COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -Kyle Turris and Patrick Kane, expected to be two of the top picks in the NHL draft, skated around the ice on Thursday afternoon, trying to sidestep a collision with any of the 25 mites and pigtailed power forwards joining them at a hockey clinic.
It wasn't all that long ago that the baby-faced Turris and Kane were about the same size and skill level as the 10-year-old kids who were flopping and teetering around them. Now they're about to step onto the big stage and carry the hopes of a franchise.
Either the 17-year-old Turris, a puck-handling marvel of a center, or the 18-year-old Kane, a sweet-shooting winger, will likely be selected No. 1 in the draft on Friday night at Nationwide Arena. Rounds two through seven will be on Saturday.
The Chicago Blackhawks have the top pick and they aren't tipping their hand. Philadelphia is No. 2, followed by Phoenix, Los Angeles, Washington, Edmonton (its first of three first-round picks) and the host club, Columbus.
But unlike the past few years, when it was easy to pinpoint the talents of No. 1 picks such as reigning MVP Sidney Crosby (2005), Alexander Ovechkin (2004), Rick Nash (2002) and Ilya Kovalchuk (2001), no one would be surprised if someone other than Turris or Kane ended up being the first name called.
``I think it's the most puzzling draft in the last 15 years,'' said Tom Thompson, Minnesota Wild assistant general manager-player personnel.
He said the Wild evaluate players on five criteria and that ``there are a number of players (at the top) of this draft that are lacking in one of those five areas to the point that if they don't overcome those shortcomings, they won't be impact players.''
Front-office people around the league are trying to figure out how good the available draftees are.
``There's not going to be many players out of this draft that are going to step right in and play, which is not a bad thing - (it) gives them more time to develop,'' Carolina GM Jim Rutherford said. ``But you really don't know. It's more of a first round once you get past (picks) five and six where a lot of the players are equal in talent at this point, and you just have to wait and see who develops better than others.''
Turris, a 6-foot-1, 170-pounder from Burnaby, British Columbia, is rated the No. 1 North American skater by the NHL's Central Scouting Service. Kane is No. 2.
``One of the self-admitted shortcomings of Central Scouting is that we rank based on ability alone,'' said E.J. McGuire, director of the scouting service. ``We go to arenas and watch and see who skates the fastest, shoots the hardest, plays the hardest and then compile our lists from there. We leave it to the NHL teams to dig a little deeper into these guys' backgrounds to see if their personality is what's going to fit.''
Some NHL teams reportedly are shying away from Turris because he has already committed to play next year at the University of Wisconsin.
``I've just told the teams, I'm going to be going in year by year and seeing how I develop after each year and make a decision each summer,'' Turris said Thursday, the stage, team draft tables and media risers already set up on the Nationwide Arena floor behind him. ``I'll be listening to the NHL team to see if I'm ready. It could be one year, it could be four years. It's up to them.''
Likewise, some teams have whispered that Kane, at 5-10, 160, isn't big enough - despite the production of smallish players such as Daniel Briere and Chris Drury of the Buffalo Sabres and Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit.
``What are you going to do?'' said Kane, who played last year for London of the Ontario Hockey League. ``Everybody has their own opinion. The way I see it, with the new rules, I look up to the Brieres and the Drurys and Datsyuks and try to pattern my game after them. I'm my own player, but you see them having success and you think it might be good for me.''
There are rumors flying around. With no clear superstars in the draft, the thinking goes that there could be several trades, with teams packaging their top pick to grab a proven player.
Names floating around as trade bait include Flyers defenseman Joni Pitkanen, Minnesota goaltender Manny Fernandez and Ottawa defenseman Wade Redden.
Adding to the intrigue is a talented class of free agents: Briere and Drury, Nashville's Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya, the New York Islanders' Ryan Smyth and New Jersey's Scott Gomez.
Regardless of whether he goes No. 1, Turris already has had a memorable week.
Turris and his parents had breakfast on Thursday morning with Wayne Gretzky and others from the Phoenix Coyotes front office.
``I was kind of in shock and awe for an hour and a half,'' he said.
Asked if Gretzky picked up the tab the incoming college freshman grinned and said, ``I can't comment on that because of NCAA rules.''

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