PITTSBURGH - The top prospects for the NHL draft took a cruise on three rivers Thursday afternoon as the league made the potential top picks available to the media aboard the Empress of the Gateway Clipper Fleet.
Under a searing sun, the Empress started out on the Monagahela, turned at the Ohio and then let the boys off on the Allegheny next to PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, where they took batting practice.
If hockey fans couldn't keep their Yakupovs straight from their Galchenyuks, or their Faksas from their Maattas, or their Troubas from their Dumbas, they'll have it all worked out for them Friday night when the first round of the draft unfolds at the Consol Energy Center.
While the prospects had a moment in the sun -- with the temperature reaching almost 34C and surely a few degrees more than that on the top deck of the Empress -- the name that is really creating the buzz here is that of Columbus Blue Jackets winger Rick Nash.
He's in play on the trade market and, said one NHL insider: "I'm pretty much certain he will get moved (at the draft). Columbus can't really do anything until it resolves that situation one way or the other."
So the Nash watch will be as big or bigger than anything else happening on the arena floor during Friday's festivities. Nash's agent, Joe Resnick, was to meet with Columbus general manager Scott Howson Thursday afternoon. It's not believed the Jackets have brought a trade offer to Resnick and Nash for their approval (Nash has right to pick where he's going to go).
A couple of NHL executives told QMI Agency they believe the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks remain the front-runners for Nash.
"I know (the Rangers) are high on his list," said one.
The same two teams were in contention at February's trade deadline and if that tells you this has dragged on, you would be right. Howson won't make a deal just to make Nash happy, which, despite what our insider told us, could mean this drags on past free agency July 1.
The sticking point with the Sharks, as one source said in February, is they are loathe to part with forward Logan Couture as part of a Nash deal. Joe Pavelski, a source suggested Thursday, could be part of a package going to Columbus.
There also has been talk out the Philadelphia Flyers are interested, but they are interested in any big name who comes on the market. They do have the assets to make a deal work, with forwards James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky potentially part of a deal.
A deal of this magnitude has a lot of moving parts. If teams are planning to use a 2012 first-round draft pick as part of the package, the clock is ticking.
There is talk of Anaheim Ducks forward Bobby Ryan also being in play and, if so, he could be a cheaper, younger alternative to Nash.
Then there's the Zach Parise saga. If the New Jersey Devils forward becomes a free agent, he could be an option for a team, although Parise has ruled out playing for the Rangers.
That might put the heat on the Rangers -- who struggled to score during the playoffs and could use Nash's touch -- to make the big splash Friday night.