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2 Measures NHL Coaches Use to Draft Players

It’s tough to care about the NHL combine: there are no sport-specific tests and the results don’t seem to impact draft position. Why does the NHL bother?

About 50%. That’s the difference between a 1st and 2nd round pick becoming an NHL player. A lot is on the line with the NHL draft and scouting departments have plenty to consider when looking for new players. The combine tested over 100 players this year, which could cover three rounds of the Draft. This gives scouts the opportunity to vet NHL draft prospects that are right on the cutoff between rounds 1 and 2. This testing helps reduce risk by forecasting how a prospect’s body will hold up at the NHL level. We’re going to look at two of the ways that strength coaches combine objective measurements with subjective analysis to reduce the risk of a failed pick: testing differentials and body composition.


Public Info Courtesy of NHL Scouting


Testing Differentials

All strength coaches are interested in one thing at the NHL combine: can this prospect compete against men? There are a lot of tests at the combine but we’re going to focus on two bike tests: the VO2 Max test and the Wingate Cycle Ergometer test.

  • VO2 Max test demonstrates endurance by having a prospect pedal for as long as they can.
  • The Wingate Cycle Ergometer test measures power by taking the maximum pedal capacity at a specific load based on their weight.

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While many sports websites focus on the NHL Combine leaderboards, the difference between these two tests is what really matters. This where the subjective viewpoint of the strength coach comes into play: anyone could analyze the numbers and choose the highest scores; strength coaches take all the information into consideration to reduce risk of a player flaming out.


How do testing differentials lead to meaningful insight? The difference between the tests could show the prevalence of slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscles. Ideally, a hockey player should have a slightly higher fast-twitch ratio since the game is played at high levels of speed. This is valuable information to a strength coach but can only be measured with a muscle biopsy, so coaches hypothesize about the muscle structure using testing differentials.


A high VO2 score and a low Wingate score potentially means that the athlete is slow-twitch muscle dominant, while the opposite could mean that the athlete is fast-twitch muscle dominant. An athlete with fast-twitch muscle fibers would be preferable since hockey is primarily an anaerobic sport that demands power. This information helps scouts build stronger player profiles.


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Body Composition

Body Composition Chart Showing Somatotypes: Ectomorph, Mesomorph, Endomorph

Figure 1 Courtesy of Wikipedia

While NHL Combine testing differentials help determine muscle composition, strength coaches have another tool to assess bone density: body composition. Bone density could help determine the training challenges each prospect faces. These are the dominant body-types according to strength training. They are a subjective assessment done by a strength coach to determine how to train an athlete. The coach has to decide if a prospect is an Ectomorph, a Mesomorph, or an Ectomorph. Each body type has features that indicate the most effective training method.

  • An Ectomorph is typically above average height, with lean stringy muscles, and has a fast metabolism. Michael Jordan is a great example of an ectomorph.
  • A Mesomorph has naturally athletic build. These are the kids getting picked first for dodgeball. They have large bone structure and generally large muscles.
  • An Endomorph is generally bigger than the other two body types and has an easier time gaining weight. This body type is described as stockier and they have a slow metabolism but can put on serious muscle if they manage their workouts properly.


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This assessment, like the difference between the VO2 and Wingate tests, is a proxy for a meaningful insight: bone density. Some strength coaches consider bone density as a good marker for muscle growth. For example, a Mesomorph has greater bone density than an Ectomorph and therefore has the potential to add more muscle. This is a measurement that means something to strength coaches. Muscle type and body composition can help a strength coach understand how well a prospect’s body will hold up in the NHL.

Scouts have a lot of variables to consider when scouting a player: on-ice statistics, personality profiles, and coach’s recommendations. The Wingate and VO2 test adds a meaningful insight to these metrics: doesn’t matter how talented a player is if their body can’t handle the stress of the NHL. The body composition can help forecast how much muscle a player can add. Again, these are not insights that would make or break a prospect’s NHL future but add valuable data to the scouting department and help reduce risk.


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