NHL prospects a hurting lot

Prospects Malcolm Subban, Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

Prospects Malcolm Subban, Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk. (STAN BEHAL/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:42 AM ET

TORONTO - Maybe a Red Cross should be flying out near Pearson Airport this week for the NHL scouting combine.

Many of the top young player prospects are limping and grimacing through local hotels and conference rooms, healing from an unusually high number of on-ice injuries that has clouded the combine’s physical testing, ahead of the June 22-23 draft in Pittsburgh.

The A-list, led by potential first overall Edmonton Oiler Nail Yakupov, won’t be able to do all of the workouts this event requires, including the much-loathed VO2 Max test. That’s one of two stationary bike requirements that often leaves the teenagers staggering to the puke pails that officials thoughtfully place behind a curtain, hidden from scouts and media.

The injured invitees, according to NHL.com, includes Yakupov (concussion, back), fellow blue-chipper Alex Galchenyuk (ACL surgery), Ryan Murray (ankle), Radek Faksa (concussion), Mikhail Grigorenko (sprained ankle, shoulder), Olli Maatta (concussion), Martin Frk (concussion), Tanner Pearson (ankle), Cody Ceci (back), Jarrod Maidens (concussion), Zemgus Girgensons (hip and jaw), Colton Sissons (concussion) and Thomas Wilson (MCL and broken knuckle)

If the injuries are lingering, it makes grading the players harder for Central Scouting and thus could make for some tough calls on the draft floor.

“This year is a little unique,” agreed Central Scouting director Dan Marr, who is running his first combine since replacing the late E.J. McGuire. “But they will have a medical assessment and the players will be able to give some confidential information to the teams asking about them.”

The 105 players expected for the combine, who begin physical testing on Friday, can also make their case in the interviews that have gone on all week. Those are often lively affairs as the teams try and get the players to stray from the coached answers often encouraged by their agents and handlers.

The Maple Leafs have the fifth pick in Pittsburgh and have had six or seven scouts, front-office personnel and team psychologist Dana Sinclair trying to get inside the young men’s heads. While a favourite question of teams is to name three figures from world history they’d like to dine with, Leafs GM Brian Burke has said he often gets a nugget from everyday conversation. He’ll inquire what car their father drives, how their favourite baseball team is doing or ask about personal items such as rings and watches.

Marr spent years on the other side of the table as a scout for the Atlanta Thrashers and tells a favourite story of interviewing pugnacious OHL winger Steve Downie.

“I’d spoken to him a few times before and asked if he ever got tired of people mentioning his lack of size. He was about 5-foot-10 and I told him: ‘Next time, get right in their face and say loudly ‘I’m big enough!’ So our GM, Don Waddell, has Steve in our combine interview. I’d forgotten what I’d said to Steve, but Don asks him about size and Steve jumps right at him and says: ‘I’m big enough!’ I don’t know what Don thought, but Philly ended up picking him.

“We had Keith Ballard in too, who was about the same height as Downie. When we asked him if he got tired of that size question, Ballard just said: ‘I tell ’em to go f--- themselves’.”

Marr had big shoes to fill for the popular McGuire, who died of cancer 13 months ago. But Marr credits him with fine-tuning the combine to the point where “it’s on auto-pilot”.

“Everyone knows the combine was near and dear to E.J.’s heart,” Marr said. “He ran it so well and everyone wants to carry on that tradition.”


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