In some draft years, the No.1 pick is painfully obvious. With all due respect to the exceptional scoring skills of second overall pick Bobby Ryan, the 2005 NHL Draft Lottery was all about landing Sidney Crosby. In other years, hockey writers occasionally receive the tantalizing opportunity to play their own version of the Kevin Duran-Greg Oden debate, like what we saw before the last two drafts (Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin in 2010; John Tavares vs. Victor Hedman in ’09).
The 2011 version’s race for the No. 1 spot seems much more crowded, though. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Larsson and Gabriel Landeskog could be the top pick in the draft, if you ask many experts. (Heck, some even say that Jonathan Huberdeau might sneak up the list a bit as well after his strong performance in the 2011 Memorial Cup tournament.)
A slight majority seem to peg Nugent-Hopkins as the odds-on favorite, but Mike Morreale reports that strong 2011 Draft Combine workouts could keep defenseman Larsson and forward Landeskog in the No. 1 pick discussion.
“It is probably more important for fans than I think it is for the players,” Landeskog said of being picked No. 1. “It would be an honor for anybody to go first overall, but like Cam Fowler (Anaheim, No. 12) and Jeff Skinner (Carolina, No. 7) showed last year, it doesn’t matter what number you go, it’s what you do afterwards.”
Landeskog never appeared fatigued or bothered by any of the tests on Friday at the Toronto Congress Centre. He produced 33 push-ups, well above last year’s average (26.1). He also bench-pressed 150 pounds 11 times, besting last year’s 10.7 average.
“Larsson played a big role on Skelleftea, which went as high as to the Swedish playoff Finals, so in a way, he’s ready, yes. He could play here (in 2011-12),” Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb told NHL.com. “I think what he wants really is having a big role when he comes over, so it’s perhaps better for him to stay one more year at home. It’s always in the individual. Some say it’s good to come over, others say it’s not good.”
Larsson scored exceptionally well in the grueling aerobic-max VO2 bike test, which measures the endurance capability of a player’s heart, lungs and muscles. He lasted 14 minutes, far ahead of last year’s average of 11.33.
Of course, it’s easy for scouts to fall into the same trap that NFL ones do with 40-yard dash times, ignoring flaws and needs for pure athleticism. After all, hockey is a sport in which on-ice IQ is often just as important as speed or strength.
That being said, the post-lockout game does require more athleticism than the days of clutching and grabbing more skilled skaters. Here is a look at the leaders in a few of the more hockey-relevant tests from the combine, via NHL.com.
Peak power output — The Wingate Cycle Ergometer — also known as the bane of prospects’ existence — measures how hard a player can go in a 30-second shift. Portland Winterhawks forward Ty Rattie and Shawinigan Cataractes defenseman Jonathan Racine led the way at 15.9 watts of energy per kilogram of body weight.
VO2 Max test duration — The players who stuck with it the longest were a pair of defensemen, Skelleftea’s Adam Larson and the Vancouver Giants’ David Musil, each at 14 minutes. Next were Niagara IceDogs defenseman Dougie Hamilton and Saginaw Spirit forward Brandon Saad.
Bench press — [Adam] Clendening, [Mark] McNeill and Saint John Sea Dogs forward Tomas Jurco each did 13 reps with the 150-pound weight on the bench. Omaha Lancers forward Seth Ambroz and Northeastern defenseman Jamie Oleksiak were next with 12.
Push/pull strength — The hardest player to clear from the front of the net might be McNeill, who had 32 goals in 72 WHL games this season. His 366 pounds of push strength was far ahead of Oleksiak, who was next at 312. McNeill’s pull strength of 306 pounds was second only to U.S. National Team forward Tyler Biggs, who totaled 323 pounds.
Stay tuned for more 2011 NHL Entry Draft coverage as June 24 approaches.