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WNY to have big presence at NHL draft

There were giggles and guffaws back in 2008 when Tyler Myers walked on stage at the NHL entry draft and made Buffalo Sabres personnel look like a bunch of little guys. Just wait till Friday night. Jamie Oleksiak is going to make Myers look like a stick figure.

Oleksiak, whose father is from Buffalo, is in line to be selected in the first round of the 2011 draft. The defenseman from Toronto and Northeastern University is 6-foot-7, just like Myers was on his draft day. The difference is Oleksiak weighs 244 pounds -- 20 more than Myers does now and 40 more than the Buffalo defenseman did in 2008.

"He's a monster," said Kevin Devine, the Sabres' director of amateur scouting.

Oleksiak proved it at the NHL scouting combine. The 18-year-old ranked in the top 10 in virtually every strength category, upper and lower body, a showing that could propel him into the top 10 of the selection process.

"I'd like to think I made the most of that opportunity," Oleksiak said by phone. "A year ago, if you asked me if I could be even in the first round, I wouldn't even imagine it. But it's definitely an honor, and you definitely feel a sense of accomplishment. It feels like all the hard work you put in is really being recognized and you're kind of getting rewarded.

"At the same time, it's just the beginning. You still have a lot of hard work to put in once you get drafted."

Oleksiak is one of several players with Western New York ties looking forward to hearing his name called this weekend in Minnesota. Defenseman Adam Clendening of Niagara Falls is expected to go in the first two rounds. Williamsville defenseman Chris Bradley, West Seneca blue-liner Alex Lepkowski and Cheektowaga goaltender Scott Diebold may get picked in the later rounds.

In addition, the sons of two former Sabres will take the next step toward becoming a professional. Forward Alexander Ruuttu, son of Christian, is the 16th-ranked European skater. Defenseman Dillon Donnelly, son of Gord and born in Buffalo in 1993 while his father patrolled the Sabres' blue line, is expected to be a mid-round pick.

"Every kid dreams of getting drafted in the NHL," Clendening said, "so I think it'll be a dream come true when you hear your name called."

Oleksiak is expected to have the shortest wait. The hulking defenseman, whose 6-8 dad is in the Nichols School Hall of Fame in football, basketball and track, recently completed his freshman year at Northeastern after two seasons in the United States Hockey League. Though the Toronto resident needs work on his lateral movement, his straightaway speed and puckhandling have teams looking hard at him.

He is ranked as the 13th North American skater by NHL Central Scouting.

"I'm a pretty good north-south skater," he said, "and I think I'm also good at using my size and my strength to take away scoring opportunities and create some transition."

Like Oleksiak, Clendening used the NHL combine to bolster his standing. The Boston University blue-liner was near the top in numerous categories, including a tie for first in the bench press.

"I was kind of on the bubble for the first round, so hopefully since that worked out well that will jump me in there," said Clendening, a power-play specialist who is the 45th-ranked North American.

While Oleksiak and Clendening will attend the draft in the Minnesota Wild's Xcel Energy Center, Bradley will be watching on television from a friend's graduation party. The former St. Joe's defenseman will play his second season for Youngstown of the USHL this winter before heading to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

He was ranked No. 152 by Central Scouting at its midterm ranking and slipped to 207 in the final poll. Lepkowski (Barrie of Ontario Hockey League) and Diebold (Tri-City Storm, USHL) were not ranked, while Donnelly (Shawinigan of Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) is No. 117 among North Americans.

"I don't want to get myself too amped up about it or too excited because I don't want to get too down if something doesn't happen," Bradley said. "I've just been going with the flow. If it happens, that's awesome. If not, I'm going to keep working hard."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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