Last weekend, the annual NHL Scouting Combine took place in preparation for the 2015 NHL Draft held June 26-27 in Sunrise, Florida.
I’ve briefly mentioned Combine results in the past when discussing body fat levels of elite athletes from various sports.
There are some aspects of Combine testing that I disagree with but that would warrant its own article.
Today we’re gonna take a quick look at what happened when the top 120 draft-eligible prospects in hockey came together for a weekend of physical and medical assessments.
Let’s look at the top 10 results in vertical jump, bench press and pull-ups. I picked these as they’re the simplest tests for power and upper body strength, and what most people are familiar with.
“Damn, what have these guys been doing in the gym?”
That was the first thing that came to mind when reviewing the Combine results.
And I don’t mean that in an impressed kind of way, as in “those young’uns are friggin’ jacked and awesome”.
A 23.7″ (60.2 cm) vertical, 15 reps on the bench press at 70-80% of body weight (test weights were predetermined at the Combine; a player weighing in at 75 kg would do his benching with 135 pounds/61 kg on the bar), and 11 pull-ups got you into the TOP 10 among the best U18 hockey players in the world.
That’s some mediocre display of strength and power right there.
For reference, I’ve got 15- and 16-year-old hockey players with a few months of strength training under their belt (beginners!) who can hit those numbers.
I have no doubt that if they keep training properly, they’d dominate their peers in Combine testing once they reach draft age.
But do they possess the on-ice speed of a Connor McDavid?
Release and accuracy of an Ovechkin snapshot?
Crosby-like vision and passing?
Ability to step up when the chips are down, a la Jonathan Toews?
And that’s the key to athletic performance, isn’t it?
You could be the biggest, fastest, strongest, baddest dude around but it won’t mean jack if you suck at your sport.
Once in a lifetime you may come across a youth hockey player like Eric Lindros who’s an absolute beast both on and off the ice on draft day.
But it’s exceptionally rare to witness an 18-year-old combining elite level strength and hockey IQ, vision, skating, passing and shooting.
You can always make a young athlete stronger, faster, more explosive and better conditioned – qualities that help improve on-ice performance.
We’ve all seen it happen time and time again, even at the top levels of competition, when an athlete comes back from the off-season and posts numbers nobody could have envisioned a few months ago – Tyler Seguin 2013-2014 and Johnny Gaudreau this season immediately spring to mind.
But how much can you really improve your hockey skills during a short off-season spanning 3-4 months in the summer?
Sure, you can shoot a couple hundred pucks on the driveway every day. You’ll enter training camp with a harder and more accurate shot.
And you can hire a powerskating coach to help with stopping, turning, balance, edge control and things like that.
But seeing the ice? Understanding the game? Knowing where a loose puck will bounce in a board battle two seconds from now? Drawing four opponents in, then setting up a linemate for an empty net one-timer with a ridiculous spin-o-rama pass?
That’s something you can’t teach a guy on the brink of adulthood. At 18, either you’ve got it or you don’t.
Wayne Gretzky always finished dead last in physical strength tests among the Edmonton Oilers, reportedly bench pressing only 140 pounds/64 kg. Four Stanley Cup rings and numerous individual NHL records indicate that sublime sport skills still rank higher than absolute size and strength.
As Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting, put it in an article over at nhl.com:
“The one thing to remember about the Combine is that it’s not a competition.
This is what the fans and media need to understand. It’s an assessment of the 17- and 18-year-olds at that point in their athletic development.
It gives the strength coaches a basis of where they currently are in terms of their strength development and allows them to project how they could manufacture him into an NHL player if they plan on drafting him.“
That has been the question all year long. Let’s see how the top two prospects fared in the key drills when compared head to head.
Eichel posted better numbers in all but the Wingate test.
When it comes to power, change of direction ability and upper body strength, Eichel clearly wiped the floor with McDavid.
Furthermore, he finished in the TOP 10 among all prospects in 7 categories.
I can’t say I’m too surprised by Eichel’s numbers in comparison to McDavid’s.
Based on the handful of games I’ve seen from him this year at Boston University, the World Juniors and men’s World Championships, he never seemed physically out of place competing against guys older than him.
On top of that, the lighter game schedule at the collegiate level probably means he has had more time to hit the gym than McDavid in the OHL.
As much as people may become swayed to pick Eichel over McDavid based on his currently superior physical prowess, we need to remember that these are 18-year-old kids. As such, they’re far from complete packages physically.
Both of them should get significantly stronger and more explosive on a smart training program.
And that’s how you ultimately measure progress. While giving some indication about one’s physical development, I wouldn’t put too much stock in absolute testing values for teenage kids.
In the U17 team I coach, we’ve got a couple guys going on 20. And several players whose physical development is still one or two years behind their chronological age.
Remember that players who have matured faster will always post better results than their teammates when tested.
So forget what numbers other guys are hitting in the gym.
As I have said for years, focus on improving the numbers written in your training journal.
Beating your previous self should always be the goal for every athlete.
Getting back to training camp significantly stronger, faster and having gained muscle/lost fat while also working on getting in better game shape should be #1 priority.
And if on top of that you’re a very, very good hockey player, you’re on the right track.
With McDavid’s on-ice speed, skill and vision, and seeing how far away he is from reaching his physical ceiling in terms of upper body strength (and likely lower body strength as well), power production and change of direction ability, it’ll be cool and scary to watch him develop into an elite player at the NHL level.
Scary for opponents.
Cool for fans of the game.
And that’s why I’d pick him #1 overall if I were GM Chiarelli.
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Yunus Barisik, CSCS, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for an elite junior hockey organization based in Espoo, Finland. He has trained hundreds of hockey players at the junior, college and pro levels, including NHL Draft picks and World Champions. An accomplished author, Yunus has had articles published on top fitness and performance sites, including STACK and Muscle & Strength. He also wrote Next Level Hockey Training, a comprehensive resource for ice hockey players on building athletic strength, size and power, while staying injury-free.
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