All the questions have been asked by the media, while the eyes of scouts are now focused on draft lists. The only thing left now for the prospects heading into the 2016 NHL Draft is to find out which NHL club will call their names at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY.
One group of prospects has received an extra amount of attention this week, namely the players viewed to be the top 10 prospects for this year’s draft. The league and host team, the Buffalo Sabres, have tried to give the players a taste of what Western New York has to offer in the days leading up to the draft. Outings have included batting practice with the local AAA team, plus a ride on the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls.
One player in particular seemed to enjoy the whole process. Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward Pierre-Luc Dubois took part in all the activities offered up, and seemed enthusiastic about taking part.
“Yesterday was really fun going to the batting practice with the (Buffalo) Bisons,” said Dubois. “We got to meet the players, so that was really fun. Then today, going on the ice with the kids in the morning was really fun because, I remember when I was a kid I looked up to guys like this. I really like giving back to people like that. And then we went to Niagara Falls, that was my first time there so that was really fun. Now we’re doing interviews for a while, so I’m enjoying the process right now.”
With the stress of being labeled a top prospect for the NHL Draft, Dubois appreciated the opportunity to take part in activities away from the ice.
“We haven’t talked about the draft in about 2 days, and I can’t remember the last time that happened,” chuckled Dubois, who turns 18 today. “I’m really enjoying my time right now and not thinking about the draft too much. Tomorrow, there’s not a lot on the menu so I’m going to get pretty excited, for sure.”
Dubois’s draft stock rose steadily through the season’s second half, beginning with a stellar performance at the BMO CHL Top Prospects Game. He continued that strong play through the end of the season, finishing third in QMJHL scoring with 99 points in 62 games.
For the most part, Dubois seemed to take that success in stride, much as he has enjoyed his time in Buffalo this week.
“Every season has its up and downs, you just can’t go too high or too low, and I think I did a good job with that this year,” said Dubois. “It was a long season that started in the Czech Republic at the Under-18’s, and we finished in the playoffs with Cape Breton and Saint John. I had a really fun time, we had a really good group of guys in Cape Breton, so I really enjoyed my time this year.”
One top prospect whose season consisted mostly of highs is defenseman Olli Juolevi of the London Knights. The smooth defender won gold with Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship, then won an OHL championship and the Memorial Cup with the Knights. Choosing between one’s favorite moments in a successful season might be difficult, but Juolevi seemed to value one above all else.
“Of course, the Under-20s is pretty great, but I almost have to say the Memorial Cup,” admitted Juolevi. “It’s a big thing, and we played like 60-something games in the regular season, then the playoffs and a 17-0 run at the end of the year. Then win the Memorial Cup in the final and overtime. It’s pretty awesome, especially after almost like 90-something games and a whole year with those guys. It’s pretty special.”
Several players from that Knights team will have their names called over the two days of this NHL Draft. Juolevi has had the opportunity to reunite with those draft-eligible teammates in Buffalo this week, including fellow top prospect Matthew Tkachuk, making this an extra-special event for the talented Finn.
“It’s great, especially now since we haven’t seen each other in a couple of weeks, so it’s nice to see (Tkachuk) again,” sad Juolevi of the Memorial Cup hero. “Of course, there’s also Max Jones, (Victor) Mete, (Tyler) Parsons, (Cliff) Pu and many great guys this year in the draft. It’s going to be exciting to see where those guys are going, and I hope everything’s the best for those guys.”
Speaking on the eve of his draft selection, Dubois summed up very well what all draft prospects are feeling heading into their big day.
“I still haven’t digested it 100%,” stated Dubois. “It’s still pretty crazy to me – I can’t even imagine what it’s like to play a game, and now, just getting drafted is going to be amazing. There’s a lot going through my head right now, but I’m just really excited for tomorrow.”
Tomorrow has arrived.