Explaining the NHL Combine

Steven Stamkos at the 2008 Combine

The NHL Combine was held over the past few days and a few people have asked me, "What's the point?"

As a 4th year Kinesiology student, I can say that testing an athlete in different physical aspects the emulates a game situation is essential for scouts and management to get more information on a prospect's physiology.

So really, what is the combine? Well, it has four main tests; the interview, medical evaluation, psychological evaluation and fitness testing.

Of the four, the interview might be the most important part of the combine. Players meet with team management and are asked questions about themselves, and sometimes a psychologist is in the room as well to assess the prospect at the same time. This is the point where a team might be sold on a guy and make the decision about drafting him. Certainly, this works the other way as well.

Second, the medical evaluation is very straightforward. A health questionnaire is completed as well as physical exams such as an eye test and hand-eye coordination tests. Background screening is very important, and the combine instituted this as a safe guard from health concerns (think Jiri Fischer, Alexei Cherepanov and Mickey Renaud).

Psychological evaluations are also important when trying to see a player's motivation factor. Psychology can determine drive, heart, desire, teammate interactions, coach interactions and on-ice behaviour. It includes 220 questions that are yes-no answered. An example is a question like, "If your coach was talking, would you interrupt him if he was wrong?" Gets you thinking, doesn't it?

The second part of the psychological test is the mental efficiency test, which measures spatial awareness, decision speed, decision accuracy, concentration, and rates of mental fatigue. A shortened form of the second part was repeated immediately after the fitness testing component, to determine the how much the individual player's reactions decline under stress and fatigue.

The part that has the most publicity, since there are cameras and personnel everywhere, is the fitness testing portion. This is the part that most fans hear about.

In total, the players are given 18 tests, lasting about an hour and a half for each player. The tests include the following:

-standing height
-body weight
-body fat (skinfold tests)

-grip strength
-bench press repetitions: 150 lbs in sync with metronome at 25 lifts per minute until exhaustion
-push ups
-sit ups
-seated medicine ball throw
-standing long jump
-vertical jump

-sit and reach test (basically sitting down and reaching as far as you can with straight legs)

ANAEROBIC STRENGTH (without oxygen)
-Wingate test: out of all tests, this is the most grueling. 30 seconds of pedaling as fast as you can with tension on the bike. This measures explosive speed and fatigue.

AEROBIC STRENGTH (with oxygen)
-VO2max Test: endurance test that measures heart rate, duration of ability to pedal with varying resistance, and physiologically being able to use oxygen the most efficiently.

-balance: using a balance board, measured by how many times you touch the floor in 60 seconds (less is best)
-agility: hexagon test - there is an X on the floor and the player jumps with speed to each of the corners and the middle.

Here is a great video that shows almost all the tests that were explained above:


In all honesty, the NHL Combine has several uses. Most importantly, it screens players for health risks. Underlying conditions can be picked out by the medical experts on site. Secondly, the psychological testing let's people know where a player's head is at as well as their reflexes (imagine Holmstrom doing a hand-eye test). The interview let's teams go one on one and get information other team's might not ask for. Lastly, the physical testing sets a competition against other prospects.

Of all the testing, the physical testing might be the most pointless. High picks in the draft might not do very well in strength because they are finesse players and don't need it to be successful. Other times it can be beneficial though, as some small players might be stronger than bigger players. I don't believe that a player's draft status is hurt that much by the testing if they area sure fire first rounder (Taylor Hall didn't even do any strength tests, and Steve Yzerman couldn't do one bench press rep), but it might affect the later round picks.

All in all, the NHL Combine is another tool that teams can use to assess a prospect's talent. You can bet your top dollar they use those stats come draft day. That's why the combine is a big deal.

Kyle Busch