FARMERS BRANCH, Texas -- Rasmus Dahlin said he's been thinking about the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft a lot more in recent weeks and looks forward to what is sure to be a memorable night at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Fortunately for the defenseman, who is projected to be selected No. 1 by the Buffalo Sabres, and five other top prospects, the day before the big night was filled with activities and events to keep their minds occupied.
Prior to meeting the media in the afternoon, Dahlin of Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League, forward Brady Tkachuk of Boston University in Hockey East, forward Filip Zadina of Halifax in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, forward Andrei Svechnikov of Barrie in the Ontario Hockey League, defenseman Evan Bouchard of London (OHL), and defenseman Noah Dobson of Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL) participated in youth ice hockey and community ball hockey clinics at Dr. Pepper StarCenter on Thursday.
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The first round of the draft is Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 are Saturday (11 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS).
The ball hockey clinic enabled 30 children from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Dallas, ages 8-10, the opportunity to play hockey and experience the values of the sport for the first time. To support continued play, Franklin Sports generously donated ball hockey equipment to each participant and their mentor.
"Boy, playing hockey was really great. I didn't think of anything else and had no worries," said Michael Dang, 11. "It was a lot of fun. I've been a part of Big Brothers Big Sisters for two years and it's so good to experience what it's like to have a big brother."
Peter Ryan, Dang's 26-year-old mentor, said he was happy to see him having so much fun.
"I grew up playing hockey so to share this passion with him and have him experience it with me is something really special," Ryan said.
The children and prospects were also joined by Dallas Stars forwards Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin and goaltender Ben Bishop, and New Jersey Devils forward Blake Coleman, a native of Plano, Texas.
"It's been an honor to be part of this whole day, getting up early in the morning and going to the Stars' practice facility and meeting guys like Benn, Seguin and Bishop was pretty special," Dobson said. "Then to get on the ice and help out the kids. It was great to see all the kids who came out."
Hayden Sims, 11, said he was excited to meet Tkachuk.
"I knew of Brady Tkachuk and I was working with him on protection of the puck," Sims said. "This was really cool to see all the players and prospects together. I love hockey because you're always moving. There aren't a lot of stoppages."
Tkachuk, No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters, was challenging the players he was instructing.
"My drill was protecting the puck and that's fitting because that's something I'm pretty good at," Tkachuk said. "There were some battles. I was playing 1-on-1 with some kids and I got pretty tired. When we were that young, we were super happy and super star-struck when we got to meet NHL players. I felt honored to be there."
The whole day conjured up good memories for Zadina, No. 3 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of North American skaters.
"When I was 7 years old, we did something like this in Prague with Jaromir Jagr and Tomas Plekanec," said Zadina, 18. "It was a pretty great experience for me. These kids love to play hockey, and I do too. I was just trying to show them how I play on the ice, give them something. I was doing the breakaways on the little [goaltenders]. That was funny. I was trying to hit their pads and gloves."
Mackenzie Sunderbruch, 10, stopped Zadina a few times. She's been skating the past five years and enjoyed her time learning from the best.
"Zadina was a great shooter," she said. "I was happy just to get on the ice and skate with these players. I'll never forget this."
Former NHL player Sean Whyte, NHL Youth Hockey Southwest Regional Director, was working with the prospects, players and Big Brothers Big Sisters all afternoon.
"Hopefully the kids take away a good experience and fun times, meet some new people and friends," Whyte said. "At some point, maybe they'll watch a game and remember the guy they played ball hockey with. That'll spawn a lifetime of memories."
Dahlin, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's list of International skaters, said the day was all about the kids and that made it extra special.
"We had a lot of fun on and off the ice, playing ball hockey with the kids. It was awesome," said Dahlin, 18. "They were working hard. They weren't thinking about the prospects. It was kind of weird when they started asking for autographs, though, since I'm not too much older."