COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Patrick Kane hasn't been drafted into the NHL yet, and already he has an entourage.
Kane estimated about 80 family members and friends have made the trek from South Buffalo to be with him tonight in Nationwide Arena, where many hockey experts predict he will be selected first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks. Another score of supporters have made the trip from London, Ont., where he starred this past season in the junior ranks.
"It's unbelievable the support I've had," Kane said while enjoying dinner with his family Thursday night in Columbus. "They've been there since Day One. I owe a lot to them."
Kane on Thursday took part in a media luncheon and joined other top prospects in a skate with local kids.
"I don't want this weekend to go by too fast," Kane said. "I'm just having fun with my family, signing autographs, doing all the media. I'm sure it will be fun when I finally put that sweater and cap on."
If the Blackhawks pass on him, the Philadelphia Flyers are highly interested with the second choice. Kane almost certainly will become the highest draft selection from Western New York. The Edmonton Oilers tabbed Rochester's Jason Bonsignore with the fourth pick in 1994.
"I'm just more anxious to see what happens and where I go," Kane said. "But I've said all along it doesn't matter if I go No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 or No. 4. Obviously, it would be great to go No. 1 and join those great players, but it's more about what you do after the draft and how quick you get to the NHL."
The first round will begin at 7 tonight (Versus). The drama should end shortly thereafter for Kane.
The other six rounds will take place Saturday, beginning with the Buffalo Sabres' initial scheduled pick -- the first of the second round -- at 10 a.m.
Two players passed over at last year's draft are back again this summer and are next in line behind Kane on the list of local prospects who could hear their names called Saturday.
Phil DeSimone of East Amherst is coming off a sensational third campaign for Sioux City of the U.S. Hockey League, while Black Rock native Chris Moran had a remarkable freshman season at Niagara University.
DeSimone finished second in the USHL scoring race with 26 goals and 73 points in 60 games and was voted the junior league's player of the year and its top forward while playing alongside possible first-round pick Max Pacioretty.
"It wasn't like I was [ticked] off about not getting drafted last year," DeSimone said, "but I felt like every year, every new season you have to prove you're better than the last. I had a few goals stashed in my mind for my third year, like making the all-star game and leading the league in points. I was just short of that. I also wanted to win player of the year, but, to be honest, I was surprised when I did."
The former Nichols School and Williamsville South student seemed prepared for either outcome this weekend.
"I'm not going to be upset if I don't get drafted, but it would be a great honor if I did get recognized like that," said DeSimone, who added 15 pounds to his 6-foot-1 frame since last summer. "Sometimes it's almost better to be a free agent anyway. You're not locked into any one team, so you can sign for more and go to any team you want right out of college."
Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said Moran deserves to get picked Saturday.
"He does things that will lift you out of your seat if you watch him closely," Burkholder said. "He's that gifted."
Moran had nine goals and 40 points in 37 games. His 31 assists ranked first in the nation among freshmen.
Burkholder thought Moran, generously listed at 5-11, should have been worth at least a late-round flyer last year based on how he performed with the Buffalo Junior Sabres and for Omaha of the USHL before he arrived at NU.
"I don't know what else he needs to do," Burkholder said. "They say his feet aren't explosive enough, that he's not a great skater, but his stick skills are off the charts."