The NHL Combine gives us fans, but more importantly, the NHL organizations an indicator of physiological development and physical fitness of a young hockey player. These young potential prospects take part in various testing over a fairly short time frame (a week). During this week they are not only psychologically tested but physically tested as well, which helps give us and scouting staff a better perspective whether or not these young men will be able to compete at an elite level, and helps pin-point how far away they may be from competing. The purpose of this post/thread is to help give a fan a better understanding of how to interpret the draft combine.
Your body uses three energy systems on continuum. It’s not a question of which system is being used but which one is predominate. Anaerobic A-lactic or ATP/PCr system requires no oxygen and is used for immediate, intense, short, bursts of energy such as a jump, sprint or Olympic style lift. If you continue your intensity and it exceeds your ATP/PCr system (can last about 10 seconds) then your Anaerobic Lactic system takes over. You can’t produce quite as much energy as the ATP/PCr system, however you can still generate quite a bit of energy. This system lasts about 120 seconds. During this system you can experience muscle fatigue (lactic acid). A good example of the Anaerobic Lactic System would be a hockey shift. The Aerobic system uses oxygen as its main fuel source and this is the one we use the most; this is our endurance system. It doesn’t generate anywhere near the amount of energy the other systems do, but for anything that lasts two minutes or longer this system takes over. This is our “base” system, so to speak. A good example of this is walking around during the day or even a marathon.
VO2 max (ml/kg/min) –Score/Test Duration
The VO2 max test is considered the gold standard when testing for maximal aerobic capacity. It tests how efficiently your body consumes and uses oxygen at a maximal rate.
Skinny: The higher the VO2 max score the greater the endurance.
Perspective: Since the athlete is sitting on a bike they may score a little lower than they would if they weren’t on a bike (this is because they are not using their entire body and thus less muscle mass is used as if they were running on a treadmill). The highest VO2 max scores recorded are usually from world class cross country skiiers (who use their entire body), clocking in at around 90 ml/kg/min. I would venture to guess that the average sedentary individual could probably score around 35 ml/kg/min, +/-5 ml/kg/min. Basically, you bike until your legs fall off and you literally have nothing left in the tank.
Peak & Mean Power Output + Fatigue Index (Wingate)
The Wingate test (which is also done on a bike) tests for peak anaerobic capacity and mean power output. It tests explosive power.
Skinny: Tests for explosive power (Peak Power) and how long you can keep a high pace for (Mean Power).
Perspective: You sprint on a bike with resistance relative to bodyweight (not your actual body weight but it correlates with your weight) and then you see how long you can keep sprinting for the 30 seconds while the muscles in your legs burn from lactate acid. At first you get an explosive start but then it feels like your climbing a steep mountain on the highest gear of your bike. This test, along with the VO2 max test, is a good one to see who “has the character to push them through”.
Upper Body (Strength)
Hand Grip (Lbs)
Skinny: It is said that there is a strong correlation between handgrip and overall strength.
Skinny: An upper body strength test that primarily targets the chest (pectoralis major) and also targets muscles in the arms. A better indicator for relative/personal strength is when the athlete benches their body weight.
Push-Pull Strength (lbs)
Skinny: A maximal strength test for push and pull strength. Not entirely sure about this one but I think it would be a good indicator for overall strength across the board comparing against everyone in the combine.
Push Ups (lbs)
Skinny: An upper body muscle endurance test. This measures how long an athlete can maintain a constant stress on the upper body.
Seated Medicine Ball Throw
Skinny: The athlete is adjusted so that the arms are isolated during the throw. This is an indicator of arm strength.
Lower Body (Power)
Vertical Jump (inches)
Skinny: This is a good indicator of explosive power. Vertical jump with the pause simply takes away some of the momentum of the jump.
Long Jump (inches)
Skinny: Another good test for explosive power. Like Matt Nichol (TSN Fitness Specialist) stated, the long jump can also be an indicator of how well an athlete uses their body (skating). The more they can stabilize the jump landing with the lower body usually means they are a more agile skater.
Curl Ups (reps)
Skinny: The curl up test is an indicator of core muscle endurance.
Anthropometrics (Measurements of Body)
Wing Span (inches)
Height (feet, inches)
Yuhasz (% body fat)
Sum of Skinfolds
Skinny: The anthropometrics section is fairly self-explanatory. There are different protocols for measuring body fat percentages, some tests only calculate body fat using only three or four different sites, however the Yuhasz is fairly comprehensive using six different sites around the body.
So what does this all mean?
The draft combine can be an important tool for the draft because not only do NHL organizations have the opportunity to develop better psychological profiles (character, personality etc.) of potential draftees but physiological profiles as well. The article, “Relationship of Physical Fitness Tests Results and Hockey Playing Potential in Elite Level Ice Hockey Players” has statistically proven that the body index (which is a composite score of height, lean mass and muscular development) had significance across all positions (Forwards, Defense and Goalies). The most significant factors for drafting players by position is as follows, according to the article:
All Positions: Body Index, Peak Watts
Skating Players (No Goalies): Peak Watts, Body Index, Fatigue Index, Long Jump
Forwards: Body Index, Peak Watts
Defense: Peak Watts, Fatigue, Body Index
Why No VO2 max? The article states, “The absence of aerobic power as a predicator variable suggests that among elite, draft age hockey players, there is littler variation in VO2 max within a given playing position.” This article was assessing the importance of certain physical tests by position, VO2 max is still an important test however there is not one position (Forward, Defense, and Goalie) that stands out for this test, it is more the idea that it is equally important for every position. A higher VO2 max can essential correlate with better play. A player who has a lower VO2 max will start to wear down faster, and can start having a lapse within his game.
In my opinion, in no specific order, these are the physical tests that should be highly regarded:
Both the Anaerobic (Wingate) and Aerobic fitness tests, Vertical Jump, Long Jump and the Body Index (Height + Lean Mass + Muscular Development).
The draft combine should be taken with a grain of salt, although we can gather a lot of information from the combine. What really separates the athletes is the on ice playing ability. Usually, the most weighted variable in the draft is on ice play and skill potential, not physicality and character.
Reference: Relationship of Physical Fitness Test Results and Hockey Playing Potential in Elite-Level Ice Hockey Players
Burr, Jaime F; Jamnik, Roni K; Baker, Joseph; Macpherson, Alison; Gledhill, Norman; McGuire, E J