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How I ran an NHL Combine Interview
Leading up to the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, I was invited by Dr. Meg Popovic, then the Director of Player Well-Being for the Toronto Maple Leafs, to create a better interview process for prospects at the Buffalo combine.
Up to that point I had never been part of such an interview, either as an athlete or a team staff member. However, I had experienced life under a microscope via some unusual life experiences (which you can read about on Bill West’s newsletter), so the pressure and stakes associated with the scenario were not new to me.
From the outset, I disagreed with the traditional draft combine process, which consisted of a variety of physical tests (pull-ups, jumps, etc.) that didn’t strongly correlate with future NHL performance and in-person interviews that sometimes lacked seriousness (“what’s your sprit animal?”).
If I sat down with a prospective player for 15 minutes, I would most want to know two things:
Does this player have strong hockey-specific pattern recognition skills relative to his peers
Does this player love the game and have the desire to improve when challenged
And so I build out a testing methodology which relied on temporal occlusion, a video-based technique well-understood by baseball, volleyball and tennis researchers seeking to understand “game sense” and anticipation.
Two players stood out from the pack:
Nick Robertson for his intensity and interest for video analysis (“would make an excellent hockey ops intern for TOR,” I noted)
Nick Abruzzese for his uncanny ability to read the play (“elite hockey IQ”)
I made the test more difficult for Abruzzese than anyone else, and yet he was still able to recall details and accurately predict where the puck was headed with close to a 100% accuracy.
TOR ended up selecting both players in Vancouver weeks later.