Nothing good ever happens to Kessel when sitting in a folding chair.
Today is the annual NHL Draft Combine, a day in which draft eligibile players bench press, standing high jump, and pedal hooked up to giant tubes. Ostensibly it gives scouts and GMs an opportunity to evaluate each player’s physical fitness. But it also gives them a chance to evaluate more intangible things like their "drive", "compete level", and "character". While there is definitely something to be learned from the event, I’d caution against taking too much out of what happens here. With the benefit of hindsight we can see that the Combine is not the most accurate prediction of future success.
If you’ve never read the book Future Greats and Heartbreaks by Gare Joyce I’d recommend picking it up. It follows his year long journey as a wannabe amateur scout with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He takes you through how a player goes from being a name on a prospect list to being drafted by a team. The book covers the 2006 draft and contains a lot of interesting information about a one Phillip J. Kessel. Columbus was set to draft 6th overall, Kessel was ranked anywhere from 4-10. Here are some excerpts from the book that show how Columbus valued Kessel prior to the draft:
Here is Don Boyd, then Director of Scouting for the Jackets talking about Kessel’s strengths and weaknesses:
The way Boyd & Co. see it, four Top Tens could be there at No. 6: Phil Kessel, Derick Brassard, Nicklas Backstrom and Peter Mueller. Kessel. At 17, the forward starred for the U.S. team at the 2005 world juniors. He would have gone No. 2 behind Sidney Crosby in last year’s draft if he’d been eligible, but his stock has since plunged. He spent last season on the U. of Minnesota’s third line.
"Strengths?" Boyd asks."Speed" and "scoring" go up on the board.Then the minuses pour out. Says Brian Bates, the Minneapolis scout who saw him the most: "I wonder about his game awareness sometimes.""There might be some selfish play there sometimes," Boyd adds.
Brassard knows that his best bud, Mathieu Carle, a defenseman in the Q, did 15 reps. He knows five isn’t good. He’s right. By the end of the day, his reps will stand as the low total among all skaters tested. Then he gets on the bike to demo his lung capacity, feet taped to the pedals, mouthpiece hooked to a tube. Shouts from the testing staff drown out the never-ending chatter of 100 or so scouts and execs. "Go! Come on! Go!" The suits see Brassard strain, and love it. They’ll love it even more later on: VO2, 71.6, among the best at the combine. He went harder and longer than anyone else: The test maxes out at 15 minutes, and he pedaled 10 seconds past it."What you get a look at here," Boyd says, "is just how willing the kids are to work on their own and what their work ethic is like."As if on cue, Kessel comes in. He looks around nervously. A few minutes later, Kessel looks gassed on the bike, stopping at seven minutes.
The scouts sit through all 109 interviews, and Williams enters notes from each into a database. But no interview is more important to the Blue Jackets than Kessel’s. No prospect has more to win or lose than he does. Kessel walks into the room. The Blue Jackets are the first of 20 interviews on his schedule.He is barely in his seat before Boyd says, "Teammates." Silence. "Do you know what I’m talking about?" "No," Kessel says. He most certainly does. Kessel has a reputation for being disliked by teammates wherever he’s played. Jack Johnson, second overall in last year’s draft, called him "a dirtbag" during one of his combine interviews. Silence. "I don’t have a problem with my teammates." More silence. "I don’t have a problem with Jack Johnson." More silence. "I had lunch with him practically every day."What about that TV report about that bar serving underage Gophers? "Happens everywhere," Kessel says. Only 18 goals last season when you were compared to Sidney Crosby the year before? "I was on the third line … we rolled four lines." Kessel’s time is up. He leaves, seemingly aware that his was a less-than-stellar performance. Boyd is unfazed. "Helluva talent," he says to no one in particular.
These excerpts were posted as a story on ESPN’s website, you can read the whole thing here.