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NHL Draft: Reality setting in for 2016's top prospects

by Adam Kimelman / Columbus Blue Jackets


BUFFALO -- Sarnia defenseman Jakob Chychrun and Windsor center Logan Brown have been best friends for many years, and have traveled similar paths to becoming top prospects for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Each has joint citizenship in the United States and Canada, is the son of a former NHL player (Jeff Chychrun, Jeff Brown) and is in the top 10 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters (Chychrun is No. 4; Brown is No. 7) for 2016. And they're roommates in Buffalo as they await the first round of the draft Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports). Rounds 2-7 will be Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2).

"Jake Chychrun and I are roommates this weekend here, and we were sitting there last night and out of the blue he said, '[Logan], we're getting drafted into the NHL tomorrow night,'" Brown said Thursday during a prospect event at the Buffalo Erie Basin Marina. "It's crazy. It's something that we've been dreaming of. It's been a dream, but it's finally here. It's finally going to happen."

Some of the top prospects have been in Buffalo since early in the week and have found a few activities to keep their mind off the draft. Zurich center Auston Matthews, expected to be selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs with the first pick, was one of six prospects to take batting practice at Coca-Cola Field, home of the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, before the Bisons' game Wednesday. He was joined by Tappara right wing Patrik Laine, Karpat right wing Jesse Puljujarvi, London forward Matthew Tkachuk and defenseman Olli Juolevi, and Cape Breton left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois.

On Thursday, Matthews, Laine, Puljujarvi, Tkachuk and Dubois were guests at a youth hockey clinic at HarborCenter, rode on the Maid of the Mist boat tour around Niagara Falls and visited children at a hospital.

"Today it's been pretty fun," Matthews said. "Skating with some little kids in the morning, the Maid of the Mist tour, visiting some kids at the hospital, it was really fun. Gets your mind off the draft and all the stuff going on."

Dubois, NHL Central Scouting's top-rated North American skater, said staying busy with non-hockey things has helped him put his draft-day thoughts on the back burner for a little bit.

"It's helped a lot," he said. "Haven't talked about the draft in the past two or three days and I can't remember the last time that's happened."

Playing in the NHL has been a dream since childhood for the prospects, and the draft has loomed in the distance since they began preparing for the 2015-16 season. Now, 24 hours away from learning their NHL destiny, the reality finally is starting to set in.

"It's kind of overwhelming," said Boston University defenseman Charles McAvoy, ranked No. 6 among North American skaters. "The excitement … just really ready. It's been a long time coming. Ready to figure out what's going to happen tomorrow."

Said Chychrun, "This is something that I've worked so hard at my whole life. I'm roommates with my best buddy, Logan Brown. This is a moment we've been talking about since we can remember, since we've been toddlers really. It's crazy. Seems like every hour it's sinking in even more, that tomorrow is the big day."

Mississauga left wing Alexander Nylander, No. 3 among Central Scouting's North American skaters, got a preview of what the draft could be like two years ago. He was in Philadelphia when his brother, William Nylander, was selected by the Maple Leafs with the fifth pick of the 2014 draft.

"I was pretty nervous too," Nylander said. "And I wasn't the one getting drafted. So we were nervous, but it was fun and exciting. Really nice moment for him to get drafted."

He doesn't think he'll be as nervous this time around when he is selected in Buffalo.

"I've been through it with him so it won't be as nerve-wracking," Nylander said. "Be a little bit of nerves in there."

William, who made his NHL debut for Toronto this season, said he's going to be a bit tense until his brother's name is called.

"You're always a little nervous," Nylander said. "But in the end you know it's going to work out. Just anxious to get it going. That's the way I was too."

As anxious as they are for the draft to start, the prospects each also understand that it's only one day in his hockey life.

"It's only the beginning of a very long career," Dubois said. "My dream is to play in the NHL and have a long career in the NHL and win the Stanley Cup. The draft is fun, but it's nothing. You've got to keep moving forward and working hard because you haven't made it yet."

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