Looks deceiving at NHL combine

NHL prospect Adam Larson strains through the stationary bike test during the league's draft combine...

NHL prospect Adam Larson strains through the stationary bike test during the league's draft combine on Friday in Toronto, Ont. (MARK O'NEILL/QMI Agency)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:37 PM ET

TORONTO - Gabriel Landeskog turned heads at the NHL scouting combine on Friday with a physical presence that gave the appearance that he could have been playing in the NHL for years.

And then there was top-ranked Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who looked like he might have been cutting out on recess to participate in the testing.

So what is an NHL general manager to do if he has got a shot at either hot shot prospect, as the Edmonton Oilers will do with the first pick overall at the NHL entry draft on June 24?

“You look at some of these guys and it’s like they are ready to step into the NHL this week,” Pheonix Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said after Day 1 of the combine’s fitness testing at the Toronto Congress Centre.

“Then there’s the top dog and it’s like, holey smokes, (Nugent-Hopkins) looks like with a stiff wind, he might end up 20-feet away. But he also may be the best hockey player.”

Landeskog, the Kitchener Rangers captain, is a player who likely will make an immediate impact by whoever selects him while Nugent-Hopkins, the consensus seems to be, might need another season in junior.

“It’s not a knock on Nugent-Hopkins at all,” a scout for a team who will pick in the top 15. “There is nothing wrong with sending a talented kid like that back to junior for another year to mature physically.”

Nugent-Hopkins is the first to acknowledge he has work to do physically, but most NHL teams would be willing to wait for the weight, especially after the promise of the 106-point season he finished off in Red Deer this past season.

“I’m not a big bench-press guy as you can probably tell,” Nugent-Hopkins said with a laugh and a little relief after finishing his session. “I don’t have the biggest chest out there. I’m trying to put on the weight and put on some strength. That’s all I can do.”

Memorial days

There is a great deal of buzz around the combine about the handful of Saint John Sea Dog players projected to go high in the draft. Led by Jonathan Huberdeau who is rated No. 3 among North American skaters, four players from the Memorial Cup champions could go in the first round based on the final rankings by NHL Central Scouting.

The big win last week in Mississauga won’t hurt, but there can also be a danger to over emphasizing the performance.

“Just because you saw them last doesn’t mean they have to be viewed higher,” Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee said. “It has to be a balanced approach. If you are doing your job right, you are putting them where they are supposed to be.

“Having said that, (the Memorial Cup) is a great experience. You want kids to play in those kinds of games. It’s the intangible side of the ledger.”

Scrum killer

A scrum with an athlete can meet a quick end for any number of reasons. A bad loss. A bad question. A bad attitude.

But when Matthew Nieto looked dumbfounded over a routine question following his testing session, the dead air was for a different reason.

“I don’t feel too well,” the Boston University prospect said after a long pause. “I might have to puke a little bit here.”

Let’s just say, the answer to the question wasn’t worth waiting around.

Then there was big defenceman Dougie Hamilton, who got it over with before he faced the interrogation.

“It didn’t take me too long to puke after I got off the bike,” the Niagara Ice Dog said. “I just held it in and headed to the garbage can.”

Props to the ‘Peg

Maloney knows it could have been his team headed to Winnipeg and though he’s not saying he’s relieved it isn’t him, the Coyotes GM is pleased NHL hockey is returning to Manitoba.

“Obviously on one hand, we love Phoenix and I think we can make it work, although not overnight,” Maloney said. “The idea of going to a hockey market and a full building every night (in Winnipeg), there’s an appeal to that.

“But I think it’s tremendous. I think Winnipeg almost lost its identity when the Jets left, the whole province really. Now they are back to being a big city.”

Maloney says that Phoenix and Winnipeg have their own separate challenges to become viable NHL businesses.

“Getting younger players that are free agents to commit to Winnipeg is the biggest thing and that’s not a challenge in Phoenix,” Maloney said. “The challenge for us is to get more people to the games to support the payroll and get it where it has to be.”

Quick hits

Perhaps worn down from the Memorial Cup, Huberdeau struggled in the bench press portion of the testing but wasn’t going to pass on the exercise, no matter how weary he was. “I won’t say because I played in the Memorial Cup I won’t do it. I might do bad, but I will do it.” Last year’s top pick, Taylor Hall, you may recall didn’t participate in the testing after leading Windsor to the Memorial Cup ... Former Leafs strength coach Matt Nichol was on hand working as TSN’s “fitness expert.”


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