PHILADELPHIA – There are strange interviews in this gig all the time. I stumbled into one Wednesday afternoon on a sweltering day inside Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies, and it was great fun.
The top prospects for Friday night’s NHL Draft were here to take a little batting practice prior to the Phillies-Marlins game and I found myself chatting with Leon Draisaitl, the big German with the growing buzz at the top of the first round.
So follow me here for a second. Standing behind home plate on a baseball diamond, I asked a German hockey player about … a soccer game?
Yep, it’s as confusing as it sounds.
But with Team USA’s World Cup showdown with Germany set for today, there was no way I was letting the topic go.
“I’m so excited. I’m German and obviously cheering for my country,” Draisaitl said. “They just have to play their game. They’re one of the best teams in the World Cup.”
Then the 18-year-old upped the ante some.
“If they play their game, I don’t think the U.S. has a chance. But I realize you never know. The U.S. has played two really good games, so it’s really going to be interesting.”
Now, the kid was talking about soccer remember, but he may as well have been referring to the draft he’s in town for.
It’s really going to be interesting.
The draft is a complete circus at the top this year. It seems pretty clear that Barrie defenseman Aaron Ekblad is the top pick if Florida keeps No. 1, or if many other teams make a deal with the Panthers for it.
But what if Vancouver somehow makes a deal for the Panthers’ pick? The Canucks would be doing it to get center Sam Reinhart, who played at Kootenay in the Western League. That would give the Sabres quite a dilemma about Ekblad – and, I would say, lead them to holding up Edmonton at No. 3 to get an asset to switch picks.
The Oilers love Draisaitl, largely because they’re assuming they can’t get their hands on Ekblad. And Ekblad is the guy they really need.
Let’s say chalk holds with Ekblad going at No. 1. What happens next? It changes day to day.
There’s plenty of chatter that the Sabres have settled on Reinhart at No. 2, and did so weeks ago. But it’s known they like Draisaitl too.
And then Wednesday afternoon, USA Today’s Kevin Allen – the president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and one of the most respected names in the industry – threw an interesting curveball.
Allen’s mock draft listed Kingston’s Sam Bennett as the Sabres’ choice, with Reinhart instead going fourth to follow his father’s footsteps in Calgary.
“At this point, anything can really happen and we’re all aware of it,” Reinhart said. “We’re just trying to enjoy this. Wherever I go, I will be thrilled for an opportunity to go there and play. I’m excited for that.”
Both Draisaitl and Reinhart said they’ve studied depth charts for the top teams, meaning Florida, Buffalo, Edmonton and Calgary.
“You kind of have to now with the situation of teams,” Reinhart said. “I’m motivated and confident I can step in.”
I asked if that meant Buffalo, where there is a clear dearth of centers.
“Certainly I’m aware of that,” Reinhart said. “The opportunity there would be great, and if that were to arise, I’d be thrilled.”
It was a busy day in the NHL, the first full day of the interview period for free agents and one that saw Ryan Callahan and Marian Gaborik sign $69 million worth of extensions.
The talk around town is that the Canucks have already chatted up Ryan Miller, the Islanders are desperate to get in on everybody, and Martin Brodeur was at a charity golf tournament in Toronto and seen hobnobbing at the Blue Jays game with higher-ups of Maple Leaf Sports. You can be sure the Sabres are kicking a few tires too, including those of old friends Steve Ott and Matt Moulson.
It was a busy day for the draftees as well. They started at the Philadelphia Art Museum and ran up the steps made famous in “Rocky.” Jumped to the top with arms raised too.
They went to the “LOVE” statue, another Philadelphia icon, and then it was lunch time. For what? Cheesesteaks of course at Geno’s, with Reinhart even taking a turn behind the grill. Then the Betsy Ross House and, finally, the batting tee at home plate at the ballpark. For the record, they will be better at hockey.
“We’ve all been through a lot together the last couple months. It’s really the time of your life, of your hockey career so far,” Draisaitl said. “It’s been amazing.”
The prospects’ City of Brotherly Love tour continues today, and there will be more interviews during a media session at the National Constitution Center. But Draisaitl said he’s going to make sure to keep an eye on the soccer match before that chat – and he’s not taking Team USA lightly.
“They deserve the attention,” Draisaitl said. “They’ve played so well so far. It’s good for the United States that soccer gets more and more attention, and it’s good for their team that people are noticing, for sure.”
Some soccer today. And then all hockey the rest of the weekend. Should be interesting.