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NHL Draft

Doef walks tall at NHL Draft

E.J. McGuire Award winner sustained spinal-cord injury in 2014

by Chris Stevenson / NHL.com Correspondent

BUFFALO -- Neil Doef walked onto the stage at the 2016 NHL Draft on Saturday and received the E.J. McGuire Award presented by NHL Central Scouting in honor of its former director.

The most significant part of that sentence is "Neil Doef walked."

In 2014, Doef sustained a spinal-cord injury that left him paralyzed from the waist down following an on-ice hit while representing Canada East at the World Under-17 Junior A Challenge.

Doctors told him he would not walk again. However, his determination and exhausting rehabilitation have enabled Doef to walk with the aid of a pole and an electrical stimulation brace.

Video: Neil Doef wins E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence

The 19-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ontario, was given a standing ovation by NHL general managers and team officials on the draft floor at First Niagara Center.

Doef said he appreciated the moment and what it has taken for him to arrive on the stage.

"A lot of hard work, so it made it feel even more special," Doef said. "It felt great, and once you got out there and saw everybody, to get a standing ovation from everyone, all the general managers and team staff at their tables, that was really special to me because I have a lot of respect for those guys. You see them on TV all the time so to see them and see them give me a standing ovation meant a lot to me.

"The original prognosis obviously wasn't looking good, but you never know where things are going to go or how things are going to unfold. You just bring that dedication and work ethic every day and just kind of take it day by day and work on getting better and improving."

Doctors told him he would not walk again, but after 18 months of determination and exhausting rehabilitation, Doef walks with the aid of a pole and an electrical stimulation brace.

The 19-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ontario, was given a standing ovation by general managers and team officials on the draft floor at First Niagara Center.

Doef said he appreciated the moment and what it has taken to arrive on the stage.

"A lot of hard work, so it made it feel even more special," Doef said. "It felt great, and once you got out there and saw everybody, to get a standing ovation from everyone, all the general managers and team staff at their tables, that was really special to me because I have a lot of respect for those guys. You see them on TV all the time, so to see them and see them give me a standing ovation meant a lot to me.

"The original prognosis obviously wasn't looking good, but you never know where things are going to go or how things are going to unfold. You just bring that dedication and work ethic every day and just kind of take it day by day and work on getting better and improving."

The award is given to the candidate who best exemplifies the commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.

"Neil's determined approach to his ongoing journey of recovery and rehabilitation truly displays many of E.J.'s inspiring characteristics, and it is befitting to recognize Neil's strength of character and positive outlook with this award," NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said.

McGuire was director of NHL Central Scouting for seven years before he died of cancer in April 2011. A coach at the collegiate, junior and American Hockey League levels, an assistant for three NHL teams during 12 seasons and a scout for two teams, McGuire began serving as director of Central Scouting in 2005.

"It was a huge honor to be able to win this award named after E.J. McGuire," Doef said. "It's definitely something very special and I'll remember for the rest of my life."

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