“What animal do you compare yourself to as a hockey player?”
“How long did it take you to grow that mustache?”
“Would you take a $10 bill on the toilet seat or a $50 bill in the toilet?”
Many of the top NHL Draft prospects converged on Buffalo this week for the annual NHL Scouting Combine, which returned for the first time since 2019. Players met with teams all week, underwent medical testing & finished their campaign with Saturday’s fitness testing.
Most players seemed to agree on one thing, at least: the Wingate cycle ergometer test - AKA the infamous bike test wherein a staffer yells at the player to push himself to his “maximal capacity” for 30 seconds - sucked.
More than anything, one of my big takeaways was this: watching a player’s video or even seeing him play in person, combined with the fitness testing results, only tell part of the story. The personal interviews (understandably) play a big part in letting NHL teams get to know players more, learn about their backgrounds & their experiences.
And yes, the questions at the beginning of this piece are all real questions that players fielded from NHL teams - all somehow intended, in one way or another, to allow teams to get to know these players better.
I’ll have more on some individual players in the next little bit, but here’s some tidbits I picked up along the way:
Marco Kasper (Rogle, Sweden, C)
- Interviewed with 30 NHL teams.
- Told one team he’s good with geography — and they proceeded to ask him the capital of Australia. (Yes, he knew the right answer.)
- Speaks three languages, including Swedish, which he learned in six months.
- Has spoken to Marco Rossi several times; Rossi’s advice was to enjoy the process.
Joakim Kemmel (JYP, Finland, RW)
- On the Wingate bike test: “Oh, it was awful.... I’m just thinking, soon it’s over, soon it’s over.”
- “Just be brave & confident, and speak English.” - on what he learned about himself going through interviews
- Models his game after David Pastrnak; “I like his style, how he plays. He has a good shot and skating and vision on ice.”
- Said that one team (he thinks it was San Jose) asked him about his mustache & how long it took him to grow it. (It was.... not an impressive ‘stache, folks.)
Topias Leinonen (JYP Jr., Finland-Jr., G)
- “Last season was a little bit hard,” he said, noting some injuries.
- Met with 22 NHL teams.
- Is under contract to play overseas next year.
- Says maybe Kemmel is his best teammate in the draft.
- Models his game after Thatcher Demko - “he’s a big goalie and moving good.”
Marek Hejduk (USA U-18, NTDP, RW)
- “He didn’t actually have a combine his birth year, but he’s been around the game for so long & knows what to expect. He gave me a few pointers here & there to help me out.” - on his dad helping him through the process
- Spent his whole life in Denver until he moved to Michigan to play for the NTDP. Spent summers in the Czech Republic & says he’s “fortunate” to have that experience.
- “They mentioned my dad & the silvery they had but I think I’m not too worried about him. My dad might be if I get drafted by the Red Wings, it might take him some time to get over that, but I think he’d be proud of me regardless.” - on interviewing with Detroit
- Says his priority is getting stronger.
- Said his meeting with Montreal was probably his toughest meeting.
- Models his game after Mitch Marner (creativity with the puck, offensive impact) & Zach Hyman (skating, the way he competes around the net).
Maveric Lamoureux (Drummondville, QMJHL, D)
- My main observation: holy cow, this kid is TALL.
- Talked about wanting to bulk up over the next few years; the goal is to work with trainers, nutritionists, etc. & probably add about 10 pounds each year over the next three years.
- Spoke with 27 NHL teams. (The Sabres were not one of them.)
- “I’m always gonna be the type of guy who... let’s see, I’m just smiling right now.”
- The Panthers asked him what motivates him off the ice in one word. His answer: family.
- The Habs asked many players what animal they are. His answer: panda off the ice (big, gentle guy) and a lion on the ice (aggressive, likes to be respected).
- Models his game after Colton Parayko: “he’s big, his shot is really powerful and he’s so good at every aspect of the game.”
Shane Wright (Kingston, OHL, C)
- “I think moreso it’s competition within yourself. Everyone’s at different levels of their physical capabilities with the offseason, as well as with how long they've been playing for and how long they’ve had an offseason. Test against yourself, it’ll tell you the athlete you are and what you’ve accomplished so far.” - on the testing
- Said he had “really positive” conversations with the Devils. He’s in Newark now visiting with them, along with several other prospects.
- “That’s just kind of the reality of the situation that I’m in. The day & age we’re in, there’s always going t cameras, media and social media and all that following pretty much everyone here, myself included. I think it just comes along with the situation I’m in and where I’m at right now.” - on a lot of media attention
- Models his game after Patrice Bergeron.
Jack Sparkes (St. Michaels, OJHL, D)
- Met with about half of NHL teams. (Buffalo was not one of them.)
- Said he’s still undecided about where he’s playing net year, but wants to stay in Canada and play another year of Junior A: “I just want to go to the best junior spot where I can develop. I think it’s going to be benefit me after losing a year with the pandemic. I think another year of junior is going to be benefit me.”
- Committed to Michigan State the year after next.
- “The competitive side & physical part of the game comes naturally to me. I definitely think that’s one of my strong suits, but in terms of skill, I’m always trying to work on my game.”
Jack Devine (Denver, NCHC, RW)
- Met with 10 teams, including the Sabres. Terry Pegula was in on the interviews, as corroborated by Jimmy Snuggerud (below).
- “It was really cool, it was a lot of fun. It was cool to meet the owner there.” - on the Sabres interview
- “It was a really fun year. Winning a championship, you’re able to learn a lot. We had an older group of guys really quickly take me under their wing and help me develop. Winning a championship like that, you can take that throughout your hockey career and take those experiences with you.”
- Said Denver helped him become a versatile player, as his coaches gave him several different roles over the course of the season & allowed him to adjust and shine
- “The jump, it’s a pretty big jump. It’s a hard jump, going from the USHL to college hockey, but our coaching staff did a really good job, and other guys did a really good job telling me what to expect.”
- “I admire Joe Pavelski. He’s an American-born player, he’s from Wisconsin, not too far from me. It’s hard to compare yourself to a Hall of Fame player. He’s played over 11 seasons. But from what I’ve heard, I’ve got some similar tendencies. He’s a guy I like to watch film & learn from the way he’s able to think the game really quickly and uses his hockey sense, he always makes smart & hard plays out on the ice.”
- Said one team asked if they’d find anything funny or weird on his social media: “Obviously, I make sure to be careful with that, but I thought that was a pretty out-of-the-blue question.”
Jimmy Snuggerud (USA U-18, NTDP, RW)
- “I’d say the Wingate got me a little bit more nauseous, but they’re both really challenging.” - on the bike tests at the combine.
- Said his dad has told him a lot of stories about playing in Buffalo & given him a lot of tips.
- Met with 29 NHL teams, including Buffalo, Montreal & Toronto.
- Played hockey & baseball growing up - “Hockey was always number one, but baseball was a close second.”
- His favorite NHL team growing up was the Wild (from Minnesota) and the Penguins. Liked watching Sidney Crosby a lot while growing.
- Models his game after Brock Boeser: “I think he’s got a strong right shot, competitive player. I like to play like him.”
- Studying either sport management or education, still undecided.
- Hopes to make the NHL in 2-3 years.