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Nerves, excitement prevalent for this year's top prospects

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

PHILADELPHIA -- You're 17, 18 years old and in 24 hours, your life is about to change forever. No big deal, right?

This year's draft class, along with scouts, hockey operations and media from all 30 NHL teams have arrived in Philadelphia for the 2014 NHL Draft, which gets underway on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. For the kids who make up this year's crop of prospects, the draft marks the end of one long journey and the beginning of another - so excuse them if they're feeling a wide range of emotions heading into tomorrow night.

Take young Leon Draisaitl for example. He left Germany as a teenager, when most of us weren't legally able to drive a car, and moved to North America to start a new life by himself and chase his dream of playing in the NHL.

He's got the appropriate bloodlines, too; his father, Peter, played several times internationally for Germany in the 1980s and 1990s before becoming a coach. He dreamed of one day following in the footsteps of German-born NHL players like Marco Sturm and Jochen Hecht, both of whom have made impacts in North American hockey and in the Olympics for Germany.

Draisaitl's a cool customer, too. He answered questions ranging from his German heritage to adjusting to life in Prince Albert, British Columbia with relative ease - but he couldn't deny that inside, he's feeling the butterflies (at least a little bit).

"Of course, it's really exciting...a bit nervous, too, I guess," Draisaitl admitted.

But that's about all he would let on. He's a strong kid, and said that he's right around 6-foot-3 and over 220 pounds as of now, so he's got the NHL-type body already as part of the package.

In a draft that's loaded with top-end forwards - particularly so in the projected top 10 with the likes of Sam Bennett, Willie Nylander, Sam Reinhart and others - Draisaitl isn't so much concerned about where he goes, because he knows what he'll be able to contribute.

"They're all great forwards," Draisaitl said of the forward group in this year's class. "Each one who's here, they're all strong forwards and really good hockey players. I don't know if (any one thing) sets me apart, but I'm one of the strongest forwards here, for sure, and I'm good at protecting the puck. That's one of the things I'm doing really well."

"I'll just enjoy the time here, and whatever happens, I'll be really happy, for sure. If I work hard this summer and get better at the things I'm lacking a little bit, strength and all that stuff, I think I'm ready (to play in the NHL), yeah."

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