The future of the National Hockey League begins with the NHL Draft where the 2017 stage is set in Chicago for a group of Canadian Hockey League top prospects ready to take the next step towards a dream.
Since 1969, close to 50% of all players selected have been from the CHL cementing the league’s status as the number one supplier of talent to the NHL.
2017 should once again have a strong CHL presence fueled by players from across the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League who will live the joy of hearing their names called by NHL teams.
“It’s been a long time coming to get to this point with a lot of hard work,” said top ranked Nolan Patrick during a media availability on Thursday afternoon that included several other top prospects. “It’s another step in the right direction of making the NHL for me.”
The Brandon Wheat Kings captain is the first name on a list of 157 CHL players ranked by NHL Central Scouting, followed by CHL Rookie of the Year Nico Hischier of the Halifax Mooseheads who also waits with anticipation for his NHL Draft destination.
“I’m really happy to be here and glad that this is going to happen soon,” said Hischier. “I’m really excited and looking forward to the draft.”
Last season 96 CHL players were selected including 15 first round picks. The Windsor Spitfires were one of two teams with three players taken within the Top-30 and will also boast another early choice as forward Gabe Vilardi enters the draft listed at number four.
“I think about my teammates for sure,” Vilardi said. “I wouldn’t be here without them obviously. Guys like Trainers, Therapists, you don’t see them a lot but they chip in behind the scenes a lot.”
Thursday’s media availability took place on a Chicago River boat tour that provided the players an opportunity to see some of the city’s historic architecture, while some have also taken advantage of a week of sightseeing to help take their minds away from the weekend’s events.
“I came here Tuesday and enjoyed Chicago downtown, but the big day is creeping up and I’m really excited about it,” said Michael Rasmussen of the Tri-City Americans. You work a long time for this and it’s a big step for all of us.”
Rasmussen is listed fifth among North American skaters just one spot ahead of fellow WHL U.S Division forward Cody Glass of the Portland Winterhawks who also can’t wait to see how the draft unfolds.
“I’m really anxious to be honest,” Glass said. “It’s something I’ve been waiting for ever since the NHL Combine ended and it’s pretty much a waiting game for me now so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Those feelings were echoed by seventh ranked Owen Tippett of the Mississauga Steelheads.
“I’m more anxious than anything,” Tippett said. “It didn’t really kick in until I landed but it’s starting to feel more real, so I’m excited for sure.”
The moment is definitely real as the 2017 NHL Draft is just hours away where CHL stars will celebrate their achievements with family and friends as the NHL welcomes the next wave.