Red Wings, NHL welcome return this week of scouting combine

Detroit News

Detroit — An important piece in the NHL Entry Draft process returned this week.

The NHL Scouting Combine takes place in Buffalo this week, beginning Monday and running through Saturday morning, with 96 prospects undergoing fitness tests and interviews with teams.

The event was canceled the last two years due to pandemic concerns.

The Red Wings and the 31 other teams will have large portions of their front offices in Buffalo for numerous face-to-face interviews with prospects, instead of the Zoom calls that were the norm the last two years.

Teams can conduct physical and medical assessments, along with interviewing as many prospects on their draft board as they like, gathering all the information they want leading to the NHL Entry Draft July 7-8 in Montreal.

The Red Wings will pick eighth in the first round. They have 10 picks overall: nine on the second day (Rounds 2-7) including an extra second-round pick (via Washington), two extra fourth-round picks (via Colorado, Vegas), and another seventh-round pick (via Los Angeles).

The interviews with teams, said David Gregory,  NHL Central Scouting senior manager, could be the most important aspect of the week for potential draftees.

“It’s a pretty intense week with what goes on and players know the protocol before and they prepare and everybody thinks, ‘Well, it’s got to be the testing they go through,’” Gregory said last week on the NHL Draft Class podcast. “Well, really the testing is sort of getting a baseline for where the player needs to improve. But for me, the most important part is really the interview process.

“We’ve all been on job interviews and one interview is stressful. Some of these players are going through 28 job interviews in a four-day period so it can be very important to where they end up and what kind of impression they leave on a team. I really think the face-to-face interviews is the peak of the of the mountain here.”

There are 63 forwards, 30 defensemen and three goaltenders invited to the combine this week. All are on the NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings of North American and International skaters and goaltenders.

“We’re sort of rebooting ourselves and remembering how much we have to do to be prepared for this,” Gregory said of the combine’s return. “It’s a lot of people doing a lot of hard work, but it’s great to get back to what we should be doing and providing what we can for all the NHL clubs and these young players to showcase themselves and the combine is a big part of that every year.”

Teams conduct as many interviews as they want Monday through Friday. Medical examinations take place Wednesday. Media availability is slated to take place Friday, with fitness testing taking place Saturday morning.

One difference from the last time an NHL combine took place is the fact NHL and AHL strength coaches will be fitness-test administrators.

“The NHL Combine is a rite of passage on a players’ path to the NHL and is an event that NHL clubs and prospects look forward to participating in,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “Leading up to the 2022 draft, everyone in hockey has embraced the resumption of a full hockey season and playoffs and are both anxious and eager to partake in the combine experience.”

More: Six mock drafts have Red Wings taking six different players

The top three players generally considered to be at the top of this draft class will be in Buffalo this week.

Forwards Shane Wright, Juraj Slafkovsky and Logan Cooley, in some order, are expected to be the first three players off the board. Montreal, New Jersey and Arizona hold the top three selections.

Wright (6-foot, 191 pounds), a center with Kingston in the Ontario Hockey League, finished No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings. Wright had 94 points (32 goals, 62 assists) in 63 games, finishing eighth in OHL scoring.

Slafkovsky (6-3, 218), a left wing with TPS in Liiga (Finland), is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s ranking of International skaters. Slafkovsky starred at the 2022 Olympics, earning most valuable player honors, scoring a tournament-best seven goals in seven games, leading Slovakia to a bronze medal.

Cooley (5-10, 174), from the Plymouth Township-based USA Hockey National Team Development Program, had 75 points (27 goals, 48 assists) in 51 games, and added 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in six games at the world junior championships, helping the USA to a silver medal.

The Wings have a long list of players to consider at eighth overall.

Forwards Cutter Gauthier (USNTDP), Marco Kasper (Sweden), Matthew Savoie (Winnipeg, WHL), Joakim Kemell (Finland), Jonathan Lekkerimaki (Sweden) and Conor Geekie (Winnipeg, WHL) are players who could interest the Wings.

Twitter: @tkulfan

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