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Drouin, MacKinnon and Jones fight through fatigue ahead of CHL Top Prospects Game

MacKinnon will captain Team Cherry at Wednesday's CHL Top Prospects Game (Ghyslain Bergeron, The Canadian Pres …

Jonathan Drouin, Nathan MacKinnon and Seth Jones are trying to betray no effect from burning the candle at both ends of the world, and a continent.

The question of how much is too much hockey for a teenage talent whose body is still developing seldom creeps in on the sport's native logic. So if the Canadian Hockey League schedules its mid-season showcase, the CHL/NHL Top Prospects, just 11 days after the end of a world junior championship in far-flung Ufa, Russia, the marquee players will declare themselves good to go. After all, they are trying to show they can stand up to an 82-game NHL schedule, possibly as soon next season.

"My legs are maybe not still where they're supposed to be — that's part of going to Russia," says Drouin, who will be on a line with Team Cherry captain MacKinnon of the host Halifax Mooseheads on Wednesday, with Jones looming on the opposing blueline as captain of Team Orr. "You got to deal with that. That's what I'm trying to do, same with Nate. We're still a little tired, but that's part of that. That's what the NHL guys do. It was a great opportunity to go to Russia."

"They do that in the NHL every day and they get used to it and that's what I'm trying to do here."

Five players lacing up on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, Rogers Sportsnet, BTN livechat) also participated in the world junior. Along with Drouin and MacKinnon, Team Cherry defenceman Mirco Mueller helped Switzerland reach the medal round. Jones and the Plymouth Whalers' Ryan Hartman helped Team USA win the gold.

At least Drouin and MacKinnon are playing in their home arena. Jones has crossed North America twice since getting back to Russia. The rangy defenceman fit in two games with the Portland Winterhawks before going from one coast to the other.

"I had some [jet lag] for sure," he says. "I stopped in Dallas for a couple days after the world junior, had a little off time, then back to Portland and off again. The jet lag? It'll be all right.

"Any time I can try to prepare myself for doing something that gets a little more ready for the pros, I'll be up for it," the 18-year-old added.

Last season, the Top Prospects Game was on Feb. 1, nearly four weeks after the world junior ended. Top prospect Nail Yakupov sat out while recovering from a knee injury suffered in the world junior gold medal game. His Team Russia mate, Mikhail Grigorenko, also didn't play. One trade-off for the shorter window between the tent-pole events is that the CHL is not holding a skills competition on the night before the game.

Drouin and MacKinnon have already travelled overseas twice this season. Their year began early with the Memorial of Ivan Hlinka under-18 tournament in the Czech Republic last August. Then the two precocious 17-year-olds made Team Canada. Their season could go all the way to May, since the Mooseheads are a favourite to win the QMJHL's President's Cup and go to the MasterCard Memorial Cup.

'Ready to go'

Small wonder, then, that Mooseheads coach Dominique Ducharme told Metro Halifax earlier this week that he plans to hold the two dynamic forwards out of practice occasionally to help with their post-Russia recovery. MacKinnon, though, says he's feeling no pain.

"I feel well-rested and ready to go for the second half," he says. "Team Canada takes really good care of us."

Drouin and MacKinnon have played in two games since rejoining Halifax. By team edict, they stayed back last week when the team had a midweek trip to play the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.

"It was tough, obviously I want to get in as many games as I can but it was important for us to rest up," MacKinnon says. "The guys won 7-2 so it was a good character win. But I just went to bed that night. Those extra days off are important, we definitely need to rest up and be ready for the playoffs."

"I tried to watch the game and I probably stopped after the first," Drouin says. "I was getting too anxious. It was pretty hard to watch the boys play."

Overall, it should be interesting to see how close to peak form each of the Big Three in this draft class is on Wednesday night. It's a dream matchup for the CHL: the irresistible forces, the two Canadian playmakers from the East Coast, against the immovable yet very mobile object, the American defenceman who plays on the West Coast.

"Some people are trying to bring that out, the horse-race kind of thing, but I'm not looking into that too much," Jones said. "These are definitely great players, but there's a lot of those here."

Who knows, perhaps it will put a little more wind into MacKinnon's sails.

"It's exciting," says MacKinnon, who has 55 points in 32 games for Halifax. "I know Halifax is going to have great support for us. We have a great fanbase, this is going to be really fun."

Meantime, all of the travel he's had recently has provided Jones with at least one epiphany the 6-foot-3½, 205-pound defender plans to take with him to the NHL.

"Just trying to stay away from those middle seats on the plane, that's my No. 1 priority," the Winterhawk 6-foot-3½says.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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