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Many prospects are no strangers to the big time -- because dad played in the NHL

When Ty Ronning was a kid, his father’s workplace was a chewy piece of heaven. There was bubblegum everywhere – all you could eat -– so the boy would grab a handful every time he walked by a bucket.

While chewing the day away, he paid attention to his dad’s co-workers. Ronning noticed a trend.

“I remember going into dressing rooms and spitting in garbage cans like my dad’s teammates,” he said. “I’d go home and spit on the floor, and my mom wouldn’t be too happy.”

OK, so maybe the sons of NHL players don’t always learn the best habits. They learn plenty of good ones, though, as this year’s NHL Draft shows.

At least 18 prospects have fathers who played in the big leagues. Ronning’s dad, Cliff, is among the more recognizable. He had an 18-year career and played 1,137 games with seven teams.

“The name Ronning raises some eyebrows, and they just want to see what you can do with that last name,” said 18-year-old Ty, who scored 31 goals for Vancouver of the Western Hockey League.

Whether it’s top-five pick Matthew Tkachuk, son of Keith, or draft longshot Ben Hawerchuk, son of former Sabres center Dale, having a dad with ties to the league is more of a blessing than a curse.

“He was a guy who was always there for advice,” said Matthew Tkachuk, who totaled 50 goals in 75 games this season with London of the Ontario Hockey League. “I call him after every game or every practice, and all we talk about is to make sure I’m competing and make sure I’m being a good teammate.”

Along with guidance, the dads have provided experiences other kids could only imagine. After Jeff Chychrun retired to Florida following an eight-year career, old teammates would arrive in town to play the Panthers.

“He’d bring me down and I was able to meet some of my idols growing up,” said Jakob Chychrun, one of the top defensemen in the draft. “I was lucky in that sense just to have those opportunities. I was the biggest Sidney Crosby fan growing up, and I met him a few times at a young age. It was cool for me looking up to guys like him and being able to meet him.

“I knew I wanted to be where they are one day, so it made me work that much harder.”

While work ethic is not an inherited trait, it is influenced by environment. The children who visited dressing rooms and gyms saw firsthand that NHL stars didn’t just put on their skates and score goals. They had to train and strive for greatness.

“I remember Paul Kariya,” Matthew Tkachuk said of his dad’s teammate in St. Louis. “He was always taking care of himself and making sure he was in tiptop shape to go on the ice. A guy like that is someone who had an impact.”

Now, 23 years after Kariya went fourth in the draft, Tkachuk has a chance to go in the same spot. He’ll hear his name Friday night in First Niagara Center, as will Chychrun, Alexander (Michael) Nylander, Logan (Jeff) Brown and Kieffer (Brian) Bellows.

Players who could be selected during rounds two through seven Saturday include Ronning, Hawerchuk, Jonathan (Ulf) Dahlen, Riley (Cory) Stillman, Hudson (Pat) Elynuik, Rem (Lance) Pitlick, Garrett (Rich) Pilon, Graham (George) McPhee, Kristian (Robert) Reichel, Luke (Marty) McInnis, Casey (Tom) Fitzgerald, Kevin (Petr) Klima and Ty (Tony) Amonte.

Scouts and general managers will have no problem identifying the last names. They just have to determine if the prospects have what it takes to follow in their father’s skate trails.

“They’ve been to where we want to get to, and they ultimately know what it takes,” Chychrun said. “All they can do is push us in the right direction. At the end of the day, it’s how much the kids want it, how much we want it as individuals and how much we want to be successful.”