The last few months have been nothing short of eventful for the Buffalo Sabres. The city of Buffalo has played host to a number of elite hockey showcases at its brand new state-of-the-art facilities at HarborCenter, the most recent of which saw the United States National Sled Hockey Team defeat Canada in the gold medal game of this year’s International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championship.
The Sabres have also been busy elsewhere. On Thursday of last week, their search for a new head coach came to fruition with the appointment of Dan Bylsma as the 17th coach in franchise history. Fortunately for Bylsma, the news of his arrival to Buffalo could not have come at a better time as he and the rest of the Sabres organization must now shift their collective efforts to hosting the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine this week. It’s the first time the event has ever been held in Buffalo, which will also host the 2016 NHL Draft.
The week-long event, which will be held at Buffalo’s First Niagara Center and HarborCenter, will welcome 120 of the top prospects eligible for the 2015 NHL Entry Draft to Western New York. Among the top participants include Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Boston University center Jack Eichel, the two top North American skaters in Central Scouting’s ranking.
Over the course of the week, the players will be quite literally put to the test as they endure a wide-ranging series of physical and mental testing while also having the opportunity for 1-on-1 interviews with scouts and general managers from the league’s 30 member clubs. Teams conduct individual interviews with prospects before they undergo various fitness and skill tests to hopefully improve their value in that year’s Draft.
For many young up-and-coming hockey players, the annual NHL Scouting Combine is the first step toward achieving a long and meaningful professional career. The event provides a chance for prospects to not only showcase themselves physically, but also gives them a much greater understanding of what it takes to compete, and ultimately, be successful at hockey’s highest level.
“The physical part of it is what everybody thinks is probably the hardest part of the whole thing,” said Rochester Americans defenseman Mark Pysyk, who took part in the 2010 NHL Combine in Toronto prior to being claimed by the Sabres in the first round (23rd overall) of that year’s Draft a few weeks later.
Pysyk, now 23, already has three years in the Buffalo organization, having recently completed the final year of his entry-level contract this past season, a contract that was most likely earned in part as a result of his performance at the Combine. A former WHL champion with the Edmonton Oil Kings, Pysyk vividly recalls his time during the Combine leading up to his selection by the Sabres. It was the mental aspect of his experience, however, that was by more challenging than any of the physical testing he had to endure.
“For me, it was the four or five days leading up to the actual physical workouts,” said Pysyk looking back on his experience. “You’re talking to five, six, seven teams a day, and you’re going through the interview process, and there’s 10 guys in the room all staring at you, looking at you with their laptops, and writing when you’re talking...that might have drained me even more than the physical testing did.”
Being a former first round pick in the same draft class that featured the likes of Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin as the No. 1 and 2 overall picks, Pysyk was sure going to draw the attention of several teams heading into the Draft. More than 20 of the League’s 30 teams expressed some sort of interest in him, so most of his Combine experience was spent meeting individually with the clubs who were in the market for a highly offensive defenseman. It was during the interview process that Pysyk knew he had to distinguish himself from the rest and would eventually lead him to becoming just the seventh blueliner taken in 2010.
“Looking back, there were about 22 teams that had me on their list to meet with, so throughout those first four days, it’s a lot of interviews. But it’s also a chance for them to see what kind of guy you are and what kind of answers you’re going to give to the questions. For the players, it’s obviously really cool to meet with different NHL teams, coaches and GMs,” said Pysyk.
“The most important thing for me was to be as consistent as possible with my answers,” added Pysyk. "Most teams ask the same sort of questions, where they see you in a few years, and what kind of player you think you are. It’s just a matter of being professional and confident when you’re in that situation.”
The interview process will be conducted through the first five days of the Combine with physical testing slated to begin on Saturday, June 6 at HarborCenter. The fitness portion will be comprised of 12 different tests, the first three of which include the BodPod, which measures body mass, fat-free mass, fat mass and percent body fat; grip strength, which measures hand strength; and the VO2 max bike test, which measures a player's endurance.
The remaining tests and measurements include standing height, wingspan, standing long jump, jump station, pro agility test, bench press, overhand pull-ups, single les squats on each leg, Y-balance test station and Wingate Cycle Ergometer Test. The pro agility tests will replace pushups, the push-pull station and the seated medicine ball throw. The results of the fitness tests not only provide information on current player capacities, but also insight into potential future improvement in specific fitness components.
Now that the Combine is behind him, all Pysyk can do now is look back and reflect on how his life has changed since then. For the 120 players about to embark on their future hockey careers, Pysyk knows all too well what this week has in store. At the same time, though, he also knows anything related to the game of hockey should be fun.
“It was tough week, but just have fun with it. You’re going up and down the elevator, you’re seeing guys and you’re seeing all the prospects that are in the same boat as you. Everybody is nervous and teams know that. Just try to have fun with it and make the best of the experience.”