The 2023 NHL Scouting Combine took place this week in Buffalo, with 106 of the top prospects in the world in attendance. Those players included Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, and Leo Carlsson, although Russian phenom Matvei Michkov was noticeably absent.
"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," NHL Central Scouting vice president Dan Marr said. "The NHL combine is the final showcase event before the NHL draft and it's a week full of interviews, medicals and fitness testing where the players get to interact with NHL personnel and the NHL clubs get to learn as much as possible about the future stars of our game."
Including medical and physical testing, and interviews, it’s an important event for teams looking to fine tune their rankings leading up to the 2023 NHL Draft on June 28-29 in Nashville.
Here’s a look at the top stories and takeaways as the week-long combine wraps up.
Bedard draws comparisons to Connor McDavid
The discussion occurs every year of just how good the top prospects in a draft class are. This year when discussing Connor Bedard, there’s a growing consensus that he’s "Connor McDavid good." When describing his speed, shooting, and on-ice intelligence, Marr made the immediate connection to McDavid.
"He's right up there with Connor McDavid, it's just the next generation," Marr told the Associated Press. "So Connor McDavid started that trend, and Connor Bedard is going to lead it into the next trend."
After winning the NHL Draft Lottery, the Chicago Blackhawks will have the chance to pick first overall and select the generational Bedard. The team and Bedard sat down at the combine for an interview.
"I met them last summer once and then to see them again here was good," Bedard said to NBC. "We had some conversations with them of course. I enjoyed that, getting to know them and what not. It was good, I had fun with it."
Top fitness testing performers
Connor Bedard managed to finish among the top 25 in fitness testing, but there were a number of standout players at the combine. Nick Lardis, one of the top risers in the second half of the season following a trade from the Peterborough Petes to the Hamilton Bulldogs in the OHL, was one who stood out. As did Jonathan Castagna, who attended St. Andrews College this year and will play Junior A with the BCHL’s Penticton Vees next year. Other players who were among the leaders in fitness testing were Bradly Nadeau, Charlie Stramel, Samuel Honzek, and Cameron Allen.
Russians noticeably absent
The NHL scouting combine is an opportunity for the best in the world to come together in one place to showcase their physical attributes and talk to potential teams. This year that included North American players, as well as the top ranked European prospects, like Sweden’s Leo Carlsson. With the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russia’s prospects, however, were noticeably absent from the event, including projected top-five pick Matvei Michkov. In total, the 100 players in attendance included prospects from Canada, USA, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Czechia, and Slovakia, but not Russia.
The absence was a further reminder of the risk and unpredictable nature of selecting players from Russia who may take years to come to North America, if they ever do. Among Yahoo Sports’ top 100 draft prospects, Michkov was ranked third, while Dmitri Simashev came in at 18th, Mikhail Gulyayev 20th, and Daniil But 29th in the first round alone. Other notable players absent included Roman Kantserov, Timur Mukhanov, Alexander Rykov, and Ignat Lutfullin. It’s a significant absence of talent, and without the opportunity to medically and physically assess, or interview to discover the future intentions of these prospects, it adds to the already present risk of selecting Russian players — especially this year.
More than just the prospects … it’s trade time
Along with looking at the top prospects available, the NHL scouting combine is an opportunity for general managers from across the league to put the pieces in place for potential draft-day trades. The Columbus Blue Jackets pulled the trigger twice during the combine itself, acquiring Ivan Provorov and Damon Seversen, while teams including the Philadelphia Flyers and Vancouver Canucks were linked to trade talks with various partners, stemming from conversations they had at the event.
Aside from the trade deadline, the draft is the single biggest trade event on the NHL calendar, and the foundation for many of those potential deals were laid this week.
Will any player use the combine to climb the ranks?
It’s rare a player climbs tremendously through the combine, although it’s rumoured some have fallen, including last year when Shane Wright slipped to fourth overall after being the consensus top pick all season. There was a lot of chatter his interviews with teams hurt his final positioning.
This year, one player many at the combine were talking about in a positive way was Matthew Wood. Thought of by many as a mid-to-late first-round pick, it would not be a surprise to see the physically mature Wood sneak into the top ten — and make a team look smart for doing it.