The NHL’s version of speed dating is going on this week. For players, it’s their first real glimpse of what the next level will entail. It’s exciting and also a little scary at the same time.
BIG BOY TIME
As a 17 year old, it’s likely a player’s first time alone in a big city without someone to hold their hand.
You walk the gauntlet of NHL execs in numerous meetings, not to mention the smack down the physical testing brings. Nothing but eyeballs and notepads as you lie there half naked, fighting the urge to puke after the bike test.
Aside from the audience, the physical testing really isn’t that crazy. Most guys have trained for it and know what to expect these days.
The same may not be said about the interviews. At 17, not a lot can prepare a kid for a room full of people (many that you looked up to) peppering you with questions. Its rapid fire and all eyes are focused on you.
After a few a meetings, you learn many are the same with most team’s questions being rather redundant.
If hockey players are a boring broken record of clichés and robot answers to begin with, imagine what they sound like after 25 of the same interview.
What type of player are you? Where do you see yourself in 2 years? How long till you think you can play in the NHL? What are your strengths? What do you need to work on? What’s your preferred position? Can you get bigger? Why did your team suck this year? Why was your team good this year? Why did you do this in a certain game this year?
Back in my day the whole thing was done in 48 hours. Two teams stood out from the rest in my 20 plus interviews: Washington and San Jose.
The Washington Capitals have since gone through a regime change, but it was hands down the most relaxed and comfortable I felt in any meeting.
They were laughing, telling jokes, asked me to tell a joke – it wasn’t just your standard questions that you answered with a script. They got you to open up a bit. I presume so they could peak inside the robot most guys become for better or worse.
I actually didn’t want to leave. I left there thinking “Boy would I like to be drafted by those guys.”
A team that had the opposite effect on me at the time was San Jose. I looked back after and know the scout was just trying to see what players were made of.
In a process like this, I now commend the Sharks for trying to see kids for more than just your typical answer. I have no idea if the gentleman is still there, but I would recognize him if I saw him today.
He did all he could to push your buttons, grill you about your weaknesses. If you answered something he didn’t agree with, he fired back and wanted an answer versus just writing it in his notepad.
I left thinking “what a d*#k”. It was the same for every player that went in there however, which made me feel better.
15 years later he still stands out and I’d say they have built a pretty good organization.
Best story I ever heard at the combine was a friend of mine being interviewed by a team and they asked him to take his shirt off.
He said “excuse me?”
“Can you take your shirt off please, we want to see your build” they said.
Standard stuff, except this guy had a bit of a sweat problem and wanted to prevent it from showing through his shirt. Along with an under shirt, before he left for the combine, he had his mom sew these pads that he taped to his armpits.
“Uhhh ok” he said turning away from them, trying vigorously to take the tape off while he took his dress shirt off in one motion. You can picture how smooth this went.
They finally asked him what the hell he was doing and as he hurried, a pad fell on the floor. He was forced to come clean as red faced as one could be, he placed his pads and tape on the teams table!
Safe to say they never drafted him.
All in all, I have to believe it’s a productive week for teams.
As for the kids, the NHL combine is a special time. It’s the beginning of life as a professional hockey player and a learning experience they will never forget….especially if you have a sweat problem.