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What Does the Combine Bench Press Gauge for NHL Prospects?

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The world-record holder in bench pressing, who has lifted over 400 kilograms, would like to find out.

Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

This is a translation of the original article by JP Mikola at Kiekkoareena. Translated with permission.

“It first struck me how many watts could I produce myself,” chuckles the mighty Finnish weightlifter Fredrik Smulter.

Smulter, who has lifted 400 kilograms (882 pounds) in bench press with straight arms, followed with interest the results of the NHL Scouting Combine held in Buffalo featuring the [NHL] prospects born in 2000.

The traditional bench press that’s Smulter’s bread and butter had been changed into a form where one would lift three times at full power with 50% of the body weight.

The best of the pool of one hundred prospects was Rasmus Kupari from Kärpät, Finnish League. The 5’11’’ and 74 kilogram (163-pound) prospect lifted approximately 40 kilograms. His [power output] of 8.25 watts/kg doesn’t tell much for an amateur. The thing remains, it doesn’t say a lot - even for an established pro in bench. That’s why Smulter cannot say what his own result would have been.

“Unfortunately I cannot say. The kind of device used (in Buffalo) costs many thousand euros and is not common in Europe. Even I haven’t ever tested such [a device],” says Smulter, who weighed 150 kilograms (330 pounds) during his active years.

“In the US that form of measurement is more used. Not only is the amount of weight lifted tracked, but also the power output of one’s body in watts.

“If one doesn’t want to measure the maximum weight lifted, or the number of repeats, then that’s a good call. And even though it’s maybe a bit snobbish, it yields an identical testing environment to all at the very least.”

At the NHL Scouting Combine the young promising prospects were tested with various physical tests. The total number of tests was 20, but in some — for example, body fat analysis — the prospects didn’t need to catch their breath or put sweat on.

The tests have been checked over for some improvements almost every year. This time, the bench press had been remodeled. In past years the bench wasn’t stomped with the heaviest iron load possible, but instead of the lifting maximum, the amount of repeats was measured with 70-80% of one’s body weight. Using this method, the top [prospects] reached around 20 repeats in previous years.

“Bench press strength doesn’t necessarily apply in hockey at all. Of course the upper body strength has partially to do with the shot, especially the slap shot. Twenty years ago, when dudes like Joni Lehto and Pasi Saarela played, it was more meaningful than today,” says Smulter.

“Today the traditional slap shot isn’t even used that much. It isn’t actually in demand the way it used to be. And the sticks have changed so that one can shoot hard with lesser strength.”

Even though the detailed information is not familiar to him, considering the means used to measure power output in watts, the strength training expert has a distinct command on what to look for:

“Upper body receptivity/sensitivity and speed.”

Smulter has a crystal clear view on what body part of a hockey player should be the most fortified.

“If we think about skating and strength in 1 vs. 1 battles, hip and groin strength is essential, not only that of the thighs. You need those in skating and those are what make the famous ‘hockey butt’.

“Skating needs to be extremely powerful in order to succeed. Abdominals and back muscles then add the strength (in 1-on-1 battles).”

Throughout the years the ideal body figure of a hockey player has turned into a more light-built one.

There’s no reason, though, to carry that forward to the level where one would claim a miler type of a body [ed. note: a reference to a long-distance runner] would be fashionable in hockey. That’s why the upper body needs to have vigour, in addition to some size.

“I need to address this, even though some don’t maybe like it; of course it is easier to drive to the net and battle in corners knowing one is stronger than the opponents,” Smulter grins.

He says he’s been given the same message by Team Finland hockey player Oskar Osala, whose strength conditioning he’s been following and assisting over the years.

In a contact sport such as hockey the muscles aren’t of any intrinsic value, but in many situations they serve as a protective buffer.

“That’s what Osku (Osala) has been saying: if there’s not enough mass in the shoulders that increases the risk of injuries,” Smulter notes.

The Finnish prospects at the NHL Scouting Combine who were on display were Rasmus Kupari, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Sampo Ranta and Niklas Nordgren, the last of whom wasn’t able to attend full time due to an injury situation.

All the prospects who attended the Combine are potential draftees in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft taking place at Solstice [June 22]. Beside physical tests, the Combine event offered an opportunity for NHL teams to interview the prospects.