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‘It’s a good tool for us’: How the Flyers’ front office approaches and aims to utilize the NHL draft combine

Flyers assistant GM Brent Flahr and assistant to the GM Danny Brière reveal what parts of the combine they value, which they don't and its place within the yearlong scouting process.

Assistant GM Brent Flahr says the Flyers are focusing on getting bigger and stronger this year. The team holds the No. 5 pick in July's draft.
Assistant GM Brent Flahr says the Flyers are focusing on getting bigger and stronger this year. The team holds the No. 5 pick in July's draft.Read moreZACK HILL / Philadelphia Flyers

Listening to Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr list the tests that prospects go through at the NHL draft combine, Danny Brière started to laugh.

The combine didn’t exist when Brière was a prospect in 1996, and he was trying to picture what it would have been like for him to go through those tests as an 18-year-old.

“I think I weighed 140 pounds, and I was probably 5-foot-8 at the most,” Brière said. “My scores would have been way at the bottom, if not last.”

» READ MORE: NHL draft combine: Previewing each test the top prospects will be put through this week

Despite his lack of size and strength at 18, Brière went on to play 973 NHL games, score 307 goals, and make two All-Star teams. Now, at his first NHL combine as part of the Flyers’ front office, Brière is learning how to approach the event considering the participants are so young with much more growth and development before them.

“You can make mistakes at the combine,” Flahr said. “You’ve got to remember these kids are at different scales of maturity. So you don’t get too carried away.”

The Flyers haven’t attended a combine since 2019 as the previous two were canceled because of COVID-19. They’ve watched the players and built profiles, but nothing compares to making in-person evaluations. Flahr and Brière, along with all of their full-time amateur scouts and their strength and conditioning staff, will watch closely as players go through the different elements of the combine in Buffalo, N.Y. — the medical examinations, team interviews, and physical tests.

Some tests translate well to hockey, like the jump tests that provide good indications of a player’s skating power. The medical staff watches those closely, but Flahr doesn’t need to be there himself. A piece of paper with the results is enough for him and the scouts. Other tests, like the bench press, don’t interest Flahr at all. And then some, like the VO2 max and Wingate bike tests, are more about the process than the results.

“A lot of it is how hard they compete to finish it off or when they quit,” Flahr said. “You’ll see some guys will power through it and some guys are just like ‘I don’t need to do this.’ Sometimes it’s the top player that doesn’t feel like doing it.”

Evaluating the physical tests provides a real challenge for the scouts, Flahr said, because “obviously, we’re not dealing with the NFL where their guys are 20 to 22 years old and physically mature.” Brière even said one player told them his roommate made him shave despite his beard’s consisting of few hairs. It was the second time he’d ever shaved.

Sometimes players who test through the roof are small and underdeveloped, meaning they have room for improvement as they get older. Others already have impressive physiques but may not have the same high ceilings. Then there are those who have both the impressive physique and high ceiling, like one player they saw who Flahr believes is going to be “huge.”

“It’s not a perfect science, but we’ll get as much information as we can and try to make the best judgment,” Flahr said.

They take a similar approach to the interview process. Just like the players’ growth varies, their maturity levels do as well. There are players who are in high school as well as those in college. Some left home early to play in a junior league or participated in a national team development program.

The Flyers also keep in mind that not everyone has mastered the English language yet. That obviously has an impact on their interviews because some of the international prospects are still learning and have trouble getting their points across as eloquently as they would in their native languages.

Flahr said they try not to place too much weight on the interview answers, although they do like to see how players respond to challenging questions. Brière added that it’s a good opportunity to get to know them beyond the reports they read.

“You feel their energy, and if they’re shy or outgoing, if they have a presence,” Brière said.

Flahr and Brière have also seen the prospects in game situations, giving them an idea of a player’s competition level, his skating, and his skill. The scouts have been evaluating the players for years and have done their research, beyond just watching the prospects play. They try to dig in deeper, talking to equipment guys, teachers, etc., to build a more rounded profile. Flahr and Brière have each read the scouts’ extensive reports, so they feel they have a good idea of who players are ahead of the combine.

» READ MORE: ‘I puked ... but I did pretty well’: Current and former Flyers reflect on their wackiest NHL combine experiences

“So we’re just going more for confirmation of a lot of things,” Flahr said.

With the No. 5 pick in the draft on July 7, Flahr said the Flyers will be “at the mercy” of the teams that go before them, but they already have a good idea of which players they want. In the first round, he said they try to go for the best combination of biggest, fastest, strongest, and most skilled. As the draft goes on, some rounds will be about finding players with specific traits — for example, Flahr said the Flyers are focusing on getting bigger and stronger this year — while other rounds will simply be about choosing the best remaining player.

For as careful as the Flyers are not to put too much stock into the combine, there are still chances for prospects to improve — or worsen — their standings with the team. Whether it’s their scores or competition level in the physical tests, their thoughtfulness in interviews, or simply the way they interact with others in the hotel lobby, the prospects have several moments throughout the week to make the case that they should be picked at No. 5.

“It’s a good tool for us, and I’m glad it’s back,” Flahr said.