The four teenagers dressed in suits stood in the center of the Bruins’ locker room Monday morning.
They kept their hands in their pockets and glanced around at the spectacle. They saw dozens of camera crews jostling for position and scrums of reporters swarming Boston players by their lockers.
The four teenagers didn’t say much. They shifted their focus from locker to locker with doe-eyed stares.
Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Darnell Nurse, and Jonathan Drouin are the four top-rated North American prospects in the upcoming NHL draft. In a few years, maybe even sooner, they could be the ones sitting at the lockers, fielding questions before a Stanley Cup Final.
For now, they absorbed the scene in awe.
“I couldn’t believe how cramped it was,” said Nurse, a 6-foot-4-inch defenseman. “I was getting all sweaty, and I had some breathing room. I could see some of the players were getting frustrated.”
Some of those players have been in Nurse’s position. Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton received the same backstage treatment to the 2011 Finals. Forward Tyler Seguin was invited to the 2010 Finals.
Seguin, now 21, approached the foursome before he scooted toward his locker.
“You know when I did this,” he told the group, “I got to meet [Chicago forward] Patrick Kane.”
And when Hamilton did it? He met Seguin, here in the same locker room before Game 3 of the Final against Vancouver.
“Kind of weird when you think of it like that,” said Hamilton, who has played in seven playoff games this season. “I don’t remember much about that day. Don’t even really remember who I talked to or what they said. Just remember being overwhelmed by it all.”
Hamilton recalled walking toward the podium where coach Claude Julien was set to address the media. He gaped at the rows of empty chairs and couldn’t believe reporters would fill every seat. He and the other three prospects took turns taking photos of each other standing in front of Julien’s podium. Hamilton’s photo has since been deleted.
“It didn’t come out good,” said Hamilton. “Too blurry.”
What did last was Hamilton’s impression after watching Game 3. He couldn’t believe how loud TD Garden was.
“The fans stood for 10 minutes straight in the first period,” Hamilton said. “And I had never seen anything like that in my life.”
The four new prospects have interesting backgrounds. Jones, a 6-4 defenseman projected to be picked first by the Colorado Avalanche, is the son of former NBA player — and onetime Celtic — Popeye Jones.
Nurse’s uncle is former Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.
In a few years, these teenagers — whose baby-faced skin contrasted greatly with the overgrown playoff beards on the Bruins and Blackhawks — might be household names. That’s something that seemed overwhelming to MacKinnon.
“It’s crazy to think that [Seguin and Hamilton] were in our position just a few years ago,” MacKinnon said. “It seems like those guys have been playing in the NHL forever.”
Hamilton said he never envisioned being on a Stanley Cup Final team only two years after being drafted.
“It’s something that never crossed my mind,” said the defenseman, who played in 42 regular-season games this year — and who turned 20 Monday.
“He’s probably had more opportunities and ice time than a 19-year-old could ever imagine when he came to us,” said Julien. “He’s played a lot of power plays, he’s done a lot of things.”
MacKinnon said most players he met gave him the same advice: Just enjoy the experience.
It’s difficult, MacKinnon said, when these few weeks leading up to the June 30 draft are so overwhelming. MacKinnon is missing his high school graduation and prom.
“But I couldn’t find a date,” the Nova Scotia native said. “Maybe next year I would.”
The thing that struck Jones most about his tour was sitting in on the teams’ morning skates. The foursome sat together in the 100 level, again showing the same doe-eyed stares and stiff demeanor.
“When I pregame skate, maybe I don’t skate as hard as I can,” Jones said. “I try to save my energy. But you see them out there and they are going 100 percent. They got off the ice and they are dripping in sweat.”
That intensity is something Jones hopes to experience soon.