Top prospects Bennett, Kapanen survive Combine
TORONTO -- Forwards Samuel Bennett of the Ontario Hockey League's Kingston Frontenacs and Kasperi Kapanen of KalPa in Finland's Liiga certainly had their share of good and bad moments during the fitness stage of the 2014 NHL Scouting Combine at Toronto International Centre on Saturday.
The good news is that both blue-chip prospects completed all the required tests in the morning. The bad news is they each "lost it" after undergoing the grueling VO2 Max bike test that measures the endurance capability of a player's heart, lungs and muscles.
"The bikes were interesting," Bennett said. "I didn't really hear the people shouting at me too much. I was more focused on my burning legs. I guess they were there to motivate and it helped a little.
"I didn't hold down my breakfast too well."
Bennett, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, was ninth in the Ontario Hockey League with 91 points in 57 games. He led Kingston in points, goals (36), assists (55), plus/minus rating (plus-34) and power-play goals (10). He also had a league-best 25-game scoring streak in which he scored 17 goals and 46 points.
Kapanen, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of international skaters eligible for the 2014 Draft, had seven goals and 14 points in 47 games for KalPa this season.
He had a different take on the men and women yelling words of encouragement into his ear.
"I actually thought the first [Wingate Ergometer bike test] was the toughest," Kapanen said. "You've got that guy screaming at you and you just want to smack him at the same time.
"The second [VO2 bike] test is hard because you just kind of get exhausted. It's not that bad at first but then you get a little light-headed and I think I puked a little after that. It wasn't that fun."
Both players were under the microscope from the moment they stepped onto the floor to begin the four body composition tests (standing height, wingspan, body weight, skinfold fat measurements). They would eventually push through the 11 individual fitness tests designed to shake them to the very core by utilizing every ounce of cardiovascular and muscle strength available.
The tests were conducted in front of many NHL scouts and general managers looking to find any hint of weakness.
With Bennett and Kapanen, there weren't too many weaknesses to be found as both athletes proved their determination, courage and desire to be the best.
"I was pretty gassed after those bike tests but it's a good thing to have these tests to see who's in shape and who's not," Kapanen said. "The interviewing phase earlier in the week was all about the season; the same questions were asked 26 times so it was kind of frustrating, but I enjoyed the experience for sure."
Bennett was disappointed he was unable to do a pull-up, one of three new tests at the Scouting Combine this year, but shrugged it off when questioned during his post-fitness media scrum.
"My upper body isn't really my strong suit," Bennett said. "I was disappointed in myself; I always want to do the best I can in every test but I guess ultimately games aren't won or lost if you can do a pull-up in the gym. So I'm not too worried about it."
Bennett was asked what sets him apart from the other top prospects in this year's draft class.
"There are so many great players in the draft this year but it's a culmination of my hockey sense and compete level," he said. "I think I compete hard, if not harder than anyone else so that's my strongest asset."
Bennett, named the Canadian Hockey League's top prospect of the year, scored 18 more goals, 33 more assists, 51 more points and went from a minus-2 to a plus-34 rating in three fewer regular-season games in 2013-14. He also showcased an edge to his game, as evidenced by his 118 penalty minutes.
"I've watched the draft for the past four or five years, so it's definitely a dream of mine to be a part of it," Bennett said. "I was always hoping someday I could be there and to think that in a month it will come true is pretty cool."
Both players are looking forward to participating in the draft in Philadelphia on June 27-28. Kapanen, whose father, Sami, played for the Philadelphia Flyers, is familiar with the City of Brotherly Love. He was asked what the equivalent of a Philly cheesesteak is in Finland.
"There isn't any of that stuff [in Finland]; we try to eat healthy and that's not working out too well," Kapanen said with a grin.
Bennett will be in Philadelphia for the first time and is looking forward to the experience.
"I'm excited the draft is in Philadelphia," Bennett said. "I think there will be between 10 and 12 family members and friends at the draft and definitely my parents and my sister [Kaitlyn] will be right beside me."