The top American players eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft will be in Buffalo tonight for the sixth annual CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
Hall of Fame defensemen Brian Leetch and Chris Chelios will be coaching the two all-star teams and they're expecting a fast and fun game.
"The good thing is most of the kids have their spots in college or wherever they're going. It seems like they're a real loose group of kids after being in the room with them," Chelios said. "It's looks like it's kind of a sigh of relief to just do something different, be in an arena, play in front of the scouts. To me, it seemed like a real loose group of kids, which is nice. It looks like they're going to have fun."
The game features 42 of the best U.S.-born players eligible for the draft, of which 39 appear on the 2017-18 NHL Central Scouting Pre-Season Futures List that designates players with potential to be selected in the first three rounds of the draft.
"All these guys are good, all-around players. They're here for a reason," Leetch said. "They're taking that next step and this is a showcase game for them. I'm excited to watch both teams play and compete."
Thirty-seven players are verbally committed to NCAA programs. Additionally, defenseman Quinn Hughes is a freshman at the University of Michigan (Big Ten) while forward Brady Tkachuk is entering his first season at Boston University (Hockey East).
Some players, like Tkachuk (the son of former NHL All-Star Keith and brother of 2016 first-round pick Matthew), may be back in Buffalo soon enough for the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in December. He's expected to be a top pick in the upcoming draft.
"It's a huge honor," he said of playing in the showcase. "It's a fun couple days. I get to see a couple guys I haven't seen in a while and I'm really excited for tonight."
The game was previously held in Buffalo in 2012, 2014 and 2015. Sabres coach Phil Housley coached in the very first AAPG back in 2012.
Notable alumni include Jack Eichel, Zach Werenski, Seth Jones and Tkachuk's brother Matthew. Tkachuk said he looks up to those players and he's proud to say he's had a chance to play in the All-American Prospects Game as well.
"It's definitely to cool to see they went through this game and it's going to be an awesome experience," he said.
The 2017 AAPG will be streamed live, free-for-view, on HockeyTV and AllAmericanProspectsGame.com. NHL Network's Paul Severino and EJ Hradek will provide play-by-play commentary.
"These kids, they know they're right there, knocking at the door. They see all their buddies making it to the NHL so I'm sure they're just chomping at the bit to go out tonight and have a good game. You never know who's watching and then the next thing you know, it goes quick."
One local player to keep an eye on who will look to make an impact is goaltender Ben Kraws of Team Chelios. He played for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres last season and is committed to Miami University.
Tickets for the game are $10 general admission and still available here or at the KeyBank Center Box Office.