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Excitement grows for prospects as NHL Draft nears

by Adam Kimelman / Calgary Flames

PHILADELPHIA, PA -- The clock is close to striking midnight for any player eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center this weekend.

The hard work, sleepless nights and sacrifices all come down to this two-day event. The first round will be held Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN) and rounds 2-7 will take place Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHL Network).

Aaron Ekblad speaks to the media in Philadelphia on Thursday.

"We've all been thinking about it," Sarnia Sting defenceman Anthony DeAngelo told "In the beginning, you always say you can't wait for the draft … you just can't wait. And now so close to happening, it's kind of unbelievable. Whatever happens will be a great for all of us."

DeAngelo, No. 14 on NHL Central Scouting's list of the top North American skaters eligible for the draft, was one of 12 top prospects from North America and Europe on hand during a media availability at The National Constitution Center on Thursday.

The availability was the final opportunity for the national media to speak to the top players in this year's draft before NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman officially announces the start of the opening round. Players began shaking their head in disbelief when reminded their moment in the spotlight was less than 24 hours away.

"It still hasn't hit me quite yet," Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko said. "It feels like just yesterday I was playing hockey for fun and I was 10 years old. So it's happening pretty rapidly, but it's good to have family and friends out here supporting me. I'm just excited for [Friday and Saturday]."

Demko is the No. 1-ranked goalie on Central Scouting's final list of draft-eligible North American players at his position.

Barrie Colts defenceman Aaron Ekblad, No. 2 on Central Scouting's list of North American skaters, is chomping at the bit to get the draft started. He acknowledged he would be privileged to be selected by any team and even recalled one of his most memorable draft moments.

"I still remember the Cam Fowler draft [in 2010]," Ekblad said. "Cam is a good example of how funny things always work out. From what I remember, he was a projected top-five pick, but slipped to No. 12 to Anaheim.

"He's now [four] seasons into his NHL career and doing very well. I think that's a testament to how things always work out and that's kind of been the comfort for me. I'm not worried about anything right now. It's all going to work out no matter what city I'm in, or where I'm playing."

The fondest memory for Peterborough Petes left wing Nicholas Ritchie, No. 7 on Central Scouting's list of North American skaters, was watching his brother be selected by the Dallas Stars in the second round (No. 44) in 2011.

"It's pretty cool because I watched my brother get drafted and that was a great experience for the whole family," Ritchie said. "Now my brother is here in Philadelphia, along with my family, to watch me get drafted. It was new to us back then, but this time around we know what kind of goes on so it'll probably be a little easier for my parents."

Local prospect DeAngelo, from nearby Sewell, N.J., also has a memorable draft moment courtesy of his favorite NHL team, the Philadelphia Flyers. It occurred during the 2006 draft in Vancouver when Flyers general manager Bob Clarke walked to the podium and had a momentary brain freeze when announcing his team's first-round pick that year, Claude Giroux.

After receiving some assistance from Paul Holmgren, however, the pick was made official and the Hearst, Ontario, native has been making a name for himself ever since.

"I'll never forget that one; but I've watched a lot of drafts and always dreamed about being there so [Friday and Saturday] is going to be special," DeAngelo said.

Kasperi Kapanen, No. 1 on Central Scouting's list of the top international skaters, was elated when his good friend from KalPa in Finland, Artturi Lehkonen, was chosen by the Montreal Canadiens in the second round (No. 55) last June.

Two prospects were quick to recall the 2005 draft, when Sidney Crosby went No. 1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The entire draft order that year was determined by lottery since the League was coming off a work stoppage and teams were assigned one to three balls based on their playoff appearances and first overall draft picks from the previous three years.

"That Crosby sweepstakes was huge," Oshawa Generals left wing and No. 5-ranked North American Michael Dal Colle said. "It was weird because the setup was a little different and when Pittsburgh got him it was like, 'Wow.' I just think about where he could have been had Pittsburgh not won the lottery that year. You just never know, that's what makes the draft so exciting."

Niagara IceDogs left wing Brendan Perlini, No. 8 on Central Scouting's list of North American skaters, also had memories of the 2005 draft.

"That was the first real big one I can remember," he said. "I had just come back from England and remember everyone wanting to know which team he would go to after the lottery. It was pretty incredible and, to think, nine years later I'm sitting on the same stage. That's pretty cool."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

Author: Mike G. Morreale | Staff Writer

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