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Top prospects reflect on their youth the day before the draft

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers

CORAL SPRINGS, FL - A wide-eyed little boy skated over to the camera and asked if he could be on TV. With the camera and attention on him now, he didn’t hesitate when asked, “who is your favourite player?”

“Connor McDavid,” said Kyle with a smile.

Kyle was smiling because he just met his idol. He was one of the 30 or so local youth hockey players fortunate enough to skate with some pretty darn good players at the 2015 Top Prospects Clinic in Sunrise, FL. Along with McDavid, Dylan Strome, Jack Eichel, Mitch Marner, Noah Hanifin and Lawson Crouse hit the ice with the kids as part of the annual draft event.

“It was really exciting,” said McDavid. “I’ve been a part of a couple events this week and they’ve all been great. This one was a little bit different. It was kind of laid back and it was nice to be a part of. It’s always nice to give back to the kids. Everyone was a kid once and looked up to someone. They look up to us and it was great to be out there and try to put a smile on their face.”

These players are some of the best prospects heading into Friday and Saturday’s 2015 NHL Draft. All surefire first-round picks, but they didn’t get there over night. They were once the wide-eyed little kids.

“I think for me personally as a kid I always looked up to older guys,” said Hanifin. “I looked up to guys who played at Boston College, looked up to guys on the (Boston) Bruins and stuff and I think that really motivates younger kids. Just to be around them and talk to them and go skate with them I think is going to really help them and make them want to keep practicing and get better.”

Strome met Eric Lindros and Tie Domi as a kid. Growing up, Marner met NHL players as well. While these prospects are not NHL players yet, as of tomorrow night they will take the next step towards achieving their childhood dreams.

“I know when I was growing up, being a little kid and meeting NHL players is a special moment so we’re all happy to go out there and do it,” said Marner. “We want to let those kids know that they can make the NHL, you just have to dream and work hard on it.”

So they spent time with the kids, ran through some drills and passed on a little wisdom.

“If I could give them one piece (of advice) I think it’d be work ethic,” said Crouse. “If you work hard you can go a long way in hockey.”

Connor McDavid signs autographs for Florida youth hockey players.
On the eve of the first round, the prospects will have dinner, maybe visit with friends and family, then return to their hotel rooms for a night of reflection. After spending a day with hockey’s youth, they’ll draw closer to becoming professionals.

“(Tonight) will be long,” said McDavid. “I’ve spent a lot of nights up thinking about the draft and I guess this is the last one. I’m a little bit sad it’s going to be coming to an end. The draft is something everyone talks about and thinks about and, really, your life revolves around it for a long time. It’s almost come to an end. It’s a little bit of an ending period but it will be good. It’s going to be a great day.”

In the end, maybe these prospects are still wide-eyed little kids like Kyle on the inside.

“Probably not going to be able to sleep,” said Hanifin. “I’m going to try to but my mind is going to be racing. It’s going to be 24 hours away almost so it’s going to be pretty crazy.”
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