SUN Hockey Pool

Testing the best

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

One scout summed up the process well. "Some guys test like Tarzan," he said, "but play like Jane."

But that's all part of the process. It is the job of the National Hockey League scouts, general managers and personnel directors who are watching a hundred prospective draftees go through their paces at a Toronto airport hotel, to determine which among these teenagers are future Tarzans and which are future Janes.

To that end, the testing machines have been set up along two walls of a large meeting room and, one by one, over a four-day period, the kids are put through their paces.

First, they're weighed and measured. Their hand strength is tested -- pulling pushing and gripping. They have to do curl-ups. And pushups. They have to bench press, and show the testers what they can do in the way of trunk flexion.

There's a standing long jump. The upper-body power is rated. There's a vertical jump, perhaps so that those who don't do well here can move on to the NBA draft. Then there's the most grueling of all, the VO2 testing for anaerobic power.

They're all tests generated by the NHL's central scouting bureau in order to give the league's teams a better insight into the players they hope to draft this summer -- assuming that the owners' lockout gets settled in time to hold a draft.

But by themselves, the numbers generated by the tests mean little. A few years ago, Martin Havlat, for instance, couldn't even budge the bar when asked to do the minimum bench press of 135 pounds. But he's a first-rate NHL player. Wayne Gretzky often said that his personal best for chin-ups was one-and-a-half.

"It's a piece," Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson said. "You tie it in with your hockey sense, with their character, with all the other things you do all year -- with watching them play."

Said Phoenix Coyotes scout Warren Rychel: "You're never going to win a hockey game here, but it gives you an indication of what a kid can do. You've seen these kids all year but now you get an indication of their body type and strength and conditioning."

To San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson, a player's attitude can be more revealing than his testing results.

"This is just part of the equation," Wilson said. "Our amateur scouts have spent a lot of time with these guys. But I like to see how they come in and compete on some of these things.

"Even if a kid is not in great shape or whatever, if he battles through it, it tells you something about him. From my point of view, I like to see a kid, with his peer group watching him, who gets on a bike and says, 'I can either go this way or that way.' It's like a player going to easy ice or a player going into a tough area to make the play. That reveals a little bit."

No single test carries more weight than another. If a player is small, the scouts might look more closely at his strength results. If a player is big, they might scrutinize his speed and his flexibility.

And there are inferences to be drawn. "Some players who are already developed," Ferguson said, "you give them credit for handling their career like it's a career. Other players who are not already developed, you realize they've got, frankly, more room to get better."

When the teenagers are not enduring physical testing, they're being interviewed. In a normal year, a first-round pick can realistically expect that no more than five teams will have a crack at selecting him. As a result, only those teams will call him in for an interview and psychological testing.

But this year, with the draft format still to be decided, some of these youngsters have been interviewed by more than 20 teams.

"The interviews are always good," Wilson said. "I like the interviews because you can tell the kids who are programmed or staged, but you can get them to a certain point where they'll often reveal a little bit of something about themselves and it forces us to make sure the homework has been done -- their home background, where they come from, that sort of thing."

Now it's just a matter of making sure that the draft is held.


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