BUFFALO -- It was a special day for the top prospects in the 2016 NHL Draft, who got a chance to help the next generation of young players advance their skills.
Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Matthew Tkachuk and Pierre-Luc Dubois were joined by Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane at the Prospects Youth Clinic at HarborCenter on Thursday. The prospects instructed players from Buffalo's Academy of Hockey in various drills, something that made them think back to when they were that age.
"There were a couple times that I had a chance to meet our pro league team's players and had this kind of event when I was younger," Laine said. "Those were just huge things to ask when we're juniors and to have that kind of experience with autographs and photos and it was just amazing to have that type of experience."
Matthews, who grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., took part in clinics with the Arizona Coyotes. He learned from Shane Doan and Daniel Briere and was left with a lifetime of memories to take on his way to likely becoming the No. 1 pick at the 2016 draft.
"I wasn't quite their age, but just skating out there with those guys it's definitely pretty special," Matthews said. "I think you could see it in all their faces with all the guys out there with Evander Kane, as a guy who plays here in Buffalo, they're all very excited."
Video: Matthews, Laine and others at NHL Draft clinic
Tkachuk spent most of his youth growing up in St. Louis, where his father, Keith Tkachuk, spent almost all of his last nine NHL seasons playing for the Blues. Matthew participated in clinics and camps similar to the one he was a part of in Buffalo on Thursday.
"It's great to give back and it's special to have a couple of the top guys, especially in the draft, come and help out the guys," Tkachuk said. "If I were in their position, I'd be loving that. I remember when Erik Johnson just got drafted by the Blues (No. 1 in 2006) and I got a chance to skate with him and I thought that was the coolest thing ever. You take advantage of opportunities like that."
Being on the other side of things at the clinic gave the players a chance to share with the kids what it was like to be in their position when they were that young.
"I told them I remember when I was a kid my dream was to play in the NHL and I was kind of shy to tell everybody because everybody tells you there aren't a lot of guys that make it there," Dubois said. "But giving back to kids is probably one of the best things you can do. Seeing the smile on their faces when you help them or you play with them is something that really means a lot to me."
The kids from the Academy of Hockey also gave the prospects a few laughs and reasons to be proud of themselves with their eagerness to prove how well they can play at that age.
"I asked them who was the best one out here and every single one them said, 'Me! Me! Me!' so they had a lot of confidence in the group," Matthews said. "But it was kind of nice to see all the smiles on their faces and how much fun they're having out there."
After learning so much at camps and clinics in the past, the chance to teach the kids something new was something they were eager to do.
"It shows that we care and we want to give back," Tkachuk said. "It's all about improving hockey, especially for us Americans proving it in the United States and making it a powerhouse worldwide, and I guess that's a start."