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Top NHL prospects take their swings at PNC Park

by Corey Masisak

PITTSBURGH -- It sounded great off the bat, and Jacob Trouba watched with hope as the ball sailed toward the left field wall at PNC Park. One of his family members said, "that's got a chance."

Alas, the longest of Trouba's fly balls Thursday landed just in front of the warning track, bouncing before glancing off the wall. While the other six top prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft were just trying to make decent contact, Trouba was swinging for the fences during a special batting practice session at the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"He put a little nitro-charge into one that one-hopped the wall in the deepest part in that gap out there," said Pirates pitching coach Jeff Banister, who was tasked with tossing BP to the prospects.


Top prospects swing for the fences

Some of the top NHL prospects had a chance to take batting practice at PNC Park in Pittsburgh on the eve of the Draft. VIEW PHOTO GALLERY ›

Added Trouba: "I tried. I didn't hit one out though, so it was a disappointing day. It was pretty cool -- a cool stadium."

While Trouba looked like an aspiring baseball player -- his dad taught him how to hit at a young age and he played until the ninth grade -- some of the other six prospective NHL players were clearly a work in progress.

Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko showed up for the event, which came after a boat ride, in flip-flops. Instead of wearing them into the batting cage, both guys decided to hit barefoot.

At the end of Yakupov's first round of BP, he ran ... towards second base.

"I don't have shoes. I just have shoes for the draft," Yakupov said. "I gotta wash my legs after practice so I run in the grass, it feels great. I touch the base. No big deal.

"I have fun today. It's great. It's great. It's pretty hot. Then I don't know what we're gonna do next. We'll see. Just wait. I think everyone is waiting for tomorrow and the draft and we'll see how it goes. I'm not nervous now but probably going to be a little bit different feel tomorrow at the rink. So we'll see."

Filip Forsberg played two years of organized baseball in Sweden. The father of one of his friends was the baseball coach for Leksand, the city where he became a highly-ranked hockey prospect. He played for two years before his commitment to hockey didn't leave enough time for it.

Forsberg swung and missed at the first several pitches, but started to connect near the end of his first session and looked much better the second time through.

"It was a bit of a bad start for me after not playing for so long, but that second round of batting I managed to put out my game a bit," Forsberg said. "I'm happy with my performance."

Each of the other six guys besides Trouba hit better the second time through the cage, while he spent the second round clearly looking for a home run. Even Yakupov, who started stepping toward the mound with a beer-league softball-style swing -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle yelled out, "Happy Gilmore" because it was reminiscent of Adam Sandler's golf swing in the movie.

"You could tell the hand-eye coordination, some great hand-eye coordination," Banister said. "These guys, not being baseball players but yet living with a stick in their hands and trying to hit a moving object -- they got in there the first time and you could see them trying to calculate how to get the barrel to the ball and all of them at some point were able to. You could see the athleticism and they had fun with it."

Added Alex Galchenyuk: "It was a great experience and a lot of fun, but I'll just stick to hockey from now on. I played Wiffle ball once, but it was a plastic ball and I hit it way farther then I did today."

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