Don’t be surprised by a question.
For 100 of the best 18-year-old hockey players at the NHL Scouting Combine, the goals are pretty straightforward.
The three-day-event kicked off Thursday at a Toronto airport hotel. The Leafs will bring the fifth overall selection to the entry draft in Pittsburgh, June 22-23.
For the players, the combine can be numbingly repetitive. They are introduced to team officials who pepper them with questions. It’s not unlike a job interview.
“Actually, the questions are pretty easy,” said Everett Silvertips defenceman Ryan Murray, a smooth skating rearguard expected to go in the top five. “I think all the teams are working off the same sheet. ‘Who do you model yourself after? Tell me about your family?’”
If the questions are slow torture, the Wingate, a 30-second descent into hell aboard an exercise bike is openly feared. Last year, prospect Tyler Biggs ended up throwing up after the test. It didn’t seem to hurt him. The Leafs drafted him 22nd overall.
Goalie prospect Jake Paterson of the Saginaw Gears said even for netminders there is nowhere to hide bad conditioning.
“I have to be on the ice for 60 minutes so fitness is a big part of my game.” Paterson said.
For some, the combine represents a chance to advertise their good health. Alex Galchenyuk, a gifted prospect who missed nearly all of the season with a knee injury is anxious for scouts to know that he has returned to good health. Galchenyuk scored 83 points in his rookie season with the Sarnia Sting but collected two goals and two assists in four playoff games as his team was rousted in the first round.
“I want the chance to show what kind of person I am and I also want to have the chance to show that I am completely healthy,” he said.
Galchenyuk ‘s father Alexander was a globetrotting hockey player who moved his family to Milwaukee to continue his son’s hockey apprenticeship. Galchenyuk could still be on the board when the Leafs pick.
Filip Forsberg, a 17-year-old Swede who also may be around for the Leafs, acknowledged every Swede knows where Toronto is on the hockey map.
“Everyone remembers that’s where Borje Salming played and the fact that Mats Sundin played there for so long,” he said.
Quebec Remparts centre Mikael Grigorenko, another Russian prospect is recovering from a bout with mono and will not participate in the testing.
Nail Yakupov, the consensus number one pick, said he was fixing his sites exclusively on the NHL. He registered 69 points in 42 games while missing a third of the season with a knee injury.
“For me I think just about the NHL. I want to try to play in the NHL and make the team. I’m not going to think about the KHL.”
For an 18-year-old, he has coy down pat. “We’ll have to see what happens,” he said when asked if he thought he would indeed be drafted first overall.