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CHL stars ready to take the stage in Buffalo

The future of the National Hockey League is ready to take the stage in Buffalo at the 2016 NHL Draft.

Top prospects from around the Canadian Hockey League and beyond will converge at First Niagara Center, home of the Sabres, with the top 30 picks to be announced on Friday night followed by rounds two through seven on Saturday.

It’s an opportunity for all 30 NHL teams to find talent that may one day lead them to a Stanley Cup as hockey fans worldwide get their first look at future stars donning the sweaters of their favourite teams.

“I’m excited, there’s nothing more you can do about it anymore, just waiting to see what’s going to happen,” said Pierre-Luc Dubois at a top prospects media availability on Thursday. “I’m enjoying my time right now with all the guys.  Today was a really fun day, and tomorrow is going to be great with my family.”

The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward headlines a list of 149 CHL players listed in NHL Central Scouting’s Final Draft Rankings. Ranked second is MasterCard Memorial Cup champion and overtime hero Matthew Tkachuk of the London Knights, equally anxious for draft day.

“It’s exciting to find out where you’re going to play,” said Tkachuk. “This whole process, especially since the season has been over has been crazy.  It’s now down to the final wire and I’m excited.”

Thursday’s media availability at Buffalo’s Erie Basin Marina brings an end to a busy few days of activities and camaraderie for the players.

“We did batting practice yesterday with the Buffalo Bisons and then watched their game,” added Tkachuk. “This morning we were skating with some local kids with USA Hockey, then went to a local cancer research clinic, did the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls, so it’s been a pretty good couple of days.”

For some of the players, like Dubois, the trip to Niagara Falls was a first and certainly among the highlights while also taking time to share some of their hockey skills with Buffalo youth.”

“Going on the ice with the kids in the morning was really fun,” he said. “I remember when I was a kid I looked up to guys like this and I really like giving back.”

Last season 95 CHL players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft in Florida led by recently announced NHL All-Rookie Team forward Connor McDavid to the Edmonton Oilers.  The former Erie Otters star became the ninth straight CHL player to be chosen first overall and was one of 17 CHL players picked in the first round.

With 21 of the top 30 ranked North American prospects from the CHL, Friday’s first round could once again see a considerable amount of talent selected from across the three leagues including several from the blueline.

“You can never really predict these things, but I’m excited,” said top ranked defenceman Jakob Chychrun of the Sarnia Sting. “It’s almost scary in a sense. Obviously there isn’t a bad destination in this league, being taken anywhere will be pretty special.”

For the prospects, this weekend marks the pinnacle following a season of CHL competition, development, and anticipation for the moment to finally hear their name called and celebrate a lifelong dream.

“I’m looking forward to spending this moment with my family and friends,” Chychrun said. “It’s kind of a once in a lifetime thing so I’m going to do everything I can just to soak in every minute.”

Since 1969, close to 50% of all players selected have been from the CHL making it the number one supplier of talent to the NHL.  The 5,276 players picked over the years includes 2,229 (21%) from the OHL, 1,931 (18.2%) from the WHL, and 1,116 (10.5%) from the QMJHL.

WATCH TOP PROSPECTS TALK NHL DRAFT FROM BUFFALO:

Check out the CHL’s three-part series previewing the 2016 NHL Draft with individual features on top prospects from the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL.

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