The NHL Draft can be an "all-business" event for the prospects and others involved, but every once in a while, it's refreshing to see the players in a different element. That's where the annual prospects clinic comes in -- and you can see right away that the kids are much more comfortable being, well, kids.
JacketsTV and BlueJackets.com spent the afternoon at the Ice Castle in suburban Pittsburgh, where five of this year's top draft prospects gathered for a fun-filled clinic with local youth hockey players. No helmets, pads or systems-work required here; just a couple hours of skating, laughs and helpful tips for the mites as they get a unique chance to skate alongside future NHL stars.
Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murray, Alex Galchenyuk, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Jacob Trouba participated in the clinic today and each took some time after the session to meet with the media. After the clinic, they headed over to the Roberto Clemente Bridge for a game of ball hockey with more kids from the area.
Here's the transcript of our conversation with top defense prospect Ryan Murray:
Asked what his emotions are as the NHL Draft approaches:
"I’m more anxious and excited than nervous, I think. Everyone doesn’t really know what’s going to happen, and that just makes it more exciting for Friday. The excitement level is pretty high, I think. We’ve all been talking amongst each other and everybody says the same thing. We really have no idea right now where anyone is going to go, so it’s pretty exciting."
On today's clinic:
"It was real fun. I don’t know how old those guys were, but they’re pretty young and just getting started with hockey. It’s good to give back to the kids – we all started somewhere. They didn’t really ask me any questions, they’re just fun to be around."
On the biggest difference between junior hockey and the NHL:
"I think probably just the speed and the size of the guys. It’s a lot faster, and they’re so much bigger and stronger than in the junior leagues, so yeah, that’s probably it."
On which NHL player(s) he models his game after:
"I really like the way Duncan Keith plays. I really like his style, and the way he handles himself on the ice. He’s so good in every single zone, and so good with the puck, as well. He always seems to make the right play. He’s just a great player to watch and a great player to learn from."
On if he thinks he's ready to make the jump to the NHL this season:
"That’s what I want to do. That’s my goal, and that’s what I want to do next year. With those guys – I think Fowler was 18 – I have an extra year, I have a late birthday so I’ve had an extra year in junior already. I want to make the jump, and obviously it’s a big one and I know I have a lot of work to do, but that’s the goal next year. I missed the cutoff date (for birthdays) by 12 days, so I’ve got a pretty big head start on the other guys. The scouts probably keep that in mind, too; I try to relate myself to the ‘93s a lot. It’s been a fun ride and I’m really excited for Friday."
On what he's worked on during his offseason training:
"I’ve tried to get more explosive, and get more quicker in the gym. (I’ve tried to) get stronger, too, but mostly get explosive and work on the legs quite a bit."
UPDATE 5:30 P.M.: We've got more quotes and comments from the prospects coming your way, but we'll start this update with a funny story from the clinic. The media was allowed into the prospects' dressing room shortly before they took the ice, and you could tell right off the bat that Yakupov was the most relaxed and easy-going of the group. He joked that he was going to keep it casual and wear a polo on the ice during the skate -- but ended up sporting his Sarnia Sting jersey anyway.
Rather than skate around the rink for a few laps and get warmed up, Yakupov immediately gravitated toward the youngsters partcipating in the clinic. Some could barely skate, some saw the end boards as a good place for a three-kid pile-up, and others got to shoot pucks with the prospects. Yakupov probably did six or seven sets of toe-drag moves through a couple dozen kids, as the mites stared in amazement and tried to take the puck from Nail (largely unsuccessful, but can't fault them for trying).
Then, after the clinic, Yakupov joined the media again for some on-camera interviews and opened by asking me (Rob) if I was Russian. In the best English I could muster, I replied "no" which made him chuckle. Next time we cross paths, I'm determined to conduct our interview in Russian. (As I type this, I may or may not be ordering Russian language-learning software online)...
Here are some of Yakupov's (fun, dry, and witty) comments from today's media session:
On today's clinic:
For me, it was a great time. Great to be with the kids. Some of them were crazy, and slashed me a few times (laughs), but I had fun so it's OK. There were too many kids asking tough questions...but there were some hard drills, too, and that was OK.
What kind of tough questions did the kids ask?
(They asked) 'what's your name?' I said Bobby.
On what it's like to finally be in Pittsburgh and preparing for the NHL Draft:
It's a great town, great city. It's good to see all the guys here, and just wait for the draft. Great hotel, great food, great location.
On if he feels any nerves as the draft gets closer:
No, no nerves. No pressure, nothing.
Asked if he thinks about the possibilities at the draft, or what team he may go to:
No, I'm just having fun here and not worrying (about where he could end up). Just sleeping and eating, that's it.
NOTE: We will have more coverage from the prospects clinic this afternoon and evening on both this blog and JacketsTV. Look for an interview with #CBJ director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright, and a recap of today's events with Jeff Rimer.