-- Less than 24 hours removed from a dinner honoring hockey's past, and only a short six hours from a game featuring the best of hockey's present, hockey's future was on full display for a contingent of media at the 2008 Top Prospect Luncheon Monday at the Stanley Cup Final.
And if the six prospects on display are any indication, the future of hockey is big, mean and defensive.
No. 4-ranked Tyler Myers
, not surprisingly a defenseman at 6-foot-7 (6-9 on skates) stands the tallest, but No. 2 Zach Bogosian
(6-2), No. 3 Drew Doughty
(6-0), No. 5 Luke Schenn
(6-3), and No. 6-ranked Alex Pietrangelo
(6-3), also defensemen, each carries more than his fair share of size.
Add the fact that Pietrangelo and Schenn list Chris Pronger
as the player they most admire – Bogosian is a Chris Chelios
booster and Myers enjoys the rugged play of Robyn Regehr
– and you can see that while this group may have a lot of NHL hardware in its future, a collection of Lady Byng Trophies probably isn't coming their way.
Schenn likely summed the group up best: "Any time you get the chance to play physical, it's a huge advantage. And obviously, being a bigger guy, there's no reason not to."
The lone forward of the group at Monday’s media session was top-rated Steven Stamkos
of the Sarnia Sting, a center who already has seen enough of Bogosian, Pietrangelo and Doughty to last him a lifetime.
Over the course of their time at the Stanley Cup Final, the group, which included their fathers, participated in a number of events designed to acclimate them better with the league they aspire to join, as well as allowing members of the media and the League itself a chance to get to know them.
In less than 48 hours, they will have attended a banquet honoring a number of Red Wings greats, including Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay, witnessed a Stanley Cup Final morning skate and joined each team in the dressing room post-practice. They also shot a spot with the CBC’s Don Cherry for his Coaches' Corner segment on Hockey Night in Canada, witnessed a Stanley Cup Final game live, and done it all with their dads, who are along for the ride in one of the most entertaining and whirlwind trips of the young men's hockey careers.
So far, so good, according to Schenn's father, Jeff.
"The whole weekend has just been great. The NHL has just treated us like gold," he said.
Only halfway through their trip, at the luncheon in their honor at Detroit's Renaissance Center only blocks away from "The Joe," the prospects got their taste of NHL life as they were descended upon by members of the media from all corners of North America. The event was hosted by Pierre McGuire, who said during his opening remarks that this draft class could go down in history as one of the league's best defensive groups ever. Judging by the talent on the podium, he may not be far off.
For now, these kids remain just prospects and this trip to the Final is an eye-opening experience filled with more excitement that any normal 17-year-old is programmed to handle. As a whole, the players couldn't stop talking about their time at the pre-game skate. They were able to meet some of the players they grew up idolizing, and what's more, they were even given a chance to speak to them.
"That was one of the first things we asked (NHL staffer) Dave Keon was will we get to meet the players?" Schenn said. "And he said basically anyone we wanted, so guys started talking about (Nicklas) Lidstrom and (Henrik) Zetterberg and (Sidney) Crosby and guys like that. But it's kind of weird to think that Crosby is two years older than us and we want to meet him."
Crosby made an impression on all of the prospects.
"We talked to him and he just told us to have fun with it and good luck and stuff," Doughty said.
"He's just an unbelievable guy for how much press and stuff he has to deal with. He's very humble and deals with it so well. Just to think that he could probably still be in the CHL this year, he could put up 300 points or something. He's just that special a player."
Schenn agreed, though he was most impressed with the players' conditioning, particularly Crosby's.
"Well obviously they're all real fit guys, in great shape, and very mature. All the guys were talking before about how Crosby's legs are flippin' huge," he said.
In addition, the defenseman in all of them – well, five of the six anyway – couldn't help but size up the NHLers as potential attackers heading into their zone. With the talent in this series, it wasn't a comforting thought.
"Datsyuk scares me," Pietrangelo said. "Every time he's on the ice he scares me. Everyone knows Crosby is dangerous, but Datsyuk scares me too. And Zetterberg is tough, even some of the defense that he's coming down on, they're so good, that we're definitely going to have to practice a bit to be able to stop those guys."
Myers was wary of another player, one sitting squarely in the spotlight of the series, but for different reasons.
"I'd definitely try to keep him away from our goalie, the way he's been pumping them in," Myers said of Red Wings' forward Tomas Holmstrom.
The event even had some NHLers reminiscing about when it was them staring starry-eyed at their heroes, instead of the other way around. For some, like Jordan Staal, that experience was less than two short years ago.
"I ended up going down to Carolina to watch the two and went with those guys to the third and fourth (games) in Edmonton," Staal said. "It was an amazing experience, a lot of fun. It's kind of neat now that I'm playing and having these kids come in."
In addition, Staal believes the experience can be valuable in the players' development.
"Hopefully it's a little more eye opening for those guys to realize that one day they can get here, sooner than they may think," Staal said. "It's been a whirlwind couple of years. I've been through a lot and now I'm really happy to be here."
While the players were most excited about seeing their heroes up close, the fathers couldn't have been more thrilled at witnessing the legends of the Detroit dynasty up close and hearing their stories at the Sunday evening banquet.
Even the players noticed a gleam in their fathers' eyes.
"He's been smiling the whole time, I don't think he's wiped it off his face," Schenn said of his father. "He's probably the most excited guy here. He's real excited and I think it's just a proud moment for him to be here."
Paul Myers, father of Tyler, felt just as lucky to have been involved as Schenn. It was a time for the sons and the fathers to bond, watching some of the greatest ever to play the game reminisce on their time sitting at the pinnacle of the sport they love.
"I know all the guys, and even Tyler thought it was a great night," he said. "We both did. We talked about it quite a bit when we went back to the rooms after the event. I'm actually looking forward to calling my dad and talking to him about it," Myers said.
It has been a special couple days in the lives of the prospects and fathers alike, one that may never come again, except in the case of the Schenns, who have younger son Brayden in the pipeline. He took the Rookie of the Year honors in the WHL this season and could be one of the top prospects for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.
By then, this sort of thing could be old hat, couldn't it Jeff?
"I don't think this hat could ever get old," he laughed.