Once a year, prospects from across the globe descend on the Harborcenter in Buffalo for a week of exhausting interviews and physical testing. The 2019 NHL Draft class was subjected to questions about pythons, forced to tell a joke on the spot, and then screamed on a bike while they tried their best to hold their breakfast down at 8:00 AM. We were able to catch up with many of them to gather their thoughts about the week and the draft process as a whole.
Tobias Björnfot, Defence, Djurgården, SHL
EOTP: How was the experience this week?
Björnfot: It was a fun experience, there was a lot at the combine, and it’s nice to be here now.
Was it intimidating to walk into the room and see all the scouts and NHL staff?
Ah, you know, it is always fun to show your best in front of people.
Were there any surprises, or things that were more difficult than expected?
Well, probably the Wingate, that was tougher than I expected. It was easier here than when I tried it back in Sweden, but it was still tough.
Was the interview process just as grueling as the physical testing this week?
It’s a good experience to have the interviews with all these clubs. It’s actually a bit fun, especially since this is my first time having interviews like this.
Victor Söderström, Defence, Brynas, SHL
How was the week, and did you come in with any objectives in mind?
It was a good experience, meeting with all the teams and meeting some of the other guys in my draft class during testing. I just try to be myself during the interviews and that’s about it.
What would an NHL team be getting in you if they draft you?
I think they will get a good two-way D, with an offensive upside, good on the power play, smooth skater, and good hockey sense.
There has been no shortage of great Swedish defencemen this last decade, who do you look up to the most?
Probably, uh, Nicklas Lidstrom, I watched him a ton in his last years, so probably him.
People have raved about your skating, is that something you put a lot of work into?
I work a lot on that, I have always done that, including working a lot with my dad on my skating and technique.
What is the one thing you wanted people to know about you when you left the room?
(Laughs) I don’t actually know! Probably that I’m a funny guy.
How would you rate your season?
It was good. In the beginning of the season my goal was to be a leading player on the junior team and maybe do a couple of practices or games in the SHL. For it to turn out the way that it did, I did not expect that. It was really a dream come true to play for the team I watched growing up in Brynäs.
Nils Höglander, Left Wing, Rögle BK, SHL
Can you walk us through your goal of the year?
It was something I had tried before, but it actually working, that was a first.
Does playing against men in the SHL help you develop better?
SHL is a bigger league, and I think it’s good for me to play against them.
What kind of player did you advertise yourself as to NHL teams this week?
I said that I love to use my speed and my creativity on the ice.
Albin Grewe, Centre/Right Wing, Djurgarden, SHL
What is that whole Wingate test like, would you rather do that or the interviews all over again?
Oh man, it is tough, it’s like 30 seconds as hard as you can and it’s tough. I had like 23 meetings this week, but I don’t really know between the two.
How did your interview with Montreal go?
It went good I think. It was actually fun, yeah.
What was your experience playing with the senior team in the SHL?
It was fun, and a good experience to see how the pros are going up there, it was just fun to be with them. It was something new for me; the play is bigger, and faster on the ice, and that was tough.
What NHL player do you pattern yourself after?
Brad Marchand (laughs), I like him. He likes to go under his opponent’s skin, and that’s something I like to do, too.
How do you feel about your coach calling you a T-Rex?
Yeah, it’s a fair description, he likes when I hit my opponents and get under the opponent’s skin.
When asked who he likes to watch play, Albin Grewe says he likes watching Brad Marchand and wants to get under his opponents skin like Boston’s star pest. pic.twitter.com/lOv7EIXlKg— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) June 1, 2019
Yegor Afanaseyev, Forward, Muskegon Lumberjacks, USHL
Gotta be tough doing all the testing, then getting screamed at on the Wingate test for a few minutes, eh?
Oh man, it was hard, I was dead for like three minutes after that (laughs). Good experience for my first time doing that test, though.
What are your plans for next season?
I decided that the college route isn’t for me, so I’m open to anything and wherever an NHL team might want me to go. It’s OHL, AHL, NHL I guess.
Was Montreal among your interviews this week?
Yeah, I interviewed with 27 teams and they were one of them. They were actually one of the fun ones, but I had 27 total teams to talk to so things were going smoothly overall.
Who are your role models or people you try to emulate?
Definitely my favourite player, Ilya Kovalchuk. He was born in a small town in Russia, too, but right now I like both Kovalchuk and Auston Matthews.
Samuel Bolduc, Defence, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL
Was testing as hard as you expected today?
I think I did really well out there today, I’ve been preparing most of this week for that test with my personal trainer and I think I did great.
How did your interviews go, particularly with Montreal?
They all went great, but it was something special to interview with the Montreal Canadiens. I grew up watching them on the TV and it’s special to know I might be drafted by them.
What are your best assets heading into the draft?
I’m a good two-way defender. I think I have a great body for a d-man, and have a lot of tools that can upgrade during the years. I try to model myself after Kris Letang right now. We both have the same agent, too.
Ryan Suzuki, Centre, Barrie Colts, OHL
On comparisons to his brother, current Canadiens prospect Nick:
Once the test results come in maybe I’ll compare our results, and maybe rub it in a little bit (laughs). Since I got drafted into the OHL it feels like there’s always been a comparison between us. It’s the easiest thing to do since we’re both brothers.
We’re two different players, even if our base game is the same; we rely heavily on our hockey sense to get around. Sometimes, it’s just something to deal with, it is what it is.
What sets you guys apart?
I think I’m more of a playmaker, while he’s more of a goal-scorer, I’m a better skater even though he might disagree — but a lot of people agree with me.
“I think I’m a better skater and a lot of people agree with me”-Ryan Suzuki on comparisons to his brother Nick pic.twitter.com/lZOKI2XuOQ— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) June 1, 2019
Mads Sogaard, Goaltender, Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL
What are your strongest attributes as a goaltender in this draft?
It’s a lot of on-ice stuff, I think I move really well for someone my size [6’7”]; I can get across my crease really fast. I’m excited to take time off the ice this summer to work on things, and then get back to making them happen on the ice.
What is is like to see another Danish netminder like Frederik Andersen have NHL success?
He’s a huge inspiration for me, obviously. I think that him being in the NHL as the only Danish goalie is a big motivation for me. It’s great to see that it’s actually possible to make it, I just have to keep working at it.
Philip Broberg, Defence, Skellefteå AIK, SHL
How did this week go, both the physical and interview side?
I think it went well. The biggest thing is to just go out there and try your best in the tests. I talked to 26 teams. I think it went pretty well, you just have to go in there and be honest and be the person you are.
Was this season a bit of a challenge as one of the younger guys playing?
Uh, I think it went pretty well. I started off good, playing a lot of minutes in the season. You’re going to meet adversity and have some missteps, but I think I came out well.
Samuel Fagemo, Left Wing/Right Wing, Frölunda, SHL
How was testing this week?
It was good — exciting. It was a new experience for me to come here and show my fitness testing and stuff like that. It is nice to be done, though; it was tough getting on the bike at the end of things.
What are your plans for summer?
I think I’ll go back to Sweden now, and start on summer practice, then it’s all up to what happens later with the draft.
You come from a powerhouse in Sweden in Frölunda, and have seen the success of players like Artturi Lehkonen. Does that give you confidence going into the draft?
Oh yeah, of course. It’s a great club. It’s nice to just get there and great to be able to use the facilities and the coaches and staff to help develop my game. It’s a great club and great city to play in with great fans, really fun to play there.
What are your plans for next season. Is North America an option?
I got a contract there in Frölunda, so I’ll still be there for next season.
What is the next step in development for you?
My defence. I need to take the time to work on my defence this summer so I can be on the right person or in the right space at the right time in the defensive zone.
Is hockey in the family?
Yeah, I have brothers, and they all play as well. They’re both getting better. It’s a big hockey family. It’s nice to be able to talk and play hockey with family.
Raphael Lavoie, Centre/Right Wing, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL
How was your week? It’s been a hectic month for you overall.
Was pretty busy. I got in here late and I had a lot of stuff to do and not a lot of time to do it. I was running around here a little.
How can you build on your deep playoff run in the QMJHL this year?
It’s great to learn from. I know what to expect and can be a much better leader next year if I go back to my Junior team and try to get a championship next year.
How would you sell yourself as a player to interested teams?
Good power forward. I have a good shot too, and great skills. I’m at my best when I bring the puck to the net, and generate some offence on that.
Thomas Harley, Defence, Mississauga Steelheads, OHL
What was the hardest part of this week and testing for you?
It was a pretty smooth run. Some of the tests were hard for me because I’m not a super, super strong guy, but the Wingate might have been the hardest overall.
What stood out the most to you this week?
Well, Montreal gave me this question about ‘would I rather be better than everyone else, or be the best’ and I thought that was a really good question. Either you’re just your personal best, or you’re helping to win, and I want to win.
How did you feel your season went in the OHL? What can you improve on?
I thought it went pretty well, but it can always be better. I’m not happy just staying where I’m at. So I’ll take that motivation this summer and work on getting better again next year. My defensive consistency is all over the place, that is something I need to work on, and also working on my shot.
How do you see yourself as a player?
I like to get up the ice and make plays. I consider myself a two-way defender, but like I said I need to work on my defensive game first.
Moritz Seider, Defence, Adler Mannheim, DEL
How was your week? Feels like you haven’t stopped much with Worlds happening so close to this event.
Pretty good I would say. It was really fun to meet every guy that was here, and I’ve never been a part of something like this before, so it was pretty cool.
On interviewing with all 31 teams
It was fun to meet with all the organizations and every single guy. I didn’t think there were any strange or difficult meetings, so I think that was good.
What is it like to come from a less-renowned hockey country, and have so much hype around you?
I mean it is pretty exciting. Pretty fun too. It was great playing in a pro hockey league and that is a big part of why I’m standing here in front of you guys today. I’m going to represent the whole of Germany when I play and I’m really proud of it.
What are the challenges of playing in a men’s league at such a young age?
Getting stronger day by day and playing with guys who might have a [Stanley] Cup, or 700 NHL games in the past makes it pretty competitive. It took a bit of time to get in there and feel comfortable, but I think in the end I finished up strong, playing a very good World Championship.
Is your plan to stay in Germany or will you come over to North America?
You always have to figure out what is best for yourself I think. I have a contract in Mannheim until 2021, why not stay there and be a leader going forward in Mannheim?
What are you looking to improve on?
I can always work on things, but my biggest thing is working on my acceleration and being faster on the ice, and in my first four steps. I think in the future on small ice that will be a huge advantage.
Was there an adjustment from World Juniors to the DEL?
It was mainly great to spend time with people my age at the World Juniors, but I still felt very good going back to pro hockey afterward. When you have the chance to jump into pro hockey as a 17-year-old kid you don’t want to lose that position. I held myself back a bit those first few months just to make a solid job in the defensive zone.
Later on in the year my game had changed. I was a different player, jumping up in O-zone plays and carrying the puck through the neutral zone.
Any surprises this week?
I didn’t know what to expect with the interviews, so I didn’t even bring a suit! Worse was I didn’t even have dress shoes with me, either. But that shouldn’t be the important part of the interview since teams want to know about me. At least if I met with teams for dinner I could show off my style (laughs).