The 2023 NHL Scouting Combine took place in Buffalo, N.Y., from Monday through Saturday of last week. 106 draft-eligible prospects attended. One aspect of the combine is a battery of physical measurements and tests that afford teams further data on these top prospects. The information can be useful for teams in cross-referencing their existing evaluations of a player’s on-ice physicality and athleticism.
Unfortunately, the NHL does not disseminate the full results. Annually, Mark Scheig of The Hockey Writers does Herculean work tabulating as many height and weight measurements as he can. (This year he captured more than 100.) For the other measurement (wing span) and all of the physical tests, the NHL publishes to the public only top-25 rankings (and even then in relatively difficult-to-use format). Only the teams know the full results below that.
We collected all publicly available combine data and built a sortable chart, HERE. As far as we know, this information is not available in this comprehensive, searchable form anywhere else.
Important note on using this combine data: If you want to filter the data by various categories, highlight row 3, then select “Data,” “Filter Views,” and “Create New Temporary Filter View.” This will allow you to manipulate the data in a way visible only to you
For each test listed, you will see the available results and the rank position among combine participants. (For a primer on the tests themselves, check out this recent article.)
In addition, we included two composite score rankings for each of the combine participants, derived on the geomean of the player’s ranking in the various tests. The overall ranking includes all size measurements and athletic testing. The “athletic testing only” rank gives a ranking that excludes the size measurements.
Now, a word on the limits of this dataset: Since we only have top-25 results for most tests, we do not even know if all prospects participated in each test. A player may be dealing with an injury, for example, or simply decline to participate, and we would have no way to distinguish that in the publicly available data from a player who participated but performed around group average or worse. I would imagine the full data is most useful to teams in identifying players with “red flags” in their athletic profile. But since we have only top-25 data in most categories, this data is most useful in identifying positive outliers. Who were the players that performed exceptionally well? (Beyond that, I would caution against parsing the results too closely, as I am not sure there is any indicative difference between a top-30 performer and a top-50 performer, for example.)
Let’s get into a few of the top performers and some Seattle Kraken-related takeaways.
Combine is most useful for the interviews
The bulk of the week in Buffalo is allocated to meeting time between teams and players. More so than the athletic testing, this is by far the most important aspect of the combine. Teams have long studied the players on the ice, but may not have had the opportunity for in-depth conversations with the person. This is their chance, with many top prospects reporting that they speak with twenty-plus teams during the week.
As an example, according to Mark Scheig, the Kraken spoke with Kitchener Rangers right-handed defender Hunter Brzustewicz, a player projected to go in the mid-second round. (A strong performer in my analytics ranking, it happens I have been mock drafting him to the Kraken frequently.)
A couple skaters stand out at the top of the pack
Guelph Storm (OHL) right-handed defenseman Cameron Allen and Vancouver Giants (WHL) winger Samuel Honzek stood out as the two top-of-class athletic performers at the combine.
Allen was a highly touted defender coming into this season, but an up-and-down year sent him tumbling down draft boards. He is currently ranked 77th on the forthcoming Sound Of Hockey Big Board, and his analytics ranking is even lower. This was a necessary performance for Allen to prompt teams to think back to the raw, talented prospect they had envisioned at the beginning of the season. I will be watching to see if this performance halts his slide down draft boards.
Unlike Allen, Honzek has seen his stock on the rise this year. A hulking winger with some scoring touch, he is currently ranked No. 22 on the Sound Of Hockey Big Board (and No. 21 in my personal analytics ranking).
For the Seattle Kraken and the 20th overall pick, Honzek’s profile is intriguing in comparison with Andrew Cristall, the current No. 25 player on the Big Board (and No. 10 in my personal analytics ranking). Honzek is a big, loud, toolsy player with strong production.
Cristall, on the other hand, is relatively small at 5-foot-9.5, possesses just average speed, and did not place in the top 25 in any of the athletic tests at the combine. Yet, his CHL production was elite, far outpacing Honzek, and Cristall is generally viewed as something of an offensive savant. Indeed, consensus No. 1 pick Connor Bedard has called Cristall the smartest player he’s ever played with.
If the Seattle pick came down to Honzek or Cristall, which player would Seattle prefer? The combine got me thinking about that question.
Some smaller players may have answered questions
It is a common refrain when we hear from team scouts that smaller players without elite speed or athletic traits often are ranked lower by NHL franchises internally than they are on public lists. These players are viewed as less likely to successfully transition their game to the NHL level if they cannot be counted on to win with either speed or physicality.
Accordingly, a sterling combine could be a boon to a smaller player. This year a pair of sub-5-foot-11 players posted strong results. Bradly Nadeau of the Penticton Vees (BCHL) and Easton Cowan of the London Knights (OHL) stood out positively. Nadeau is currently ranked 31st on the Sound of Hockey Big Board and Cowan is ranked 72nd.
Nadeau’s performance, in particular, piqued my interest from a Seattle Kraken vantage point. There likely won’t be a player (short of Cristall, perhaps) who carries as much offensive upside as Nadeau when the Kraken pick in the first round.
Nadeau absolutely obliterated the BCHL this season, posting more than two points per game. Yet, the lower level of competition (when compared with the WHL, for example) leaves many scouts with unanswered questions about just how well his game will translate. And these questions were magnified by questions about how well his skating and athletic traits would translate at his smaller size. The combine may have at least partially answered some concerns falling in the latter category.
The draft’s top-ranked goaltender may also be its most athletic
Michael Hrabal of the Omaha Lancers (USHL) has emerged as the top goaltender in this class on many public draft boards, and he ranks as the first goalie, and No. 38 overall, on the current iteration of the Sound Of Hockey Big Board. He may have added some fuel to the fire in Buffalo by posting impressive athletic numbers to go with a 6-foot-6.75 frame. At this point, a pick at the end of the first round or early in the second round seems likely for Hrabal.
Next up: The Sound Of Hockey Big Board
Next you hear from me, we’ll be publishing version 1.0 of the 2023 Sound Of Hockey Big Board. Not every scouting or analytics list is available yet, but there is a critical mass at this point, and we can’t wait to share the results. As we did last year, we will continue to update the Big Board as more data roles in.