American Prospect Update: Combine Underway, Links & More

The NHL Scouting Combine is well underway in Toronto. The event was the brainchild of the late E.J. McGuire, and it’s grown into a tremendously helpful event for both the players and NHL teams. McGuire, who passed away earlier this year, has made numerous contributions to the scouting community, however the combine may be one of his great triumphs. It has grown immensely over the last few years, in both size, coverage and in a lot of ways, importance.

Coming up after the jump, more on the Combine, some useful prospect links and a look at 2014 Draft Eligible Anthony DeAngelo’s decision to head to Sarnia.

The physical portion of the event has yet to begin, but perhaps the most important segment of the Combine is going on right now.

Over the last few days, players have been interviewing with NHL teams. Some teams will have conducted interviews with the players they are most interested in already, sometime over the course of the season. However, the fact that NHL teams have the consensus top 102 players under one roof makes life a lot easier.

The interview portion has proven to be of great importance to some players and has hurt others. There’s a lot you can learn about a player by sitting him in a room with a bunch of scouts and front-office types. From the moment that player walks in the room, the evaluation is under way. How does a player carry himself? Does he look you in the eye?Does he take this seriously? Does he answer confidently? Is he shy? Is he intimidated?

There have been plenty of reports of players blowing the interview portion. Some felt that was a big reason Jon Merrill, who spent all season as a projected first rounder in 2010, fell to the second round. There have also been instances where the interview helped a player jump up several spots (think Brett Connolly at No. 6 last year). So the interview portion can certainly make a difference, and is probably the Combine’s most important tool.

I’m not a huge fan of the physical testing aspect for hockey players, as I believe it tells you a heck of a lot less about what a player can do on the ice. That is where it contrasts a great deal from the NFL combine in my mind.

Some players have months to prepare for this, while those that played in the Memorial Cup have merely a week. So the results can sometimes be lopsided. A bad showing at the combine can sometimes hurt a player, while a good showing doesn’t really raise stock all that much. To get an interesting look at combine testing, ESPN The Magazine’s Lindsay Berra took part in the physical testing in 2009 (Video also includes a great cameo by E.J.).

Despite a diminished importance of the physical testing, there is still a great deal of value to the Combine. The medical testing that goes on gives teams a good idea of what condition the players are in. Recall the story of David Carle, who’s life was essentially saved at the Combine. Doctors in Toronto testing the players found an abnormality and advised Carle to get it checked out. At the Mayo Clinic, Carle was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopothy, a thickening of the heart that puts athletes at risk of sudden death caused by physical exertion.

That may have been an extreme circumstance, but the medical testing is important for many other reasons. Guys that have suffered through an injury riddled year, like Team USA’s Connor Murphy, will get prodded. Should he come out with a clean bill of health, the draft stock gets another boost for him, as injury is a common concern in Murphy’s evaluation (Side note: Connor Murphy has joined Twitter. You can follow him here: @Cmurphy5).

The Scouting Combine is a very important event, but the most important part of a player’s draft year has already been completed. The on-ice performance will always be heads above anything that can be learned at the Combine. However, this week, a few players can either solidify their standing or maybe get knocked down a few notches.

To follow the Combine’s physical testing, which takes place Friday (8:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. EDT) and Saturday (8:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. EDT), results will be posted on Central Scouting’s website.

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Combine Links:

Up until last year, current or players planning to play in the NCAA, had to be rushed through the combine in 48 hours, while their Major Junior and European counterparts had the entire combine to interview and complete the physical testing. Thanks to a waiver from the NCAA, that is no longer the case. In the link, NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman relays the story of Colin Wilson’s hectic Combine in 2008. It is a great move by the NCAA to allow it’s current and future players a much more manageable Combine experience.

Mike Morreale, also of NHL.com, chatted with Rocco Grimaldi at the Combine. The diminutive playmaker has interviews with all 30 NHL clubs. Grimaldi also spoke of feeding off of his underdog status and wanting to be a role model for other small players. Additionally, Grimaldi is now on Twitter. You can follow him here: @RGrimaldi23

Morreale also caught up with St. Louis-native Scott Mayfield. The big defenseman’s thoughts were with the people in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Mo. The future University of Denver Pioneer has also taken to Twitter, where he can be followed at @scottmayfield2.

Friend of the blog, Kirk Luedeke of Bruins 2011 Draft Watch is in Toronto for the Combine. He’s provided outstanding prospect coverage all year long, and expect more of the same from Toronto.

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Helpful Prospect Links:

There are plenty of places for you to find draft rankings, however, Hockey Prospectus has provided an incredibly unique and overwhelmingly comprehensive list. Corey Pronman has put together a list unlike others you will see out there. You may not agree with his Top 100 as far as where players are slotted, but you can hardly argue against the work put into it.

Before you check out Pronman’s Top 100, definitely read the explanation of his rankings and how he came to his conclusions. Really interesting stuff.

Hockey Prospectus is connected to Baseball Prospectus, home of some of the brightest minds in professional sports analysis. I’ve often thought there had to be some way to take what Baseball Prospectus has done for its sport and see how it translates to hockey. Pronman and his fellow HP writers are doing it.

Take a look at his Top 100 list, and then check out his evaluation of each individual player on that list. Comprehensive and enthralling all at once. Kudos to Corey for his tremendous work. Like I said, you may not agree with his rankings, but it makes this piece no less informational and even, in some cases, educational.

Another very interesting post that caught my eye, in regards to statistical analysis was that of Thomas Wharry at Bluechip Bulletin. Wharry has put together a few interesting posts on statistical performance for draft prospects and draws his own conclusions from that.

Most intriguing to me was tracking a player’s zero-point games and multi-point games as a way to gauge consistency. It’s just a different way to look at prospects and I always appreciate newer evaluation tools. Wharry clearly put in a ton of leg work, so you’ve got to respect that too.

Here’s another Kirk Luedeke link. One of the hardest-working men in the prospect game has been unveiling his Top 50 for the NHL Entry Draft (all Top 50 posts grouped in that link). He’s reached the Top 20 portion of his list, in which he gives a comprehensive evaluation of each prospect. No. 20 is American Brandon Saad.

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A look into the future… 2014 (!) Draft Eligible Anthony DeAngelo and underage players in the USHL

Anthony DeAngelo, a 1995-born defenseman from Sewell, N.J., who skated for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, was the youngest player in the USHL this season (he was 14 when the season began, seriously). Before breaking his kneecap mid-season, DeAngelo was turning some heads. He put up 15 points and a plus-4 rating and didn’t look overmatched against MUCH older competition.

It was reported by Eastern Iowa Sports and Rec on May 24, that DeAngelo was leaving Cedar Rapids to join the OHL’s Sarnia Sting for the 2011-12 season. DeAngelo was selected in the second round of the OHL Priority Draft at 26th overall, so this comes as little surprise.

DeAngelo had verbally committed to Boston University, prior to making his choice to play in the OHL. The talented defenseman follows in the footsteps of Nick Ebert and Brady Vail, who left the Waterloo Black Hawks for the OHL, after playing in the USHL as 15-year-olds.

The USHL has seen an influx over the last few years of what I would call “under-age” players playing in the league, particularly after the success of Seth Ambroz. Some can handle it at that young age and DeAngelo was certainly one of those players.

For the record: The OHL prevents players under the age of 16 from playing in the league, unless that player is granted a special exemption, as John Tavares and this year’s first-overall pick Aaron Ekblad were granted. The USHL has no such rule.

By allowing young teenagers the opportunity to play in the USHL, the league runs the risk of losing those players after one year. As great as the USHL is, there are very few elite players that would choose to play in the league for three seasons. Not only do the USHL teams potentially miss out on keeping their under-agers for more than one season, the colleges that have obtained commitments from those players risk that young man never making it to campus.

This hasn’t reached epidemic proportions or anything like that, and it’s understandable why USHL teams want the young players. Sometimes it’s better to be in first, running the risk of having a player that doesn’t pan out or that leaves early, than not have a player at all and I think that’s the mentality.

However, it looks as though there are more and more young players entering the USHL a year earlier than their peers, and it’s not always the best mode for development. In my opinion, I’d rather see a top-end 15-year-old playing against his peers in Midget Minor, or a level up in Midget Major, and being the go-to player on his team. That player, in turn, is more likely coming into the USHL as a bonafide Top-6 forward or Top-4 defenseman as opposed to entering the league as a 15-year-old third or fourth liner, or seventh defenseman and missing out on valuable ice time and perhaps hurting development.

There are very few players who are able to jump into the league at 15 and contribute right away. Seth Ambroz was one, Nick Ebert was another (although to a lesser extent than Ambroz). It takes a special player, and I’m afraid that not every under-ager we’ve seen in the league this year qualifies as one. It’s not that I think the USHL should put a moratorium on 15-year-olds in the league, rather the teams should be more judicious in the selection of said 15-year-olds.

In the race to get prospects into a program, it is important to remember that the development of the player should come first and foremost. If the only reason an organization puts a kid on its roster and play him every few shifts is because the organization wants him for next season, I’d recommend re-evaluating priorities.

Coming up next week on the American Prospect Update: Scouting Combine results and news, more links and turning all eyes on Draft Day.

About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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