This was Patrick Kane's life exactly three years ago: Top prospect for the 2007 entry draft, attending a game in the Stanley Cup final, going on television with Don Cherry, and otherwise absorbing what life at the top looks like as an NHL player.
The difference, on Friday, was that Kane was on the other side of the fence, suiting up for the Chicago Blackhawks, only two victories away from celebrating a championship of his own, as the NHL paraded the leading contenders for the 2010 entry draft through the dressing rooms of the two Cup contenders.
Nowadays, the transition from top prospect to significant contributor can happen quickly. Kane is living proof that a player with high-end skill doesn't need a lot of time in the development stream, and that a team that lands a player of his level can turn things around quickly.
"We saw Ottawa play Anaheim," Kane recalled of the 2007 experience, "and Anaheim ended up winning 1-0. It was a really tight-checking game. It was pretty cool; the place was on fire; it was in Anaheim, so we got a chance to see California and meet a lot of high-end people at this level."
Presumably, one of those high-end people they would have trooped past was the Ducks' Chris Pronger, who played for Anaheim during their '07 championship season, and now is the immovable obstacle on the Philadelphia Flyers' blueline that has more or less kept Kane and Co. at bay.
Kane scored his first of the series in the third period of Wednesday's game to give Chicago its one-and-only lead of a match they ultimately lost 4-3 in overtime, which still left the Blackhawks up 2-1 in the series heading into Friday's fourth game. It was one of the few times Kane's line was able to shake free offensively against a Flyers' team that has played them tight all series long.
"Any time you can score and put up points, it helps your overall confidence," said Kane. "But overall, I thought I had a pretty good game and I'm headed in the right direction. Now the biggest thing is building off that and try to get more opportunities and create even more."
Kane took a moment to speak to Windsor Spitfires winger Taylor Hall and the other entry-draft prospects yesterday. Hall said he didn't ask Kane for any advice per se about going first overall, but Kane volunteered that where a player was drafted was ultimately a secondary consideration.
"When it comes right down to it, you just have to have fun and enjoy your NHL career."
Something Kane is clearly doing.
Most impressive to Hall? Kane's mullet, which he described as "awesome. I've got to give him credit. He's got to have some serious skin to do that."
Of the five players who turned up for Friday's prospects availability, Hall looks the readiest to make a quick and smooth transition to the NHL. If it means starting at the bottom as Kane and Jonathan Toews did with the rebuilding Blackhawks, so be it.
"For sure, you look at the teams in the NHL right now," said Hall. "You look at Washington, Pittsburgh, Chicago obviously. These top-tier teams are teams that started at the bottom. That's the way to do. You have to put yourself there. You have to get those top players in the draft and hopefully, I can be one of those top guys and make an impact and really bring a Stanley Cup to a city. That would be awesome."
Hall grew up in Calgary and acknowledged that he cheered for the Flames when he was younger. If he ends up playing in Edmonton for the Oilers, he would follow a decades-long pattern, in which Edmonton-born players end up in Calgary and Calgary-born players wind up in Edmonton. In 2006, the first year after the lockout, the Oilers captain was Jason Smith, a Calgary native. For most of the past decade, Edmonton's Jarome Iginla has been the Calgary captain.
Hall figured someone would ask about that possible link and had a ready reply:
"I'm not a huge Flames' fan any more - but I was hoping they would have a good team this year."
But he grew up hating the Oilers?
"I didn't hate the Oilers at all," Hall answered quickly. "I love the game of hockey. I was excited to watch any team. I'm telling you the honest truth."
Hall was scheduled to go to Boston for a pre-draft visit with the Bruins Saturday and then was heading to Edmonton to meet with the Oilers' staff again next Wednesday.
The Bruins were a playoff team in 2010 and have the chance to draft second, thanks to a deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs last year for the rights to Phil Kessel. Edmonton is in the early stages of a major rebuild, but is starting to piece together a young nucleus that includes Jordan Eberle, a teammate of Hall's on last year's world junior team.
"Both are really good situations," said Hall. "In Edmonton, they've got a lot of young guys ... where you could step in and maybe make a big impact next year. Then you have Boston. They've got a team where they're contending for playoffs every year and made it so far (to the quarter-finals) this year. Either one would be an awesome team to go to."