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Playing in Winnipeg a fine prospect

Draft-eligible players relish the thought

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There are just more than two more unbearable weeks of waiting left for this year's stable of top NHL prospects.

The wait may be the easy part after the league's top 100 ranked draft-eligible players were put through a gruelling five days of interviews and physical and fitness testing in Toronto last week. All with NHL scouts and general managers observing at close range.

"You're definitely in the spotlight out here," said defenceman Scott Mayfield of St. Louis, a projected late first-round pick. "I enjoyed it though."

Winnipeg's new NHL franchise will have the seventh pick in the draft, and while you'd have to think a forward and especially a centre might be the team's focus as far as filling holes go, the draft is never that predictable.

One of the players who might fit the bill and could land in Winnipeg's range is centre Ryan Strome of Mississauga, Ont. He's ranked sixth by The Hockey News and eighth by NHL central scouting.

"The other day, when the announcement (in Winnipeg) was made, that was one of my lightest days for interviews so I sat and watched it all day," Strome said. "It's an interesting process and if I do happen to get drafted there, what a great opportunity, but at the same time, any team will be fantastic. It's the NHL. I'm not going to be too picky.

"Still, everyone, family, friends, wants to know where you're going. I'm not too sure right now. The rankings are part of the game but at the end of the day, every team has their own draft list. It's a waiting game."

Belleville, Ont.'s Alan Quine, also a centre, is ranked 72nd by NHL central scouting and 62nd by THN, which is likely somewhere in the third round.

He, too, grinned at the thought of playing in Winnipeg, because it's, well, in Canada.

"That would be amazing," said Quine, who placed in the top 10 of the combine's demanding aerobic VO2 bike test. "Canada's the best, a Canadian market, it's got the best fans, the best atmosphere. We all dream about playing on Hockey Night in Canada.

"And if it's the new team in Winnipeg, that would be amazing because they're going to have a sellout every game. That would be something special if it ever happened."

Quine said the fitness routine last week was draining.

"You can do what you want in the gym, bike all you want, but nothing compares to this bike test" he said. "The intensity and weight, it's just not the same. But it's a good experience, great that you get to show your stuff."

Strome's strengths in junior have been to show an immense capability for creativity. He rocketed from 27 to 106 points in the OHL in just one year with Niagara.

Familiar with creating buzz, he said he admired what he saw in Winnipeg last week.

"If you think about it, it's a pretty big thing," Strome said. "Franchises don't move too often. I think it's great for Canada and great for hockey and I'm not really surprised about all the buzz."

He said Friday's fitness testing was beyond what he expected.

"You can practise the tests all you want but once you get in there, they're a lot harder than you'd ever expect," said Strome. "You work as hard as you can and at the end of the day, it's a learning process and you get to compare yourself against other guys."

He had interviews with 21 teams last week.

"My roommate had 29, so I feel lucky," he laughed.

Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson said the challenge of combine week is to sort out the information available.

"It's a question of balancing and weighing everything but certainly this is a piece of the puzzle," he said of the fitness testing on Friday. "The meetings ... we're trying to analyze what a player is like and how he'd be as a future teammate.

"Me, I put more stock in meeting the person, looking him in the eye and seeing how they react to different questions. But it doesn't compare to what you see on the ice."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 7, 2011 C2

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