TORONTO - Like many of the 100 other draft-eligible teenagers looking to improve their stock at this week’s NHL combine, Dougie Hamilton’s goals are simple.
First would be a strong showing at the physical testing that begins this morning in a convention hall near Pearson International Airport.
And second would be not to puke his guts out when he’s done.
With the NHL entry draft just three weeks away, none of the players are going to waste a chance to make another strong impression. But at the same time, they realize that most talent evaluators will put more stock in what they have done on the ice in their junior or college careers than what they see in the fishbowl of a public workout taking place here Saturday and Sunday.
“You have to be pumped for it and prepared to do your best,” said Hamilton, a 6-foot-4 defenceman with the Niagara Icedogs. “But what they say is true: Bench pressing doesn’t score goals.”
Yes, the bench press is one of the tests, as are pushups, situps and the gruelling V02 Max test on a stationary bike, the drill that in past years has caused so many prospects to lose their breakfast.
Though awkwardly scheduled in the middle of the Stanley Cup final, the combine has become more visible in recent years, a final chance for intelligence gathering as draft day approaches.
Many teams find the interview process more important than the physical tests, however, as it offers a chance to tap into a kid’s personality before investing in a prospect who still may be a couple seasons away from making it.
“Each team handles it differently, but we view it as just another resource, another piece of info,” Maple Leafs vice-president of hockey operations, Dave Poulin, said on Thursday. “What we learn this week is not a sole deciding factor.”
That said, Poulin has noticed that most teams are interviewing a wider range of players this year because beyond the top handful, there seems to be a wide range of opinion on this 2011 class.
“If you tell me there is a top five or six, there is a significant flavour within that five or six,” said Poulin, one of a handful of Leafs execs involved in the interview process leading up to the draft, which will be held June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn.
“Last year maybe there was a controversy over who would go one or two. This year there may be a real variant not only between one and five or six but between seven and 45.”
Poulin said the NHL evaluation sessions haven’t become nearly as influential as the NFL version which often can see a player’s stock fluctuate wildly at the combine.
“In the NFL they call them combine wonders where people are terrified that someone not on their radar emerges and makes a huge splash (at the combine),” said Poulin, a former college coach at Notre Dame.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get to that. You can train for these tests and you can tell the kids who do and don’t. Some are not in their own environment so you have to be careful not to put too much stock into it.”
By Thursday night, the top players must have felt like they had gone through a speed-dating session. Most of the top prospects visited at least 15 teams some topped 20.
“It was a first for sure,” said Kitchener Rangers captain Gabriel Landeskog. “Sometimes you felt kind of stupid just running around in the hotel with a schedule.”
A Swede who has made a nice transition to the North American game in his two seasons as a winger with the Rangers said he got some tips from former teammate Jeff Skinner, who is coming off a standout rookie season with the Carolina Hurricanes.
“He just told me not to sweat it and go in there and be yourself.”
Even if the eyes of the hockey world are watching.