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Top-ranked NHL draft prospect Sam Bennett couldn’t do a pull-up; should anyone care?

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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Bennett was Central Scouting's top-ranked skater in its midterm and final rankings (Kenneth Armstrong, CP)

The last anyone checked, hockey players still power their way around the ice with their legs, not their upper bodies.

As you might have heard, Sam Bennett, who is NHL Central Scouting Service's top-ranked North American prospect for the upcoming draft, could not perform a single pull-up during last Saturday's NHL combine in Mississauga. The pull-up was a new element of the fitness testing. The Windsor Spitfires' Joshua Ho-Sang was the leader with 13; four others players did a dozen.

Does it matter, though? Anecdotal evidence would suggest it probably does not.

Three seasons ago, for instance, current Florida Panthers bright young hope Jonathan Huberdeau could only perform a 150-lb. bench press twice at the combine. The then-Saint John Sea Dogs star, after being chosen No. 3 overall by the Florida Panthers, made the NHL club out of training camp but had to return to junior when a contract couldn't be finalized before the start of the season. Once circumstances beyond his control were cleared, he was in the NHL. Similarly, the No. 1 overall choice that season, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, also struggled with the bench press. Conversely, one player at the combine who earned his "workout warrior" badge was a Shawinigan Cataractes forward named Maximilien Le Sieur, who wasn't drafted and is now playing Canadian university hockey for the McGill Redmen.

One should keep sight of the fact there is a wide variance in the physical maturity of the 100-plus players the NHL brings to the combine to interview, one by one, with teams and have their fitness levels tested. It doesn't take Malcolm Gladwell to know, at this stage of their careers, there is still a diffference between a 'late birthday kid' (a prospect who turned 18 between Sept. 16 and Dec. 31, 2013), someone with an early birthday and someone who is still 17 years old.

Bennett, who is listed at 6-foot and 181 pounds, will not reach voting age until June 20. The players who did the most pull-ups on Saturday, by and large, have a few months on him:

Pullups, 2014 NHL combine  
  Pullups Age
Josh Ho-Sang 13 18.5
Brett Lernout 12 18.8
Jayce Hawryluk 12 18.5
Alex Peters 12 17.11
David Pastrnak 12 18
Anthony DeAngelo 11 18.7
Chase De Leo 11 18.7
Matheson Iacopelli 11 20
Francis Perron 11 18.1
Sonny Milano 11 18

There are exceptions. Peters happens to be 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. Milano played in the U.S. national team development program, which allocates a lot more time to off-ice weight training than a Canadian major junior team.

A similar theme runs through the leaderboard when it comes to who proved to be the strongest, pound for pound, on the bench press. Julien Pelletier, a 5-foot-11, 177-pound forward from a Cape Breton Screaming Eagles team whose season finished in late March, was a glorious exception to the rule. So-called 'older 18-year-olds,' including some from teams whose seasons didn't extend well into the spring, fared very well. Dvorak's performance also rates a footnote, since he missed all but the Memorial Cup tournament while rehabbing after knee surgery in October.

Bench press (lb/lb body weight)  
  Score Age
Julien Pelletier 15.6 17.11
Shane Eiserman 13.4 18.7
Brett Lernout 12.7 18.8
Jaden Lindo 12.7 18.4
Connor Chatham 12.2 18.7
Alex Tuch 11.7 18
Christian Dvorak 11.6 18.4
Anthony DeAngelo 11.5 18.7
Jayce Hawryluk 11.2 18.5
Jacob Middleton 10.8 18.4

Point being, Bennett's goose egg on the pull-up bar should not set off a red flag, especially considering that he played hurt with a groin pull toward the end of his season with the OHL's Kingston Frontenacs. Conditioning and strength are a bigger part of the NHL than ever before, but that doesn't mean a player has to be fully mature physical at his first training camp or else. The greatest centre of all time, Wayne Gretzky, was a skinny guy. Mario Lemieux was almost 19 years old at his first Pittsburgh Penguins training camp and couldn't do one bench press. Plus there are those aforementioned contemporary examples such as Huberdeau and Nugent-Hopkins. Another slightly built who might have struggled at pull-ups when he was 18, Patrick Kane, seems to have held up fairly well in the NHL.

A certain absurdity courses through the NHL combine. It works, mostly, though, since it is a one-stop shop for both NHL teams' scouting staffs and for media partners during a slow time in 28 of 30 markets in the league. Sam Bennett no doubt has a long summer in the gym ahead, but he shouldn't sweat one test that ultimately doesn't mean a lot.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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