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Top prospects impress at AmeriHealth Pavilion

by Mike G. Morreale / New Jersey Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- Prior to settling in for a good night's sleep before participation in one of the biggest days of their hockey career, four of the top 2013 NHL Draft prospects had an opportunity to put some smiles on the faces of youngsters hoping to one day be in their position.

The NHL Top Prospects clinic held Saturday at AmeriHealth Pavilion at Prudential Center certainly brought back childhood memories for forwards Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads and defensemen Seth Jones of the Portland Winterhawks and Darnell Nurse of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

The top four players on NHL Central Scouting's list of the top draft-eligible North American skaters are expected to be chosen among the top 10 selections at the draft Sunday at Prudential Center (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN).

The foursome joined four members of the New Jersey Devils alumni association -- defensemen Bruce Driver and Ken Daneyko and forwards Jim Dowd and Grant Marshall -- to instruct 25 local youth hockey players representing Hockey in Newark and the New Jersey Rockets.

"It was an awesome experience; we were fortunate to do something like this in Halifax a few times throughout the year and it was fun," MacKinnon said. "To see the smiles on faces and to be able to skate with Devils' alumni was great. I didn't get any advice, just a lot of small talk. Being out there with a guy like Daneyko, with 20-plus years of NHL experience and three Stanley Cup titles, is something special. He lived the dream."

For Daneyko, who serves as a commentator for MSG Network, the feeling was mutual.

"It's amazing the way youth hockey has grown here," he said. "The Devils have made a big push the last couple of years with clinics. To see these young prospects come out … it was a great thrill for us to see the top draft picks. It's going to be so exciting for those guys [Sunday] at the draft."

Daneyko was selected by the Devils in the first round (No. 18) of the 1982 draft. He celebrated three Stanley Cup titles in the Garden State.

"I have to go back 31 years ago to when I was drafted and I remember how exciting a time that was," Daneyko said. "It was great to see what nice young gentlemen they are and how much fun they were having with the kids. They are giving back, and despite the fact they have a big day on Sunday, they still shared their time with the kids and us older guys. It was great to be on the ice with all of them."

Just because it was a fun event didn't mean Daneyko wouldn't look to get the best of one prospect.

During one of the drills, Nurse began skating with the puck against Daneyko in an effort to show the youngsters how to execute the exercise. Daneyko stuck out his stick and deftly poke-checked the puck off the Nurse's stick.

"That's just wisdom right there," Nurse said with a smile. "I'll have to go back home to Hamilton [Ontario] now and work on my hands."

Told what Nurse said, Daneyko replied, "I learned that move many moons ago from Larry Robinson, one of the best. He said to keep everything in front of you. Us old [guys] still can make plays. Darnell called it wisdom and I love that. At least he didn't call me the old guy."

Nurse said having the opportunity to instruct younger players certainly was rewarding.

"It was awesome … I love doing stuff like that where you give back as much as you can and think the best part is seeing the smiles on their faces," Nurse said. "That's the best thing about hockey. The last time I remember doing that sitting duck was so long ago. I'm not in good enough shape to get down there and sit in that spot right now."

MacKinnon, who could well be the first player taken when a representative from the Colorado Avalanche steps to the podium to announce their pick, said he is looking forward to Sunday.

"Hopefully, it'll be over pretty quickly," he said. "It's been a long journey to this part in my life. I've thought about the draft, but you have to turn the page quickly afterwards. It's exciting that your career is going to be starting pretty soon. It's going to be a fun day."

Driver, chosen in the sixth round (No. 108) by the Devils in 1981, was a former captain in New Jersey and played a key role in the team's first Stanley Cup in 1995.

"Grant, Jimmy, Kenny and I do clinics like this throughout the year and it's a lot of fun," he said. "It was special having some of the top prospects out there helping us out. It's a lot different from when I was drafted. I don't remember hearing about anything going on like this in our draft year, but for them to be putting in the time since they've been really busy the last few days, was great."

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