The Buffalo Sabres and National Hockey League jointly confirmed today that the NHL's annual Scouting Combine will be held at HarborCenter in 2015 and 2016.
More than 100 draft eligible prospects and their families, and numerous officials from all 30 NHL teams attend the annual event, which has been in Toronto since 1999. Media coverage has also increased in recent years, including broadcasts by TSN in Canada that are likely to continue with the new Rogers/Sportsnet deal that begins this season
Skill testing of the draftees are held on a Saturday, and proceeded by five days of meetings and interviews for the teams and the prospects. The event is usually held in late May, with the week of May 25 the likely target for 2015.
"It just seemed like a natural fit with what Terry and Kim Pegula are doing now with this location," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior executive vice president of hockey operations. "It's certainly opening up the eyes of people in the National Hockey League."
Campbell said the league opened the Combine for bidding to cities throughout the NHL and had plenty of interest in serving as host. In the end, Buffalo was selected over a bid by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Said Campbell: "Buffalo was heads and toes above everybody else in being able to host the Combine."
The Toronto version of the Combine has been most recently at The International Centre convention hall in suburban Mississauga. The preceding five days of interviews and medical exams were held at the Westin Bristol Place hotel.
The Sabres' plan is for testing to be held at one rink in HarborCenter, where the ice will be taken out, and teams will be able to use suites in First Niagara Center to conduct interviews. They had previously been forced to rent an extra hotel room to do those.
Among those expected to take part in the 2015 combine are Erie Otters center Connor McDavid and Boston University center Jack Eichel. They are expected to be the top two picks of the 2015 Draft at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., home of the Florida Panthers.
Campbell said "there's a good chance" the Combine could continue in Buffalo beyond the current two-year commitment.
"It's a no-brainer. Hosting the Combine in a one-of-a-kind three-rink campus will allow the league to grow this property as it sees fit," said Sabres president Ted Black.
Campbell said he does not anticipate players skating at the Combine, as most scouts and agents are against players doing that because many have been off the ice for a couple of months after their seasons. He said the league has not determined if fans will be allowed to watch the testing, although Black said the Sabres are pondering some sort of FanFest activities during the week the Combine is in town.
In other news:
---Black confirmed the Sabres will be bidding on the 2016 NHL Draft, reiterated the franchise's interst in hosting the 2018 World Junior Championships and said the Sabres would also like to bid on a future NHL All-Star Game. That event has not been here since 1978.
"Fill in the blanks," Black said. "That's what we're interested in. We want this to be the place where every player that makes it to the NHL has been here."
---Black confirmed that the Sabres' season-ticket base has exceeded 15,000 for the sixth straight year.
"Every day I tell our staff, 'Prepare for greatness' as we continue our plan to rebuild this team into a championship franchise," Black said. "We're no longer rebuilding. With the work that Tim Murray and the rest of our team is doing, we're just plain building right now."
---Campbell said the league is interested in bringing its officials' training camp to Buffalo in 2015 and may set up a permanent Center for Officiating Excellence at HarborCenter.