BOSTON -- Less than two weeks before they join the ranks of the National Hockey League, four of the top junior prospects heading into this year's NHL Draft came to TD Garden for a memorable afternoon before attending Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks.
The group -- consisting of defensemen Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks and Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads -- got to witness firsthand the magic and mania of hockey's biggest stage.
The prospects' whirlwind day in Boston wasn't nearly as strenuous as the recent NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto, but it was almost as eventful. It started with the four prospects watching the morning skate for both the Blackhawks and Bruins, an experience that truly impressed on these four teenagers the level of skill and size they will be contending with in the NHL.
"Shawn Thornton's a pretty big guy, pretty scary looking, actually. [Milan] Lucic is a pretty big dude, as well," said MacKinnon, who won the Memorial Cup alongside Drouin on May 26. "Obviously [Zdeno] Chara is a machine. That guy probably plugs himself in at night and recharges that way. He's unbelievable."
The surreal experience of watching two teams practice for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final may have actually been trumped moments later by the opportunity to enter both teams' locker rooms. With countless members of the media pouring in following each team's practice, the four prospects spent some time simply watching the madness ensue.
"It was so busy in there, we kind of got kicked out," Nurse said in joking about his first experience in an NHL locker room. "I have never seen so many media people in one room. As a professional athlete, that's what comes with it, right?"
Through the madness of these press scrums, the four aspiring NHL stars eventually found the time to meet some of the players who will be their peers in the near future. Players like Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Tyler Seguin took time to say hello and wish them luck, as did Boston coach Claude Julien. Even Hall of Famer and current Chicago senior advisor Scotty Bowman, who won the Stanley Cup an NHL-record nine times as a coach, came by to meet the young troops.
"Meeting the players that have been there in the same position you have been [is great]," Drouin said. "Now they're playing in the Stanley Cup Final. It's pretty fun to meet those players."
And for players like Seguin and Toews, who were selected near the top of the draft and attended the same annual prospects trip to the Cup Final, it was a prime opportunity to share stories. Seguin revealed that, during his trip to the Final in 2010, one of the players he met was Kane, who he now finds himself fighting for a chance to hoist hockey's greatest prize.
To his credit, Kane's prospect trip to the Cup Final resulted in an unexpected brush with celebrity. Attending the 2007 Final in Anaheim between the Ducks and Ottawa Senators, Kane and his fellow invitees were seated right behind superstar rapper Snoop Dogg, who attended the game with his family.
"We all got a picture of him and my dad says it's the biggest I've ever smiled in a picture. It was funny," Kane said. "He had his two little kids with him and one was Little Snoop and the other was Spanky or something like that. We had a great time."
The four prospects invited to this year's Final may not find themselves posing for photographs with celebrities, but they'll still come away with countless memories from a chance to witness hockey's grandest stage.
Next stop: the NHL Draft.