Team's management takes aim at evaluating prospects

Saturday, 05.31.2008 / 1:34 AM ET / News
New York Islanders
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By John Hill

The NHL combine is underway in Toronto this week with the Islanders in search of their eventual fifth overall selection at the June 20th NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa. The combine takes place in three stages: the first is a series of interviews between various team personnel and players, the second a psychological profile seeking to identify "neuropsychological and behavioral phenomena" and the third is the physical segment of tests, which includes events as simple as push-ups to tests as complex as the Wingate anaerobic measure, a test for anaerobic power.

The interview phase offers team coaching staffs the opportunity to not only understand what type of hockey player each prospect is, but also what type of person he is.

Ryan Jankowski, the Islanders Assistant GM/Director of Amateur Scouting, said one of the main things teams do at the interview is, "To put a face with the name. We see all of these guys on film so much, but it's good to be able to actually see them up close and in person. We really just try to get a feel for each prospect, both as a hockey player and as a person."

When asked what type of questions he generally asks in the interview, Jankowski made it clear that the players need to be ready.

"We like to throw a little of everything at them," said Jankowski. "We ask them about their personal life, about how they might handle certain game situations, anything. We keep them on their toes. There are no surprises. They have to expect anything."

And with 107 prospects available to each team, or 30 teams available to each prospect, there is quite a bit of talking going on. On average, teams talk to anywhere from 50-100 prospects. As far as players go, the top prospects speak with anywhere from 15-29 teams. Steve Stamkos, who is seen by many as the top player in the draft and appears to be a lock to go number one overall to Tampa Bay, had 12 interviews. The prospect with the most interviews schedules was defenseman Tyler Cuma, who has 29 interviews on his docket. It was here, regarding the interview phase, that Jankowski offered his only criticism of the combine process.

"I'd love to have more time with each player," said Jankowski. "Twenty minutes just isn't enough, it only provides a snapshot. But, given the amount of time the players have, I guess there's nothing really you can do about it. After all, it's our job to see what the players can do over the course of the year, and take what we can from it."

After the interview phase comes the relatively new psychological profiling portion of the combine. This is only the second year featuring this aspect of tests.

"Teams are still trying to get a better grasp for how it is going to apply, and where to use it," said Jankowski. However, the league has hopes that it will allow for teams to understand and predict what players will do in pressure situations.

Finally, the combine culminates in a series of physical tests. These are used not only to measure the strength and endurance of players, but also to let teams know what level of play a prospect will be ready for once training camp begins.

"You want to know what the physical capabilities of each player are," said Jankowski, "it allows us to understand where they are in terms of conditioning, and how prepared they are be an NHL player."

What does it all mean for the Islanders? Jankowski said that, regardless of round, nothing changes for the team.

"It doesn't matter where you choose, whether you pick first overall, fifth overall, or 62nd, like last year," Said Jankowski. "You always go about it the same way. Be thorough, always, regardless of what spot you're in."

So, while you certainly want to get the best player possible, there is no difference between this year and any other year for the Isles. And whether the team takes one of the many defensemen who are clustered among most lists of the top prospects, or a goal scorer like Russia's Nikita Filatov, the top rated European prospect, it will be research and analysis that cements their spot in the Islanders organization.

Ryan Jankowski 
The only thing that the NHL Combine is lacking….is ice. Skating is notably absent from the physical portion of the combining. It's not included because of the varying circumstances of players at this point in the year.

"Is it fair to the kid whose high school season ended in February to stand next to the kid who played in a championship game on Sunday?" said E.J. McGuire, director of NHL Central Scouting. "It might be unfair to the Memorial Cup participant if the (high school) kid had just been doing the Combine tests, sprinting five times as week, and not having to practice. That Memorial Cup guy, did he block a shot to win a championship and his ankle is sore?"

If players want advice on how to impress, Jankowski offered this one morsel.

"You have to be yourself," said Jankowski. "You aren't going to trick anyone. You are who you are, and don't ever forget that you are the reason that you're here, because of you're play and demeanor. Being yourself is the most important thing."




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