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SABRES.COM'S PRE-DRAFT COVERAGE HIGHLIGHTS

by Chris Ryndak / Buffalo Sabres

It's finally here.

The 2016 NHL Draft kicks off at 7 p.m. tonight from First Niagara Center. Join us for the 2016 NHL Draft Fan Fest at Canalside starting at 4 p.m. that will include live music, appearances by Sabres alumni and a viewing party of the draft. You can find more information on Fan Fest here.

Sabres.com's draft coverage presented by New Era all started with the 2016 NHL Scouting Combine at HARBORCENTER earlier in the month. Now, the big weekend is upon us and here's how both the organization and the city have been preparing for it:

A few of the top prospects had a chance to have some fun while in town. They took batting practice with the Bisons and toured Niagara Falls, among other events.

If you're visiting Buffalo for the draft this weekend, Lauren Hall has some suggestions on other things you should check out while you're here:

So general manager Tim Murray and the Sabres currently have 11 picks in the draft (they had 12, but traded a third-round pick for the rights to Hobey Baker-winner Jimmy Vesey this week) and are slotted to make the eighth overall selection in the first round.

Who could they take? We've been following along with some of the mock drafts put together by noteworthy experts from all across North America to help get a handle on that.

And if Kris Baker's Top 30 is any indication, the Sabres should have some quality players to choose from at 8 like defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Olli Juolevi and forwards Alexander Nylander and Logan Brown.

Brian Duff had the chance to sit down with seven of the top prospects 1-on-1. Here are his thoughts on the meaningful comments that came out of those conversations. You can watch the interviews there as well.

And what would being picked by the Sabres mean to some of these kids? We asked them that too:

There are a lot of quality defensemen that could go early like Juolevi, Jakob Chychrun and Charlie McAvoy. Here's what they think separates them from the rest of the pack.

We also picked Kris' brain not only about players who could be selected in the first round, but later on in the draft as well. You can catch Kris and Duffer in our five-part video series, "Prospect Avenue."

Here's the first episode, which focuses on the forwards that could be there at 8:

This is the first time the Sabres have hosted the draft since 1998 (they also hosted at the Aud back in 1991). Tampa Bay took Vincent Lecavalier first overall back in '98 and current Sabres forward David Legwand was selected right behind him by Nashville.

For two local kids, the 1998 draft was incredibly special. Brian Gionta, a Rochester, N.Y. native and now the Sabres captain, was picked by New Jersey in the third round. He sat down with Lauren Hall this week to reflect on that special day:

And St. Catherines, Ont.'s Andrew Peters was Buffalo's second-round selection that year. Peters said Buffalo was where he wanted to be and his passion when talking about it with Lauren really shines through.

This year's draft could be something special for close friends Austin Osmanski and Stephen Dhillon as well. Like Gionta and Peters before them, they're homegrown talents with dreams of being drafted. And they both very well could hear their names called at some point this weekend. Sabres.com's Jourdon LaBarber chatted with them about what it all means.

Griffin Luce is another kid with Western New York ties who will likely be selected a well. He's got Sabres bloodlines and is looking forward to an unforgettable weekend as well. Check out his story here.

And finally, if you're feeling really nostalgic, we caught up with Buffalo's first-ever pick – and the franchise's greatest skater – Gilbert Perreault about what that 1970 NHL Draft was like.

There weren't any lottery balls that determined whether Buffalo or Vancouver would select the talented center. Fate was handed down by the literal spin of a wheel – and a protest from GM Punch Imlach.

Stay tuned to Sabres.com all weekend long as we'll have wall-to-wall coverage of the 2016 NHL Draft. We have even more videos and features in our official draft blog and at our Draft Central homepage.

If you can't make it to the arena, the first round will air at 7 p.m. on NBCSN. Saturday's coverage begins at 10 a.m. on NHL Network.

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