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Henry ready for scrutiny at NHL combine

Forward from Portage la Prairie soars up the draft boards with a strong rookie season in WHL

Supplied</p><p>Nick Henry had 35 goals and 81 points as rookie for the Regina Pats this season.</p>

Supplied

Nick Henry had 35 goals and 81 points as rookie for the Regina Pats this season.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/5/2017 (966 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Nick Henry let his performance on the ice do most of the talking during the 2016-17 hockey season.

The 17-year-old right-winger from Portage la Prairie was an unheralded prospect likely to be chosen in the middle rounds of the 2017 NHL Draft before he morphed into a serious candidate for the first round. He was rated 25th overall among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings.

Henry is attending the 2017 NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo, N.Y., where the league’s 31 teams will have an opportunity to watch 84 of the top North American prospects and the top 20 international prospects perform during Friday and Saturday’s fitness testing.

Before that, the teams will also have a chance for face-to-face meetings with the players. Henry, who scored 35 goals and 81 points in 72 games as a rookie with the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats, is scheduled to interview with 16 clubs this week.

What does Henry expect?

"It’s basically your most generic questions," Henry said via telephone Monday afternoon. "Who do you play like? Who do you model your game after in the NHL? What do you do in the off-season? What are your strengths and weaknesses?

"There will be questions you’ve answered before, but more in-depth, I’m thinking. I guess sometimes they may try to intimidate you, try to see how you react and how you really are as a person."

Henry wants the interviews to go smoothly, but he’s also hoping to find a good fit.

"You want to be drafted as high as possible but you also want to play on a team that believes in you and that you can sign with in the next couple of years and be an NHL player," said Henry, who decided to forego a hockey scholarship at Western Michigan University to join the Pats last fall. "I think I’ve opened some people’s eyes. I’m just a kid who came out of his hometown, playing junior A. At the beginning of the year I wasn’t on their radar. I think a lot of things fell into place this year in Regina."

The 5-11, 191-pounder has found an NHL comparison that makes sense for him and he will use it this week.

"I’ve been saying like a Travis Zajac (of the New Jersey Devils)," Henry said. "I’ve talked to a lot of people over the last few weeks and at my age, I think we have a lot of similarities. Teams are concerned about our skating. I think we have hockey sense and the ability to score goals and we both had something to fix and he’s had a pretty nice NHL career."

Agent Jason Taylor of Newport Sports Management, which represents combine invitees Henry, Stellio Mattheos of the Brandon Wheat Kings and Cody Glass of the Portland Winter Hawks, believes it’s a bad idea to over-prepare clients for the interview process. Taylor said Newport co-ordinates interviews during combine week and will help to prep players by giving them background on WHL players teams have drafted in the past.

"We don’t give them a canned response because the teams see through that right away," Taylor said. "We want the teams to see the personality. Probably the most important thing is to give the player an idea or identity of what he is and what kind of player he wants to be. Everybody wants to be a Crosby or an Ovechkin or Stamkos or one of (the other) top players in the game.

"But at the end of the day, with a lot of these players, we try to reinforce with them, ‘Look, you’ve gotta play this 210-foot game and be strong on the walls and be good in all areas, block shots, chips pucks in and out.’ It’s important for them to understand what kind of players these teams are translating or projecting them to be… If you’ve got this big, clunky, stay-at-home defenceman and he goes in there and tells them he’s going to be a power-play specialist, there’s going to be some red flags."

Rest assured, the queries won’t all be softballs. They should expect at least one trick question.

"They’ll ask them if they’ve had a beer or smoked a joint," Taylor said. "Just stuff to make them squirm a little bit, to see how they respond because they know they’re teenaged guys who are still trying to feel out life around hockey. (For) some guys, that’s an easier answer than others. They’ll put the screws to them or they’ll ask them about if they had a limiting team or ask about the coach or why your plus-minus was as bad as it was and make them defend their game a little bit.

"Like, ‘You’re telling me you’re a good defensive player, why were you minus this year? Are you blaming it on your teammates, are you blaming it on your system. How much of this is on you.’ Just to see how they handle some of the tougher questions."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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