stationed and spending a majority of their time in Toronto.
The top 84 North American skaters and goalies and top 18 Europeans, including 10 from Sweden, as rated by NHL Central Scouting, will be taking those tests. In addition to Nugent-Hopkins, other players hoping to make an impression will be left wing Gabriel Landeskog and defenseman Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers; defenseman Dougie Hamilton and center Ryan Strome of the Niagara IceDogs; Drummondville Voltigeurs center Sean Couturier; Portland Winterhawks left wing Sven Baertschi; a group of players from the Saint John Sea Dogs, including centers Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips, defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and right wing Tomas Jurco; and highly regarded goalies John Gibson of the National Team Development Program and Christopher Gibson of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
Is it possible that an impressive Combine would help elevate the status of defenseman Patrick Koudys of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute? Koudys just made the cut to participate at the Combine as the No. 76-rated North American skater, according to Central Scouting.
"Where a person can improve or hurt his standing is if he shows great strength in certain areas and a strength and conditioning coach of a certain team says, 'This Patrick Koudys is the type of kid who's unbelievably strong and has the type of game that can translate to the NHL,' " Gregory said. "Then, instead of waiting until the fourth round, that team may take a shot on him knowing that he may not be around that long since he's the type of D-man a team may want to work with.
"That said, I feel it's really important for these prospects to be prepared and to show their strengths during the Combine."
Among the Europeans, defensemen Adam Larsson of Skelleftea and Jonas Brodin of Farjestad and forwards Mika Zibanejad of Djurgarden and Joel Armia of Assat will be under close watch.
"Some of these Europeans will be exposed to being in North America for the very first time and they're here for a week because of how long it takes them to get over here," Gregory said. "The Combine is going to be important for them. There are certain parts of each team's staff who have watched these kids and have been (in Europe), but the top guy, the general manager, has not had that time to do it, so the interview and how well they perform in the testing is going to be highly scrutinized if they're considering this type of player with their pick."
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