BUFFALO -- St. Louis figures to get a lot of attention at the 2016 NHL Draft because four players who grew up there likely will be selected in the first round, and a fifth figures to be taken not too much later.
NHL Central Scouting has London left wing Matthew Tkachuk, Windsor center Logan Brown, United States National Team Development Program U-18 center Clayton Keller and University of Wisconsin center Luke Kunin ranked in the top 15 of North American skaters eligible for the draft.
The four players share more than being highly ranked prospects and growing up in the same area too.
"There are possibly four of us that are going in the first round from the team that we played on when we were 6 years old," Brown said Thursday. "Looking back, you wouldn't even dream of it. It's crazy to think in one city there's four first-rounders. It's crazy. We were talking about it the other night; we don't know if there's ever been that many from one team."
Brown (No. 7), Tkachuk (No. 2), Kunin (No. 11) and Keller (No. 9) played together in the St. Louis AAA Blues youth hockey program, which also produced NTDP U-18 center Trent Frederic (No. 47) and NTDP U-18 goalie Joseph Woll (No. 5 among North American goalies). The possibility of four players from one youth team going in the first round is remarkable enough, but the fact they all come from St. Louis is particularly impressive since the Missouri city isn't exactly known as a hockey hotbed.
"There's only one AAA team, the St. Louis AAA Blues have been our childhood," Tkachuk said. "We had to travel a lot for games, but it's all been worth it and all the money the parents have put in and that, and all the coaches and all the time. This whole process (with the draft) has made me realize how much more I needed to give to them and I guess how proud of me they are. So it's been fun."
What has helped this class of St. Louis-area players is the fact that Brown's father, Jeff, and Tkachuk's father, Keith, each had a long NHL career; Brown, a defenseman, played 329 regular-season games with the St. Louis Blues from 1989-94, and Tkachuk played 543 in two stints in St. Louis.
"It's just the ex-NHLers coming back," Brown said. "My dad and Mr. Tkachuk, Al MacInnis, they really love it, and St. Louis is such a good place to raise a family and they go back there and they settle. Like my dad, he had me on the team, so he kind of took over and he really took pride in developing our group."
This wave of players out of St. Louis, along with the recent success of the Blues, has put the city on the hockey map. The players' pride for their hometown is evident when listening to them talk about growing up together.
"It's been fun and a lot of people, I hope, take notice of this and see how hockey in -- I guess what they say is a non-traditional hockey market -- they can produce players and they're producing a few this year, and I hope it just keeps on coming," Tkachuk said.
What is coming for each of the St. Louis prospects, either in the first round Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports) or in rounds 2-7 on Saturday (10 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2), is a dream come true.
"Jakob 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. "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."
Making it to the NHL will be the goal of each player after he is drafted, and that St. Louis pride will only help.
"We should be proud of ourselves, and St. Louis should be proud to produce high-end players, and I just hope kids see this in St. Louis," Tkachuk said. "I know they will because it's a bigger hockey market than a lot of people think and a lot of people really care about hockey. We just want to be trailblazers and we want to have kids look up to us and try to follow in our footsteps, and that's only if we have a great career. Not only are we playing for ourselves, we're playing for St. Louis and we just want to see the game grow there."