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Top prospects revel in opportunities at showcase

by Tal Pinchevsky

TORONTO – Many of the NHL's top young prospects earned a fun break from a summer spent focusing primarily on preparation for NHL training camps when they attended the 2014 NHLPA Rookie Showcase. The two-day event, staged during one of the final weekends before training camps begin, hosted 33 NHL hopefuls and featured a healthy combination of work and play.

In its sixth iteration, the event allowed attendees the opportunity to participate in a series of functions, most of them organized by Upper Deck, the official trading card company of the NHL. On Friday, the majority of the time was spent signing merchandise and posing for photographs, as well as enjoying a preview of EA Sports NHL 15 video game.

"It's a pretty exciting experience this weekend," Arizona Coyotes prospect Max Domi said. "It's going to be cool to spend some time with the guys."

The group included Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, as well as Sam Reinhart of the Buffalo Sabres and Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames, who were selected second and fourth, respectively. Other top prospects in attendance included Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals, Teuvo Teravainen of the Chicago Blackhawks and Anthony Mantha of the Detroit Red Wings.

During a busy Friday, the group also enjoyed a tour at the Hockey Hall of Fame, which was followed by dinner. The showcase is scheduled to conclude Saturday at Mattamy Athletic Centre, formerly the site of Maple Leaf Gardens, for individual photo shoots and a group scrimmage.

For many players, the opportunity to be photographed for their first NHL trading card was one of their first major milestones as an NHL player.

"I remember having quite a few cards growing up. Not sure where those went, but I had some fun with that," Reinhart said. "It's cool over the past couple of years to see some cards getting out there. But at the NHL level, it's a little bit cooler, so I'm looking forward to that."

The whirlwind weekend will surely provide plenty of memories for these young players, as well as an informal introduction to life in the NHL.

But for many, the highlight was the NHL 15 video game tournament, which saw the players' hand-eye coordination and competitiveness tested in a very different way. In the end, San Jose Sharks forward Chris Tierney defeated Ottawa Senators prospect Curtis Lazar in the final to win a PlayStation 4 video game console, as well as ultimate bragging rights.

"It was a fun game. I got up early 5-0 and then [Lazar] scored three quick ones," Tierney said. "I was getting a little nervous, but I ended up winning. It was a fun tournament. I'm really glad they have this here for the guys to participate in. It was a great time."

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