By: Mike Aceto (@mdeathandtaxes)
The 2017 NHL Scouting Combine is scheduled to take place May 28th through June 3rd in Buffalo, New York, which is where it will remain through at least 2019. In a draft-year where there is not a lot of differentiation among many of the top prospects, combine testing could have more significance than it usually does, although most of the draft prospects are still teenagers and their physical attributes will change over the next few years, thereby rendering most of their combine testing a relatively poor predictor of future NHL ability and success.
That said, the one area where combine testing could prove to be most critical ties in directly with the Nolan Patrick vs. Nico Hischier debate, which has been the most controversial aspect of draft discussions this year. Patrick’s injury history has been brought up as one of the few “weaknesses” he has that could cause him to drop from the number one slot. Putting him through a series of medical evaluations, screenings, and physical tests at the combine could prove to be a deciding factor in his ultimate draft position, come June 23rd.
Patrick recently stated that he is 100% healthy, which may be true, but nonetheless, doctors at the combine will certainly evaluate his condition, notably coming off relatively recent sports hernia surgery and a few undisclosed lower body injuries. Patrick only played in 33 games during the 2016-17 season, which really is not very many. He did play a full 72-game WHL season in 2015-16, plus a number of playoff and tournament games, showing he can handle a heavy workload; however, he may have paid the price for it the following year.
Patrick’s Collarbone Injuries
During the medical testing at the combine, doctors will likely evaluate and obtain more information regarding Patrick’s collarbone, which he broke on two separate occasions, once when he was 13 years old, and then again at age 14. Although injuries from so long ago should not impact his physical abilities right now or during his NHL career, teams need to do their due diligence when taking a player in the first round of the draft, especially at the number one or number two position. No stone should be left unturned.
General Managers, particularly Ron Hextall and Ray Shero of the Devils, are going to want more information, like what type of fractures they were, the exact locations of the fractures, precisely how the fractures occurred, the course of treatment and rehabilitation Patrick underwent, and any subsequent scans over the years showing changes to the bone as it re-grew and developed.
Specifically, did the second fracture occur in the same spot as the first? If so, is the collarbone compromised in any way? Is there a “weak” spot in it? Could those fractures have any impact on the structural integrity of the bone as Patrick enters the NHL, a league where he will be under much more physical strain as compared to his time playing against teenagers in the Western Hockey League? Is there any long-term concern?
In all likelihood, Patrick’s collarbone injuries are probably inconsequential with regard to his durability in the NHL because they occurred so long ago and he has played at a highly competitive level for years at this point with no indication of re-injury or the bone impacting his play.
Functional Movement Screening
Perhaps more pressing are Patrick’s more recent injuries, including the sports hernia and lower body injuries, which may have been related to soft tissue and ligament damage. These types of injuries, while typically not as outwardly gruesome as broken bones, can have a tendency to nag at players over time if they are not treated properly and are not rehabilitated correctly. It probably was in Patrick’s best interest not to push those injuries this past year, as coming back too early and risking re-injury or exacerbating an existing problem would have been devastating for his draft position. These are certainly areas where Hextall should get more information.
One way Hextall might obtain more information is through the Functional Movement Screening (“FMS”), which was added to the medical portion of the combine four years ago. The FMS requires the prospects to perform seven distinct movements, focusing on balance, stability, and mobility. Prospects are measured while performing certain exercises such as deep squats, hurdle steps, and lunges. Last year, Director of NHL Scouting, Dan Marr, described the FMS as having the ability to show the potential, or need, for further examination, but does not point to a specific injury. Rather, the FMS is used as a tool to predict whether a player may be at a greater risk for injury in the future, and can help dictate future exercise plans to help correct imbalances.
The prospects are scored on each specific FMS exercise. Mike Morreale of NHL.com described the scoring system as follows:
“Each movement in the seven tests is scored on a scale of 0-3, meaning that the highest possible total score is 21. According to research provided by NHL Central Scouting, a score of less than 14 might indicate a 75 percent likelihood of a future muscular or joint injury.”
While the FMS is probably not an exact science and there have not been any studies that have tracked the accuracy of the FMS, Nolan Patrick’s results are crucial pieces of information that Hextall and his staff, as well multiple other teams, will be keenly tuned into. Even though no specific injury will be indicated, it could provide valuable insight as to Patrick’s ability to withstand injury in the future and identify vulnerable weak spots he may have. Out of any test and any player at the combine this year, Nolan Patrick’s FMS results will surely be under the microscope.
If the Devils do not take Patrick with the first pick, Patrick’s injury history, and perhaps FMS results, may indeed be one of the reasons why. Certainly, the emergence of Hischier from a talent standpoint alone have him in contention to be the first overall pick and Shero may select Nico even if Patrick’s injuries and FMS scores are truly not a concern, whatsoever.
With regard to the prospect interview process at the combine, Hextall placed minimal value on it during an interview Tim Saunders conducted with him for the Flyers’ website. Hextall said that his scouts should know all the background information about a player before the combine even starts.
“If you’re at the combine trying to figure a kid out, you’re behind the game,” said Hextall.
The actual player interviews with teams only last about 15 minutes and Hextall acknowledged that players are trained by their agents on what to say, so it is difficult to really learn anything new about a player from the interview. Hextall mentioned that, pre-interview, he and his scouts discuss whether there are any issues the prospect should be questioned about.
“If there’s a red flag one way or the other, maybe [we] talk about it,” said Hextall.
Other than that, the team isn’t looking to unearth any new information and doesn’t expect any surprises during the interview process. Hextall mentioned that they cannot figure out “character” in a 15-minute time slot and that one combine interview should not dictate whether a prospect jumps up or down the draft board. Instead, the combine interviews merely offer a brief opportunity to put a face with a name and provide an opportunity to potentially address a red flag the team has previously identified and seeks further clarification on.
Keep in mind though, these interviews are more so focused on character and personality, although in the case of Nolan Patrick, the Flyers could potentially discuss his medical background with him to understand his mentality on how he has dealt with injuries, how he plans on overcoming them in the future, in addition to his commitment to nutrition and conditioning as he enters the professional ranks.
Overall, the NHL Scouting Combine may shed some light on the status of Nolan Patrick’s medical condition and future outlook. Although medical evaluations, interviews, and physical strength testing only goes so far as a predictor of future NHL success, the combine is a tool that may prove to be particularly important in this draft, specifically concerning the draft positioning of Nolan Patrick.