– The top prospects for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft made their final public appearances Thursday afternoon, put on display to the hockey media one last time before the start of the draft Friday evening (Draft Preview, 6 p.m. and post-draft, 10 p.m. shows, NHL Network, NHL.com), and Rounds 2-7 Saturday (9:30 a.m., NHL Network, NHL.com. The first round airs Friday, 7 p.m. on TSN and NHL Radio)
A dozen players – including consensus No. 1 pick Steven Stamkos of the Sarnia Sting, Russian forward Nikita Filatov
, the top-rated European skater; and Guelph's Thomas McCollum, the top-rated North American goalie – met with reporters Thursday at the Marriott Hotel.
By 10 p.m. Friday night – and probably much earlier – each of these players will have found an NHL home, beginning the next phase of their hockey lives.
Tyler Myers, a defenceman with Kelowna, is rated No. 4 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. He knows, barring the unforeseeable, that he will know his pro destination within the first hour of the draft, which begins Friday at 7 p.m.
"It's been a long year with the draft and everything else,"said Myers. "I'm looking forward to (Friday) night and it should be an exciting time."
Excitement – tinged with some nervousness and some curiosity – seemed to be the prevalent theme at Thursday's luncheon.
"It'll be interesting to know finally what team will select me," said Filatov, who arrived from Russia to take part in the pre-draft festivities. "Tomorrow, I will know where I will continue my hockey career."
Filatov again made it abundantly clear Thursday afternoon that he will continue his hockey career in North America next year, regardless of which team selects him. He says he does not expect to plummet down the draft board like countryman Alexei Cherepanov, the top-ranked European last year, did in Columbus because of concerns about Cherepanov's ability – and willingness – to come to North America.
Cherepanov, a consensus top-five pick before the 2007 draft, fell all the way to No. 17 before being selected by the New York Rangers.
"I'm not afraid that will happen to me," said Filatov. "I think everybody understands that it is not the same situation. I promise everybody that I'll be here next year."
Filatov, who is not under contract with any team for next season, insists he will play next October in North America – be it at the NHL, AHL or major junior level. He planned to reaffirm that contention later Thursday when he was scheduled for meetings with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Phoenix Coyotes.
For many of these players, Friday's first round of the entry draft will end what has been a marathon year. All of these players have played the entire season under a microscope, their every move dissected and analyzed by scouts, media and the general public. They have been judged on a nightly basis, their strengths and weaknesses debated in a very public – and sometimes painful – manner.
"It's nice to have this portion almost over," said McCollum, who began this season last August with a tryout for the United States world junior team. "It's going to be exciting to be finally picked and put all of this behind us. It has been a lot of pressure."
Perhaps no one knows about draft-year pressure better than Kyle Beach, a power forward from Everett who is ranked No. 7 among North American skaters. His exploits, both on the ice and off, have been chronicled in amazing detail. Some talk about the 60 points in 60 games to go along with 222 penalty minutes and project him as the game's next dominant power forward. Others talk about his two concussions and his celebrated behavioural problems and argue that he is a high-risk pick.
"All of these kids live in a bubble," says Ross Gurney, Beach's agent. "Kyle now realizes he is one of those players."
So Beach has had to live all season with these tabloid-like stories about his exploits and a very public debate about his worthiness to be a first-round pick, never mind a top-10 pick.
"It's been a long season," Beach admitted. "To be at this stage and to be here with my family, it's a great time. But it is just another step in my hockey journey."
Not all the players here Thursday were trying to will Friday night to come faster.
"I don't mind doing all this," said Cody Hodgson, a centre from the Brampton Battalion who is ranked No. 9 among North American skaters. "There are a lot worse things I could be doing today. My friends back home are still taking exams and I finished them yesterday. I'm just taking it all in and trying to enjoy it all. I slept really well last night. It's just really a lot of fun to be a part of all this."See our Top Prospects Luncheon and Top Prospects Clinic photo galleries here.Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Managing Editor