Combine helps Red Wings 'put the pieces together' on potential high draft picks

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Who are the Red Wings going to target in the NHL Draft on June 21-22?

They will get a better idea of that this week in Buffalo during the NHL Draft Combine.

Dylan Larkin

There are 109 players that have been invited to attend this week by the NHL; all essentially have job interviews with the 31 teams.

Physical testing takes place Saturday, concluding the combine, as players go through different stations including the bench press, vertical jump, standing long jump, pull-ups and push-ups.

The combine is an important evaluation tool for the Wings.

“Scouts have spent an entire year on the road watching them from up in the stands and certainly visiting them on occasion and doing their own due diligence,” said Ryan Martin, the Wings’ assistant general manager. “Now is the opportunity for them to kind of put the pieces together.”

The Wings have the No. 6 pick in the first round and 10 picks overall, including three in the second round.

Jack Hughes (USA National Development Team Program) and Kaapo Kakko (Finland) have generally pulled away as the top two players in the draft. Hughes has been thought of as the slam-dunk No. 1 selection by New Jersey, but Kakko’s tremendous performance at the world championships has given definite pause to that thinking.

Players such as forwards Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge/WHL), Trevor Zegras (USA development program), Kirby Dach (Saskatoon/WHL) and Alex Turcotte (USA development program), and defenseman Bowen Byram (Vancouver/WHL), are among the players expected to be around when the Wings’ draft sixth.

They’ll interview more than 70 players by the time the interview period is over this week, said Martin, and get to know the players that much more.

“It’s everything from tell us about your background and your family to your hockey development growing up,” Martin said. “We delve into personal issues, schooling, have they had any adversity and how have they handled adversity at any point in their life? What do they like to do when they aren’t playing hockey? Who are their friends?

“We take a fairly low-key approach, but sometimes it just organically flows into other parts of their life. We prefer to have more of a conversation rather than just a grilling interview session, and based on what they say, it might lead us toward a different path of questioning.

“We have to 20 minutes with each player and we typically use the entire 20 minutes.”

One thing that Martin has noticed over the years is that most potential draft picks these days are increasingly well-spoken, calm and professional while being interviewed by teams.

“Most of the kids these days, whether they play at the (USA) national program, or in the Canadian Hockey League or a European League, for one reason or another, they’re way more worldly and mature and sophisticated than you and I were at that age,” Martin said. “They’re used to having microphones in their face. We just met with a Swedish player that has been living on his own since he was 15 or 16 in an apartment in Stockholm.

“My point is, nobody really bombs in these interviews. They all do pretty well.”

Generally speaking, Martin said a sub-standard interview – in the Wings’ estimation – isn’t going to knock a player’s slot in the draft or take him out of contention to be drafted.

“But it certainly helps when you like a particular player and his on-ice skill set, and he comes in and has a real good interview,” Martin said. “Like Dylan Larkin’s interview (back in 2014) was excellent.”

What was interesting about that particular combine, many Wings’ officials have said, was how many other players that week spoke to the Wings about how impressive Larkin was on and off the ice. Larkin’s leadership qualities gave the Wings even further incentive to draft him.

As for the physical testing Saturday, Mike Kadar, the Wings’ strength and conditioning coach, will oversee the day’s events for the organization.

“It (physical testing) does have importance; it’s a benchmark,” Martin said. “It’s not necessarily critical to whether you’re going to draft a guy, but it’s a good benchmark to use, even looking a year down the road: Have they made improvements and fixed some weaknesses they have?

“Certainly the health, the medical testing part of it, you learn whether guys have significant medical issues or injuries that might be career threatening, so that’s important obviously.”

Alex Turcotte

On the Wings’ radar

The NHL Draft is June 21-22, but teams are talking to prospects this week in Buffalo at the NHL Combine. Here are some players expected to be available to the Red Wings with the No. 6 pick in the first round.

Dylan Cozens, center, Lethbridge (WHL), 6-foot-3, 181 pounds: A big, crafty center, Cozens had 84 points during the season, with 50 assists.

Bowen Byram, defense, Vancouver (WHL), 6-foot, 195 pounds: Byram is regarded as the best defenseman in this class. Scouts love his skating and offensive game, and Byram likes to play a physical game, too.

Trevor Zegras, center, USA National Development Team, 6-foot, 165 pounds: A phenomenal offensive player, Zegras is a terrific puck distributor who isn’t big physically but makes up for it with speed and shiftiness.

Kirby Dach, center/right wing, Saskatoon (WHL), 6-foot-3, 200 pounds: Dach is a big center who is an elite passer, can hang onto the puck and knows how to make plays.

Alex Turcotte, center, U.S. National Development Program, 5-foot-11, 190 pounds: The son or former NHL player Alfie Turcotte, Alex has the skill to one day become a No. 1 center in the NHL. He has terrific speed and great vision.

Twitter: @tkulfan