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The WHL’s Dallas Combine Is Another Sign of Hockey’s Growth in the South

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From Auston Matthews to Blake Coleman, the investment the NHL has made south of the Mason Dixon line is paying dividends.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As the Dallas Stars season slogs its way to the end of a disappointing campaign, a fantastic reminder of the big picture emerged. The Western Hockey League, one of the three major junior hockey leagues that dominates prospect development north of the border, is bringing a prospect combine to the Lone Star State.

There is at least one major junior combine already in the United States - the QMJHL began one in New England last year - and the USHL holds one as well targeting prospects who are considering the NCAA route. Of the three major junior leagues, the WHL appears to hold the most, with five already taking place in Canada in addition to the one in Dallas.

Combines, which allow players who believe they have the skills to play at the major junior level to be evaluated by league personnel in person, are a sign that the WHL sees a potential prospect pool in the south and southwest, something that’s not surprising when you look at the league’s rosters. There were 57 American-born players in the WHL last year, 14 hailing from “Sun Belt” states such as California, Texas, Arizona and Nevada.

It’s been the argument of the NHL all along - if the game is expanded into places without a historical tie to high-level professional leagues, people (including children) will fall in love with the game, and least some will forgo other sports to pursue hockey instead. Thus, expansion not only opens up new sources of revenue that aren’t already flowing into an NHL team (as opposed to shunting a fan from Hamilton’s loyalty from the Maple Leafs to a local team), it also increases the quality of player.

This has been illustrated brilliantly this year through the success of Auston Matthews, a born-and-raised player from the Phoenix metro area who fell in love with the Coyotes as a child and pursued the sport to its highest level. He is a player who would never have come to hockey had the league not expanded south.

Similarly, the number of Texas-born NHL players has grown by 50 percent in the last two years alone as Stefan Noesen, Nicolas Kerdiles and Blake Coleman all made their NHL debuts since 2015. Seth Jones, who was born in Dallas and refined his game here as a teenager, had another strong season with the playoff bound Columbus Blue Jackets.

Given this, it’s no surprise the leagues that make their name by producing prospects want to tap into the market and evaluate more local talent by bringing their scouts to the area. Scouts from Kelowna, after all, don’t have a great read on the players and prospects from Frisco, and video packages aren’t the same as seeing a player in person.

Here’s the information on the upcoming combine:

Calgary, Alta. – The Western Hockey League (WHL), in partnership with the Dallas Stars, announced today that they will be hosting a WHL Prospect Combine in Dallas, Texas from May 20-21, 2017.

This two-day event will be held at the Dr Pepper StarCenter – Farmers Branch, and is open to players born 2001 to 2005. The two-day event will feature on- and off-ice Combine testing, on- and off-ice player development practices, a WHL Information Session, a Player Nutrition Seminar and game competition. Player registration is open to all players who are playing the competitive hockey stream.

“Youth hockey in the western part of the United States has grown immensely over the last decade and we’ve witnessed firsthand here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that there is a great pool of talent to showcase,” said Jason Farris, Chief Operating Officer for the Dallas Stars. “In building this partnership and hosting the WHL Prospect Combine at Dr Pepper StarCenter – Farmers Branch, we’re able to provide the WHL member Clubs a chance to see a number of players that can be successful in their League that may not have been exposed to their scouts and talent evaluators otherwise. This also is a great opportunity to educate these families on the variety of paths that playing hockey can lead to.”

This will be the sixth WHL Prospect Combine in the 2017 calendar year. The WHL currently operates five WHL Canadian Prospect Combines in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina and Winnipeg. The event will utilize the same testing done as that used at the Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January. Test results will be entered in an exclusive WHL Prospect Combines database used by WHL member Clubs to track and identify players.

“The WHL is very excited to bring a WHL Prospect Combine to Dallas in partnership with the Dallas Stars Organization,” commented WHL Commissioner Ron Robison. “The WHL Prospect Combine will provide prospects in the U.S. an opportunity to learn more about the WHL, the world’s leading development league for junior-age players”.

Over the past three seasons, between the WHL Prospect Combines and the other WHL Combine initiatives, the program has tested over 7,000 players and is designed to assist minor hockey players with their skill development utilizing a state of the art testing system.

The WHL Prospect Combines are operated on behalf of the WHL by the Okanagan Hockey Group (OHG), an international leader in hockey school instructional programs and hockey academics, based out of Penticton, B.C. Under its agreement with the WHL, OHG will provide the highest quality instructors and testing personnel for each WHL Combine.

The testing systems for the WHL Combines will be supplied by Sport Testing Inc., a Toronto-based global leader in sport testing systems. The Sport Testing Inc. technology includes the most advanced athlete testing solution in the industry today. Sport Testing is currently being used by a number of NHL teams in their player development programs. It is also being used all over the world by a number of different players which those testing at the WHL Combines program can use their results to compare to.