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Players focus on Top Prospects game, not rankings

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- Ranked first or 101st, Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad knows his journey to the 2014 NHL Draft isn't close to being finished.

Ekblad, the top-ranked North American defenseman in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking, admitted that while the distinction is an honor, his focus is elsewhere since there's plenty of hockey left to play before draft day in June at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.


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"It is what it is," Ekblad said. "You could rate me one, two or 10. It is what it is. I think the most important thing is winning games with your team in the CHL and playing big on teams like this [the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game]. If you have team success, individual success will come quickly after that. I'm not worried about that. It is what it is and I've just got to keep working hard and doing the things I like to do."

What Ekblad's done throughout his junior career has been impressive. The 17-year-old has 14 goals in 31 games, tops among Ontario Hockey League defensemen, and his 31 points are tied for ninth. He also earned his way on to Canada's team for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship.

He's not necessarily looking to reinforce what he's done at the Top Prospects Game at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday (9 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, Sportsnet).

"That's every game; that's every shift out there on the ice," said Ebklad, ranked third among all North American skaters. "You've just got to come out with the right attitude and stay positive throughout all situations. Obviously there are roller coasters you go through with emotions and stuff like that through your CHL season. You've just got to be used to it and come out every shift with a little bit of a vengeance against the other team."

Leon Draisaitl was just as reluctant to put heavy emphasis on his No. 2 ranking among North American skaters.

"I mean, I guess it is what it is," the Prince Albert Raiders forward said. "Obviously it means a lot but I'm not satisfied with something like that. It's just a ranking right now. There's a lot that can happen until the draft so I'm not really paying too much attention to that."

Still, the German-born center said it was nice to get recognition for the season he's put together. He has 19 goals and 54 points in 35 Western Hockey League games this season, his second in North America. He also served as captain for Germany at the World Juniors and was second on the team with six points in six games.

He was delighted to find out he'd been ranked second behind Kingston Frontenacs forward Samuel Bennett.

"It's a great feeling to be recognized for all your hard work and what you've done so far," Draisaitl said. "I've just got to make sure to keep the good work up and keep my hard work up."

His Western Hockey League counterpart had a different interpretation, though.

Sam Reinhart, who plays for the Kootenay Ice, was more willing to shrug off his No. 4 ranking and admitted his focus lies more on the task at hand in the Top Prospects Game than Monday's announcement from Central Scouting.

"It's kind of hard to get away from it for the most part, but I'm not too focused on that at all," Reinhart said. "We can't really do much about it. That's not our focus coming in. We all want to play a good game.

"There's definitely a lot of games to be played, but this one's one where everyone's here together. It's important to play well.

"At this point everyone wants to show what they can do. I'm sure most guys are going to have a little extra jump, so everyone's excited for it and looking forward to it."

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