BUFFALO - Five of the top-ranked players for the upcoming draft met the media Friday afternoon at the NHL Combine.

Top-ranked North American skater Macklin Celebrini, fellow forward Cayden Lindstrom, and defencemen Artyom Levshunov, Zeev Buium and Zayne Parekh discussed the upcoming draft, their varying styles of play and more in advance of Saturday’s fitness testing sessions at LECOM HarborCenter.

Never Satisfied

Celebrini is seen by many as the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s Draft, and he arrived in Buffalo this week on the heels of a sensational season at Boston University, one which was capped off with a Hobey Baker Award.

Raised in North Vancouver, B.C., but now based in the Bay Area, Celebrini was quick to tell reporters Friday that he’s got a lot of work to do before becoming an NHLer.

This after a freshman season that saw him light the lamp 32 times in 38 games as a Terrier.

“I mean, cliche, but I feel like I need to work on everything,” Celebrini commented when asked about his summer plans. “I’m not very satisfied with where my game is at, I feel like there are a lot of holes in my game this year, so I’m going to be working this year, I was even talking to some of my coaching staff from last year on some things they think I need to improve.

“For sure, there’s stuff I need to work on.”

But what about the pressure of being the top prospect?

Celebrini says he’s been in contact with last year’s first-overall pick - and childhood friend - Connor Bedard, but he’s been able to forge his own path so far, for the most part.

“I talked to him a little bit, he’s a friend that we kind of grew up a little bit together,” said Celebrini. “At the start of this year, he kind of reached out and said if there was anything I need help with, let him know.

“I mean he’s there if I have any questions, but I haven’t had to use him very much.”

The top-ranked skater takes questions from the media

Role Models

Both Cayden Lindstrom and Zayne Parekh understand their status in hockey’s BIPOC community.

Sitting at No. 3 and No. 5 on NHL Central Scouting’s North American list, respectively, the pair was asked about the importance of their representation among the top-ranked players in this year’s draft.

“It means a lot, just showing that anyone can do it,” said Lindstrom, who skates with the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers. “Whether you’re of colour or not and just showing younger kids of colour that if you put in the work, and just grind every day that you can get to wherever you want, either in sports or in life.”

Parekh arrived in Buffalo on Tuesday after winning the Memorial Cup this past weekend with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit.

He’s proud to be part of the ever-increasing diversity in hockey.

“I’m just trying to do as well as I can, and there’s kids that look up to me every day,” he told reporters. “(I’m) trying to set a good example, and conduct myself in the right way all the time. For kids out there, it doesn’t matter what race you are, honestly.

“This sport’s for everyone, if you’re working hard, you can make it to any level you want to.”

"I want to be a guy that can play the big moments"

Deep Defensive Class

Parekh is one of several highly-touted defencemen in this year’s Draft class, and for good reason.

He put up an eye-popping 33 goals and 96 points with the Spirit this past winter, earning CHL Defenceman of the Year honours for his efforts.

“There’s a lot of good defencemen, honestly, and for myself, I think I play a different style of hockey from most of them,” he said. “They’re all capable defencemen, the way I play, I like to drive pace, make plays, and you know, I’m pretty creative in terms of the way I play.

“Different style from everyone, teams know that, I know that, and at the end of the day it’s going to be who they fall in love the most with over these next few weeks.”

Zeev Buium, here in Buffalo after winning an NCAA national championship with the University of Denver this spring, figures his multi-faceted defensive game helps him stand out amongst the pack.

“I think for me, just my ability to defend different kinds of players, and just the consistency within my defence,” the No. 4 ranked North American skater said of the strengths of his game. “I say it all the time, but I want to be a guy that can play the big moments at the end of a game, when we need to kill a play.”

"My dream is to be in the NHL"

Artyom Levshunov, meanwhile, is one of a kind.

All week, he’s had staffers in stitches - a KeyBank Center security guard regaled the Flames TV team with a five-minute story about the blueliner’s sense of humour Wednesday.

But his story is unique, too, and that helps the 18-year-old stand out.

He signed with Green Bay of the USHL in 2022-23 straight out of Belarus, then after one season moved on to Michigan State, where he collected 35 points on the Spartans’ back end and was named the Big Ten Rookie of the Year.

And now, he’s the top-ranked defenceman in this year’s NHL Draft class.

“I talked with my advisors, my family, my coaches, Mike Leone who worked (in Green Bay) the last two years,” Levshunov said of his decision to come to North America. “I decided it was again, good for me, good for my development to play in the USHL. Actually, I wanted to play in the CHL before the USHL, but unfortunately it was cancelled for Russian and Belarusian players, so I had an option to play in the USHL, then I had an option to go to college.

“I’m just wanting to chase my dream.”