Reality Setting in for Top NHL Draft Prospects
PHILADELPHIA -- The date circled on the calendar a year ago, the one that for months and months looked so far away, finally is within sight.
The first round of the 2014 NHL Draft on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS) is less than 48 hours away, and the reality of the moment has begun to set in for some of the top prospects.
"I think it's definitely starting to sink in now that I'm here with all the guys now," Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett told NHL.com. "You definitely can feel the buzz of the draft in the city. It's definitely coming close."
Bennett was one of six top prospects to tour Philadelphia on Wednesday, along with Barrie Colts defenseman Aaron Ekblad, Kootenay Ice center Sam Reinhart, Prince Albert Raiders center Leon Draisaitl, Oshawa Generals left wing Michael Dal Colle and Sarnia Sting defenseman Anthony DeAngelo.
Their first stop of the day was the Philadelphia Art Museum for pictures with the famed Rocky statue. The prospects even recreated part of Rocky's famed run up the art museum's steps from the film "Rocky II."
"Everyone says this is the most important thing to see in Philadelphia," Reinhart told NHL.com.
From there it was a trip to Love Park for photos, and then cheesesteaks for lunch at Geno's Steaks. The prospects were inducted into a Philadelphia culinary tradition, learning to order their sandwiches "wit wiz" -- local slang for cheese whiz -- or "wit out."
All six players ate well and signed the restaurant's guest book. Reinhart even took a turn at the grill, cooking meat for a few sandwiches.
After a stop at the Betsy Ross House for a tour and a bit of an American history lesson, the players went to Citizens Bank Park for some hitting with Phillies broadcaster Matt Stairs, a former major leaguer and proud native of St. John, New Brunswick.
"It was a lot harder than I thought it would be off the tee," Ekblad said. "I got a couple, some good consistency up the middle for a bit."
It was a fun day for the prospects, as well as something to delay the nerves they're all feeling in anticipation of Friday.
"For me and for everyone else ... I can talk for the group, it's the most exciting time of the year; of our life so far," Draisaitl said. "It's been a good time. ... I think everyone has a little bit of butterflies right now. It's something normal. We're kids and we're really excited for this."
Ekblad said he wouldn't be nervous until he was in his seat Friday night waiting to hear his name called. Dal Colle, however, said he started feeling it on his flight Wednesday morning from Toronto.
"Lots of butterflies," he told NHL.com. "Don't really know what's going to happen. Still all up in the air. It's more anticipation for sure, not knowing [what could happen]."
DeAngelo, who grew up just across the Delaware River in Sewell, N.J., told NHL.com he's felt the anticipation in the area build by the day. He said he'll have as many as 200 friends and family members at Wells Fargo Center on Friday.
"I've been home since March thinking about it but it hasn't been too much where I worry about it," he said. "This week especially, with everybody starting to call and text, meetings, this week I've been thinking about it a whole lot.
"In the past, the beginning of the year you've got the draft in June, that kind of thing. Now that it's here, it's two days away and I'm going to have a shot to get drafted into the NHL, that's pretty cool."