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Buffalo native enjoys Combine in hometown

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

BUFFALO -- Buffalo native Dennis Gilbert had the experience of a lifetime this week at the 2015 NHL Scouting Combine. 

 Dennis Gilbert prospect NHL Combine Bill Wippert/NHLI

Gilbert, a defenseman for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League, was somewhat of an ambassador during the week.

He often found himself escorting fellow prospects to First Niagara Center for the interviewing phase with NHL teams earlier in the week, and to HarborCenter for the fitness testing on Friday and Saturday.

"It was a really cool experience to be in your hometown and in front of the home crowd, I guess you can say," Gilbert said. "I showed some of the guys where to go, in and around HarborCenter, what doors to get into, what elevator to take, what floors they needed to be on."

One of Gilbert's fondest moments was having the opportunity to meet with the Buffalo Sabres managerial team; one of his 12 interviews he had with NHL teams during the week.

"I saw a lot of familiar faces in there because I grew up here, watched the organization develop year-to-year," Gilbert said. "It was definitely cool to be able to sit in with those guys. They were people I looked up to as a young kid, growing up a Sabres fan. It was a cool experience."

Gilbert said he expects the Sabres to select Boston University center Jack Eichel with the No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft on June 26 at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

"He's a very special player," Gilbert said. "I watched him play a lot this year for BU on the NBC Network and he's going to be a great player in the NHL. As a Buffalo fan, I look forward to seeing him hopefully come to Buffalo and having a great career for the Sabres."

Gilbert is the nephew of Sabres vice president of public and community relations, Michael Gilbert.

"My uncle gave me advice whenever he could," Gilbert said. "He told me to stay positive and keep enjoying it, sit back and realize how much you've accomplished and how great it is to be here. I took it all in; he was really helpful this weekend."

Gilbert, No. 58 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters, had four goals and 27 points in 59 games for the Steel in 2014-15. He is committed to the University of Notre Dame in 2015-16.

"The best aspect of my game is my skating," he said. "I've got a pretty big frame (6-foot-2, 201 pounds), can move pretty well and can close off guys defensively. I feel I'm able to do a lot positive things at both ends of the ice and I owe a lot to my teammates and coaches in Chicago."

Gilbert said the most grueling test of the Combine was the VO2 max stationary bike test held Friday.

"The hardest test was the VO2 max; it really tests your will and leg strength and your ability to consume oxygen as well as fight off the mental battle of trying to keep the legs going as fast as you can," Gilbert said. "The most fun test was functional movement screening. It took a lot of balance."

Gilbert was of course asked where to find the best Buffalo wings in the city. He believes that Duff's Famous Wings on Sheridan Drive is the place to be for "the best wings in the world."

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