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De Leo a veteran of Top Prospects games

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- When it comes to playing in prospects games, Chase De Leo is close to qualifying for veteran status.

The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Portland Winterhawks forward will make his second appearance in an event that pits the top peers of his age group against each other when he participates in the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet).

De Leo played in the 2013 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game on Sept. 26 at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, but the 18-year old admitted his participation in that game doesn't give him an advantage in this one.

"I wouldn't say I have a leg up, but I was lucky enough to get invited to that and it was a great experience and I was honored to get the invite to that," said De Leo, who had a goal to help lift Team Johnson to a 5-2 win over Team Mullen in the All-American affair. "It was very professionally ran and it was a very great event."

Twenty-four hours into his three-day Top Prospects Game experience, the La Miranda, Calif., product wasn't able to compare the two events just yet.

"I'm not sure," De Leo said. "I'll probably be able to tell you more about that after the game on Wednesday but so far they're about the same. They're both very highly touted events.

"With the exposure here, it's very good for all the guys. I know there's a lot of talent here so it's going to be exciting to get the game going on Wednesday."

De Leo isn't the only prospect pulling double duty.

Plymouth Whalers goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic will also skate in both, as will defensemen Anthony DeAngelo of the Sarnia Sting and the Niagara IceDogs' Aaron Haydon and forwards Blake Clarke of the North Bay Battalion and Ryan MacInnis of the Kitchener Rangers.

But he's the only Portland draft eligible to skate in both, and it's thanks in part to linemates Oliver Bjorkstand and Taylor Leier, De Leo admitted.

"Obviously I've been fortunate enough to play with two great linemates," he said. "I wouldn't have as many of those goals if it weren't for them. Playing in Portland and playing with those guys make it easier on me so I'm very lucky to be on that team."

The 2010 ninth-round WHL Bantam draft pick is lucky for reasons that go beyond his share of the lead among Western Hockey League draft-eligible players in goals at 26 with Calgary Hitmen forward Jake Virtanen.

The Winterhawks have seen 11 players selected in the past three drafts, including first round picks Seth Jones (No. 4, 2013; Nashville Predators), Derrick Pouliot (No. 8, 2012; Pittsburgh Penguins) and Sven Baertschi (No. 13, 2011; Calgary Flames).

That doesn't take into consideration Portland alumni Ryan Johansen and Nino Niederreiter, who were selected fourth and fifth overall respectively in the 2010 NHL Draft.

"I was definitely blessed getting drafted to [Portland] when I was 14," De Leo said. "Johansen, Niederreiter and obviously last year with Jones. I've obviously been lucky."

Portland's draft prowess extends well beyond the first round.

Leier, Bjorkstrand, Nicolas Petan and Brendan Leipsic are teammates who De Leo can use to bend an ear on what to expect in his 2014 draft journey.

"I get to see those guys and practice with them every day," he said. "I try not to grind them with too many questions. They get enough media attention as it is. They just say to be yourself and just have a good time and enjoy it."

Which doubles as his plan for Wednesday's Top Prospects Game, perhaps not surprisingly from the draft veteran.

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