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Top 2017 NHL Draft prospects visit Stanley Cup Final

Nolan Patrick, Nico Hischier, Casey Mittelstadt, Gabriel Vilardi watch morning skates, meet Sidney Crosby

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

NASHVILLE -- Meeting Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby prior to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Penguins and Nashville Predators on Monday was among the highlights for four of the top prospects for the 2017 NHL Draft presented by adidas. 

Brandon center Nolan Patrick, Halifax center Nico Hischier, Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School center Casey Mittelstadt and Windsor center Gabriel Vilardi, the top four North American skaters, respectively, in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, were at Bridgestone Arena to watch the morning skates and meet players from both teams.

"I'm a huge Crosby fan and I watch a lot of [Penguins] games so getting to meet all those guys was pretty special," said Mittelstadt, 18. "Getting to meet Crosby obviously was a dream come true and he's the best player in the world, and he's been my favorite player as long as I can remember.

"Meeting him was special and obviously getting to meet guys like [Evgeni] Malkin and all those guys is special too. It was a really fun time."

Patrick, 18, said the introductions only added to the fun.

"I've never been to a Stanley Cup Final game so I'm really excited for the game tonight," he said. "And meeting some of the guys around here has been pretty cool. All of us are enjoying it but it's going to go fast so we're trying to enjoy it.

"Crosby was pretty cool to meet. That was probably the biggest guy. … He's a nice guy."

Video: Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier on the Combine, Draft

The four top prospects also had a sit-down interview with Don Cherry, co-host of the Coach's Corner segment of "Hockey Night in Canada." Hischier put that among the things that stood out for him.

"I think meeting Don Cherry, Crosby and those guys," said Hischier, 18. "That was pretty interesting."

Patrick said that meeting the players in the Final, including Crosby, was exciting, but there was no point in being starstruck.

"My goal is to play in the NHL next year so it would be a little weird for me to be fan-grilling him," Patrick said. "It was just nice to meet him and he's the best player in the world so it's hard not to get starstruck. But he obviously carries himself really well off the ice and he was a nice guy."

Patrick and Predators forward Vernon Fiddler share the same agent.

"The only guy I really knew before this was Fiddler, so I talked to him a bit. They've got a big game tonight so they're not stopping with life lessons or anything like that."

Hischier said Game 4 would be his second NHL game.

"I watched a regular-season game when I was 12 years old, in Ottawa against Edmonton," he said. "[Nashville] is a nice city. I just hear good things about it. It's a lot of fun here. I hear it's going to be crazy tonight."

The four prospects are in the middle of a busy schedule that will take them to the NHL Draft at United Center in Chicago on June 23-24. Each participated in the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, which ended Saturday.

"I was at the Memorial Cup [in Windsor, Ontario] for the [Canadian Hockey League] awards show and then went right to the combine and now here," Patrick said. "[The combine] was lots of fun.

"For me, I didn't know too many guys in my draft class because I'm a year older, so meeting new guys was lots of fun. Meeting teams was good too, and the toughest part was the fitness testing. But it was a good experience and I liked it."

Patrick said he'll next travel to meet with the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers before he goes home to Winnipeg later this week. He'll be examined by each team's medical staff during the visits. A sports hernia limited him to 33 games this season, but he was cleared by doctors to participate in all the fitness testing at the combine.

Next for Mittelstadt is his high school graduation.

"It will be exciting to go home and graduate with buddies and have some fun nights with them," he said.

Vilardi, 17, has been the busiest of the four prospects. He helped Windsor win the Memorial Cup championship game May 28, then traveled to the combine before heading to Nashville.

"It's been pretty hectic, that's for sure, coming off a huge high winning the Memorial Cup," he said. "I had a few days to celebrate with the team, then I made the trip to Buffalo for the combine and met with a bunch of teams. Now coming here. It's been a long week."

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