Top-ranked Kyle Turris speaks to reporters at the NHL Top Prospects luncheon.(CP PHOTO/Ryan Remiorz)
Turris had just eaten lunch Thursday, but was still on a high from his breakfast meeting with the Phoenix Coyotes and Wayne Gretzky. "I was in shock and awe for about an hour and a half," a beaming Turris said. "It was almost a dream come true to meet Wayne Gretzky. I think I spent most of the interview just admiring him."
Turris, from New Westminster, B.C., insisted he doesn't care when his name is called in the first round of the 2007 NHL entry draft Friday at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m. ET).
He maintained he'll continue to feel that way even when the draft hype is at its pitch before the first name is called.
"It's going to be such a thrill that I'm not going to care if I go first or I go fifth," he declared.
The six-foot-one, 175-pound forward is ranked No. 1 among North American skaters by Central Scouting.
The International Scouting Service has him No. 2 behind American forward Pat Kane in rankings that combine both North Americans and Europeans.
Turris also met Thursday morning with the Chicago Blackhawks, who have the first overall pick. Philadelphia has the No. 2 selection and Phoenix is No. 3.
Teams to watch Friday, however, are Edmonton and St. Louis.
Both clubs have three picks in the first round and thus the bartering power to move up in the draft order and cut deals for active players, or "live ammo" as Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter calls them.
Among the Canadian clubs, Edmonton has the sixth, 15th and 30th picks, Montreal has the 12th and 22nd choices, Toronto is picking 13th, Calgary is 18th, Vancouver is 25th and Ottawa is 29th in the order.
Turris is a virtual lock to be the top Canadian taken in this draft.
His competitors to go No. 1 overall are Kane, a Buffalo native who plays for the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights, and winger James vanRiemsdyk, who played for the U.S. under-18 team and is bound for the University of New Hampshire.
Russian forward Alexei Cherapanov, nicknamed The Siberian Express, is expected to be the top European and should hear his named called among the top 10.
Goaltenders don't have a high profile in this draft class and may have to wait until the second to seventh rounds Saturday.
Players drafted this year are eligible for a maximum salary of US$875,000 when they are signed to a three-year entry-level contract. With performance bonuses, a player can make up to an additional $2 million per season.
Turris, who has committed to playing for the University of Wisconsin next season, was showing none of the nerves and all the excitement Thursday about being the belle of the NHL's version of the debutante ball.
"He's like a little kid. He's seeing people he's watched on TV for years," his father Bruce said. "It's like going to his birthday party and he wants to get to the party. This is all the stuff building up to the party, but it's not the party yet."
Turris is unique in that he played Junior A, or Tier 2, hockey with the B.C. junior league's Burnaby Express last season. The first Canadian drafted is usually out of the major junior leagues and occasionally the college ranks.
"It's the first time that Central Scouting has ever thought enough of a Canadian Junior A player to be ranked No. 1 - and that in itself says a lot about him," Central Scouting's director E.J. McGuire said.
Turris had 66 goals and 55 assists in 53 games for the Express this past season.
He had the opportunity to prove himself alongside major junior players his age with Canada's under-18 team both last summer and at this year's world championship and excelled.
Turris does everything at high speed and controls the tempo of a game with it.
"He doesn't lose speed when he cuts across the ice and when he's handling the puck," one NHL scout said. "When you see kids that can't keep up with him, I think it's an amazing thing."
Turris chose to play Junior A in order to stay eligible for a hockey scholarship to Wisconsin. The NCAA considers major junior players professionals and thus ineligible for college scholarships.
At 15, Turris broke his wrist in his first shift in his first Junior B game and used the time off to tour U.S. colleges with parents Bruce and Vikky.
He watched Wisconsin play visiting Denver and knew then and there he wanted to play for the Badgers.
"They average over 14,000 fans and the Cole Center is like GM Place. It's like an NHL facility," he said. "The campus is beautiful, right in between two lakes and they're a good academic school, so it was the whole package."
The WHL's Vancouver Giants, who own his major junior rights, made a pitch to get him last summer and dangled the prospect of playing in a Memorial Cup at home in front of him.
But Turris stayed firm on Wisconsin.
He feels university hockey is the right environment for him to develop into an NHL player. Turris isn't strong enough yet to handle the physical rigours of that league and has room to add about 20 pounds of muscle on his lanky frame.
The shorter, stockier Kane is closer in physical maturity to making the jump to the NHL.
The team that drafts Turris has to be willing to wait a year or two for him, but the NHL scout says that shouldn't affect when his name is called Friday.
"If the kid is talented enough, then you don't back off," he said.
Turris shot onto scouts' radars at last year's Royal Bank Cup, which is the Canadian Junior A championship.
As a 17-year-old playing with 18-to 20-year-olds, he had seven goals and six assists in the tournament to lead the Express to the title and was also named MVP.
In the final, Turris had a hat trick and an assist. Rick Lanz, a former NHL player who coached the Express last year, says that was one of many times Turris demonstrated how exceptional he was.
"I've had numerous moments of things he would do that were just uncanny, stuff that you can't teach and stuff that has followed him from birth and makes him special - the way he kind of draws the puck and quickly jumps around an opponent and releases the shot into the top corner of a net on a target that is about six inches by six inches wide on the short side of the net," Lanz said. "Do it once, maybe twice, but he kept doing that.
"At the end of his junior career with us, he really had no peers."