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AS DRAFT APPROACHES, TOP PROSPECTS TAKE TIME TO ENJOY THE CITY

by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres
(Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)

Only one day remains until the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft is held at First Niagara Center, at which time prospects are going to find out what team they'll be playing for and, perhaps more significantly, where they'll be spending the next few years of their life once they turn pro.

With the stakes so high, so is the anticipation. But a handful of prospects have been lucky enough to have some League-organized distractions, beginning with batting practice at Coca-Cola Field on Wednesday and continuing on Thursday with a hockey clinic at HARBORCENTER, a ride through Niagara Falls on the Maid of the Mist and a tour of Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

"We haven’t talked about the Draft in about two days and I can't remember the last time that happened," forward Pierre-Luc Dubois said Thursday at the Erie Basin Marina in downtown Buffalo. "I'm really enjoying my time right now."

For other prospects, the free time has served as a welcome chance to enjoy the city on their own terms. Most were here earlier this month for the NHL Scouting Combine, but were busy enough to the point where they spent little time outside their hotel.

"We left the hotel today, no game plan, kind of just walked around downtown," Boston University defenseman Charlie McAvoy said. "It's nice down there; we went and had a good lunch. It's nice to see some family I haven’t seen in a long time and to share this with them is special."

Much of the attention this week has been focused on forward Auston Matthews, the presumptive No. 1 pick to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He recalled seeing a similar hype playing with Jack Eichel at the World Junior Championship in 2015, where Connor McDavid was an opponent.

"It was just so hectic," Matthews said. "I think I learned a lot, I roomed with Jack and just to see his mentality and how he was handling everything, it was very professional."

Matthews and other prospects met another Sabre at the Prospects Clinic, which was attended by Evander Kane. Together, they spent time teaching various skills to youth hockey players. Kane joked about sending an early message to Matthews, likely a future rival.

"I was thinking about maybe giving him a little bump out there into the boards," he said.

Kane's words of advice to the prospects? Enjoy it, because the next few days – and then the next few years – are going to go by quickly.

"I was telling some of these guys, jeez, seven years ago, this was me," he said. "Time's kind of flown by. It makes you realize how you've really got to enjoy it when you're in the League. It was fun to get out here with the kids."

The 2016 NHL Draft begins at 7 p.m. on Friday at First Niagara Center. It can be seen live on NBC Sports Network and heard on WGR 550. There will also be a watch party at the official Fan Fest, which will be held at Canalside from 4 to 10 p.m. and will include appearances from select Sabres players and alumni.

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