Saturday is the last day of the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, New York, with fitness testing, final measurements and media availability for all invitees. An unexpected omission from the fitness testing portion though was none other than presumptive No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes. Hughes was schedule to undergo the numerous fitness testing programs, but he opted out instead. Speaking with the media, including The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington, Hughes simply said that after a long season he didn’t feel the need to further prove himself.
The phenom forward just wrapped up a World Championship tournament that came after a full season with the U.S. National Team Development Program and stints at the U-20 and U-18 World Junior Championships. While Hughes has been busy playing hockey this last month, the vast majority of combine participants have instead been preparing for the specific fitness tests. Hughes accurately compared undergoing fitness testing without preparing to taking a test and not studying. There is little question as to where Hughes will be selected later this month and thus no upside to his participation. It also helps his case that Kaapo Kakko, the only player who could push Hughes from the top spot in the draft, skipped the combine entirely to celebrate his World Championship victory with Finland back home.
- The minor deviations of height and weight recorded at the combine generally don’t make much of difference to NHL teams putting together their draft boards. However, sometimes those numbers are worth noting, and one top goalie prospect in particular turned some heads this year. Danish keeper Mads Sogaard of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers received an official height measurement of 6-foot-7.5. As The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler notes, that would make Sogaard the tallest goalie in the NHL if and when he reaches that level. Devan Dubnyk, Ben Bishop and the like all pale in comparison to Sogaard, whom NHL Central Scouting ranked as its No. 2 goalie prospect. Size is a trait all teams value in their netminders, but combine Sogaard’s 99th-percentile height and his substantial talent, and you likely have a second-round pick in the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft. One last fun fact about Sogaard’s measurement: He is officially more than a foot taller than fellow top prospect Cole Caufield; the USNTDP sniper came in at 5-foot-7.25.
- Forward Marcus Kallionkieli was a popular player for the gathered media on Saturday — and likely for teams as well this week — as there are still so few answers about his future. Kallionkieli came over from Finland this season to play in the USHL, in hopes of eventually landing in the NCAA. However, a year has passed, and he is still without a college commitment. It certainly is not due to a lack of talent, as Kallionkieli was considered the top uncommitted player in the league this year, but for one reason or another, Kallionkieli lacks an NCAA team to play for next season. As such, Wheeler relays the news straight from Kallionkieli that his plan for now is to return to the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers next season, which would keep the possibility of following the collegiate route open. So too would a return to Finland, albeit a less helpful choice if he is trying to land a long-term fit stateside. Yet, Kallionkieli also mentioned that he would consider playing in the CHL for whoever selects him in the CHL Import Draft. That decision would put an end to his NCAA hopes but would be just as acceptable for a developmental path. There are likely more details about Kallionkieli’s decisions that are not available to the public but have been disclosed to teams, as the Finnish forward does not want to come off as being indecisive or malcontent. As for what his performance on the ice says, Kallionkieli was a near point-per-game scorer this season and has great hands and offensive instincts. He continues to be pegged as a third-round pick at worst, despite the mystery surrounding his future.