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Rantanen, top prospects anxious for draft night

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Mikko Rantanen, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of the top European skaters eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft, said Thursday it won't be easy to fall asleep knowing the biggest moment of his life will occur in less than 24 hours.

"It's pretty weird knowing that [Friday] we'll know what team you will play for and begin work," Rantanen said. "I know this is just the first step. We'll have to keep working to be an NHL player. But I'll be pretty nervous tomorrow. They say it'll be hard to get sleep because it's such a big day. It's once in a lifetime, so I'm excited."

Rantanen, who was an alternate captain for TPS in Finland in 2014-15, was one of 10 top prospects in the spotlight at the Westin Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort in the last pre-draft media availability before NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announces the Edmonton Oilers are on the clock with the No. 1 pick at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

The first round of the draft is Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports); rounds 2-7 are Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHLN, TVA Sports).

Rantanen was joined by Erie Otters center Connor McDavid, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, Boston University center Jack Eichel (No. 2, North American), Boston College defenseman Noah Hanifin (No. 3, North American), Erie center Dylan Strome (No. 4, North American), Kingston Frontenacs left wing Lawson Crouse (No. 5, North American), London Knights center Mitchell Marner (No. 6, North American), Barrie Colts goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood (No. 1, North American), Linkoping, Sweden, defenseman Gabriel Carlsson (No. 2, Europe) and Frolunda, Sweden, defenseman Jacob Larsson (No. 3, Europe).

McDavid and Eichel, who are projected to go No. 1 and No. 2 in the draft, took turns at the head podium.

"It's really cool to be able to go through this with your family and friends," Eichel said. "So many of them have sacrificed so much to be able to do what I do, and I'm happy to just be able to share this with them."

Larsson, regarded as a two-way defenseman, was asked what he liked best about having the draft in Florida.

"It's warm here," he said. "In Sweden, it's cold. It's perfect here."

Larsson, of course, is hoping to hear his name called in the first round Friday. Carlsson, who is considered more of a stay-at-home defenseman, also can't believe the draft has almost arrived.

"It will be fun to get there and be there in the big arena, and hopefully I'll hear my name picked on Friday," Carlsson said. "In Sweden there isn't much media around like this. It's a lot different and it will be a new beginning for me. I know some teams showed an interest in me at the NHL [Scouting] Combine, but because trades sometimes happen, you just never know what will happen."

Hanifin said the week in Florida has been amazing. Along with McDavid, Eichel, Hanifin, Strome, Crouse and Marner, he had a busy but memorable week. They got an opportunity to take batting practice at Marlins Park in Miami, instructed youngsters during a Prospects Clinic at the Panthers Ice Den in Coral Springs, toured the Everglades in an air boat, and then met the media.

"I think it's definitely starting to hit me now," Hanifin said. "The draft is tomorrow night and it's pretty crazy. I've dreamed about this moment for so long, and now that it's here it's going to be an adventure. I'm really looking forward to it."

Hanifin was glad to have had the opportunity to spend a few days to get to know the four prospects from the Ontario Hockey League.

"We're all competitive guys and we've been competing to do our best this year, and now we kind of get to sit back after the year has ended and kind of just enjoy this process," Hanifin said. "You only get to do this once in your life and to become friends with those guys was great. Me and [Eichel] always knew each other, but to meet the guys from Ontario and get to know them better was really cool."

McDavid said it was special sharing the experience with Erie teammate Strome, particularly since they likely will be drafted by different teams in the first round.

"It's been fun sharing this adventure with Dylan," McDavid said. "He's someone I've gone through a lot with, obviously with playing for Erie and going through the year and the experiences. It's not every day you get to do this with your best buddies, so we're both very lucky to have each other by our side during such a special occasion in our lives."

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