For the first time since 2019, the NHL was able to hold their annual Draft Combine to put some of the top 2022 draft prospects through the riggers of intense fitness testing, while also having an opportunity for face-to-face meetings with attendees.
Two of those attendees were Owen Pickering and Josh Filmon who were among the 96 players invited to the combine which was held in Buffalo, N.Y., May 30 to June 4. The two actually found out they were invited to the event while the Broncos season was still going, on March 25.
“It was super exciting,” said Pickering. “It’s a very cool opportunity. Coming back from the Top Prospects Game and then finding out was pretty special.”
Over two months after finding out they were invited, Pickering and Filmon made their way to Buffalo after a one-night stay in Toronto on the way down.
“The travel wasn’t bad at all,” Filmon said. “We got to Toronto pretty quickly and I roomed with another guy from Winnipeg, Tyler Brennan. Getting to Toronto early and having a night to spend with all the guys. It was all really professional and we were all treated really well.”
The next morning, all the Canadian players jumped on a bus and travelled through Niagara Falls over the border into New York to get ready for the week of interviews and testing.
Not every team talks to every player throughout the week, but there are some players who do talk to each team. Pickering was one of them.
“Different teams have different styles,” Pickering said. “Some teams will show you video clips and grill you a little bit so it keeps you on your toes. You get a few odd questions thrown in there too. One I can remember was ‘If you could choose one food type, sweet or salty, to have forever, which would you choose?'”
Filmon said the strangest question he was asked was what type of animal he thinks he would be.
While players do interviews throughout the season, sometimes in person, both players said walking into rooms and shaking hands with NHL general managers and executives is still a surreal experience.
“I had a meeting with Edmonton and one of their head scouts is the highest Swift Current Bronco ever drafted into the NHL,” Filmon said. “There’s a bit of relation there in the sense that he’s a guy who has literally walked in my shoes. He was a really nice guy and we talked a little bit about Swift Current and how my experience has been compared to his. Those relationships are fun and there was a lot of interesting people there.”
That scout was Tyler Wright, who was drafted 12th overall by the Oilers in 1991. Both Filmon and Pickering commented that meeting Steve Yzerman was a highlight.
Before heading down to the combine, both players asked plenty of questions to guys they work out with during the offseason who have been to the combine in previous years, looking for insight on what to expect from both the interviews and the fitness testing.
The first few days of the combine were mostly reserved for interviews before the fitness testing began later in the week. That included the VO2 max test, where players jump on a stationary bike and are hooked up to a machine that measures heart rate and also wear a mask to measure the amount of oxygen he is utilizing during maximal exercise.
It’s an event that is famous for its difficulty year after year, yet Pickering took full advantage.
“I won it,” he said proudly. “You just go until your legs won’t let you anymore. I wouldn’t say I expected to win it, but it’s a test where you go until you quit, and it’s really hard for me to quit. So I went until I couldn’t anymore and then I threw up afterwards.”
Pickering’s time on the VO2 max test was 15:30, 29 seconds higher than the second-place finisher which was Calle Odelius of Sweden.
Filmon admits he was nervous before his turn on the bike, but there’s no lack of motivation during an event like that.
“I was one of the last guys to go in my group,” he said. “I had everyone telling me it’s so bad. You’re standing around before it’s your turn so I was definitely nervous. They put the heart rate monitor on me and I was already at like 125 before I even started the test. All this is a bench mark for if and when teams are going to draft you. The most important thing is your effort level and how hard you push yourself. That’s what people are looking for.”
With the NHL Draft now just a month away, set for July 7 and 8 in Montreal, the excitement continues to build with each passing day.
“I’m super excited,” Pickering said. “It’s hard to not be nervous about it, but it’s something you have to enjoy. I’m going to go to Montreal with my family and just enjoy the experience from there.”
Pickering says there will be about 25 family members there with him, a lot of whom he and Moose Jaw Warriors defenceman Denton Mateychuk share as the two are cousins.
Filmon is undecided on whether or not he’ll go to Montreal for the draft, but knows it’s going to be a special day for the Broncos organization either way.
“It would be tons of fun to go to Montreal, but it would also be great to share that moment and celebrate with my family and friends out at the lake,” he said. “I’m just excited at this point. As a group we’ve got a lot of guys who are in contention to have their name called. It’s going to be great to share that experience with my teammates and then regroup with everyone in the fall in Swift Current.”