T McGee's Top 100 Big Board: NHL Draft
This is a FanPost written by T McGee.
First, a disclaimer: I think we all owe our applause to Melissa, Calvin and the Team for the transition over to the new and improved DBTB! While we were all rightly upset and frustrated by the Vox decision to sever their relationship with DBTB (and other, not quite as cool sites), I for one think that this new site has the potential to be even better than the DBTB we left behind. Thanks to the Team for all the work you do here, and to my fellow DBTB’ers for sticking with the site!
Now, onto the hockey. Most leagues are well into their playoffs, with all the Canadian junior leagues well into the second round while leagues in Russia, Czechia and Sweden are reaching the culmination of their playoffs and Finland is now underway. Obviously, in the US the Frozen Four is over (congrats to Quinnipiac!) so the NCAA has wrapped up for the year. The USHL is lagging a little bit behind, as they have a couple regular season games left before the playoffs get going there. The last big international tournament, the World U-18s, is due to start in a couple days and will showcase at least a dozen of my Top 32 if not more, plus dozens more potential later round players. Then people’s lists should really start to shape up before we get to the Combine back in Buffalo in the beginning of June. And then, after all the pull-ups and O2 Max performances, and their real or imagined impact on teams’ Boards, we get to the real deal.
As we have settled into the waning days of the Draft year, a couple things have started to materialize when it comes to this Draft class in particular. First, it is absolutely top-heavy. I think it’s fair to say that the Top 4 players on my Board would all have gone #1 instead of either Shane Wright (the predicted #1 overall) or Juraj Slavkowsky (the actual #1 overall) in last year’s Draft. Connor Bedard is the best prospect I’ve seen since Auston Matthews in the 2016 Draft. But both Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson have blown away age-accurate comparables in their respective leagues: Fantilli had the best statistical season as a freshman in the NCAA since Jack Eichel; Carlsson’s season, right up there with guys like Nik Backstrom and the Sedin twins in terms of draft eligibles in the SHL. Carlsson, in fact, proved even more dazzling in the SHL playoffs, where he finished 3rd in scoring with 9P in 13 games while leading Orebro to the SHL semi-finals. Both of these players have great size (6’4 and 6’3) and are capable of playing center in the NHL, which lends itself to their value.
Adding to those 3 is the Russian gamebreaker Matvei Michkov. Like many top Russian prospects, he bounced around between several leagues and teams, but he posted some impressive numbers once he got into a rhythm at the KHL level. He put up 20P in 27 games, the highest point total for a Russian draft eligible in the KHL but for Vlad Tarasenko’s 24P more than a decade ago. Unfortunately, due to geopolitical reasons, Russia was banned from any IIHF tournaments since the Ukraine War began. Before that, he shined on the international stage, dominating at the Hlinka as a 16-year-old, where he set the tournament scoring record, and in the early stages of the 2022 World Juniors before they were cancelled by COVID. Each of these 4 are worthy of a #1 overall choice at this point…although teams will have to wait for Michkov, who’s under contract in Russia until the end of the 24-25 season. That, and the uncertainty around Russia’s political future, may cause him to slide a bit.
Secondly, this draft is dominated by forwards. Big centers, clever wings, goal scorers and playmakers of all kinds. It is a smorgasbord of choices for a team eager to add offense to its prospect group. My Big Board doesn’t have a defenseman make an appearance until #19. There are few dynamic defenders, but they are either smallish or don’t play much defense…a problem for a defenseman, and a problem for me, forcing me to push them down my Board. Others are sound, solid…boring…2-way defenders or projects with a ton of raw ability, but little polish as of yet. These are not the players that GMs and scouts salivate over. Either too safe, or too risky, some of those players are likely to slide. Now, D-Men are a commodity in today’s NHL, so a couple will no doubt get selected high…maybe as high as #10…but that will only say to me that they were reaches or over-valued simply due to the scarcity of good blueliners in this class. Draft at your risk.
Lastly, even with this myriad of forwards, the bulk of them are on the smaller side. It’s the trend. Brassmaster was right. Small, fast, skilled guys are taking over the NHL. Nine of my Top 20 forwards are 6 foot even or smaller. As the game gets faster, as the players get faster, finding space to create offense becomes harder to do. These small, dynamic forwards who can get out in transition and carve out room to make plays in traffic are increasingly valuable. In the same way that running backs and middle linebackers are increasingly devalued in the NFL, so too are big, banging forwards who are otherwise limited. You still need that kind of player on your roster to win until someone proves otherwise, but now management is increasingly looking for those players a lot later (look at the career paths of guys like Tanner Jeannot and Blake Coleman) in the Draft or just relying on acquiring them via trades. We’ll see if the Sabres, who could use just such a player in their pipeline, can find one in the middle rounds.
For those of you unfamiliar with my Big Boards, this is not a Mock Draft. This is a simple ordering of the players I’ve seen this year, as if I were a Head Scout and compiling my draft Board. It is not an attempt to predict where players will go at the Draft. It is 100% biased. When I look at players, I prioritize a few things: having a unique, high-end skill (best shot in the Draft, a player whose skating is already NHL quality, etc); skating (the more complete skater the better); and smarts (processing the play at speed, being in the right place at the right time, ‘seeing’ the play developing before it does, instincts). Size helps but isn’t the be-all, end-all. I tend to lean a little bit toward the younger players in the group, especially if they are close otherwise, as it suggests that those players have more runway to develop. Gamebreakers have some additional value as well, because they are so rare, and complete players – particularly forwards – are similarly rare and have extra value in my opinion. What I’ve done here is, if the actual Board were to fall along the same lines as my Board, I’ve chosen who the Sabres might look at selecting and that’s where I get my draft haul.
And now, for your reading pleasure…
1: Connor Bedard 5’10 C, WHL
2: Adam Fantilli, 6’4 C, NCAA
3: Leo Carlsson, 6’3 C, SWE
4: Matvei Michkov, 5’10 RW, RUS
5: Will Smith, 6’0 C, US NTDP
6: Eduard Sale, 6’1 C/LW, CZE
7: Samuel Honzek, 6’3 C, WHL
8: Colby Barlow, 6’2 LW, OHL
9: Gabe Perreault, 5’10 C/W, US NTDP
10: Dalibor Dvorsky, 6’1 C, SWE
11: Nate Danielson, 6’1 C, WHL
12: Zach Benson, 5’10 LW, WHL
13: Daniil But, 6’4 RW, RUS
14: Matthew Wood, 6’4 C, NCAA
15: Quentin Musty, 6’3 LW, OHL
16: Andrew Cristall, 5’9 LW, WHL
17: Ethan Gauthier, 5’11 RW, QMJHL
18: Oliver Moore, 5’11 C, US NTDP
19: Oliver Bonk, 6’2 RHD, OHL
20: David Reinbacher, 6’2 RHD, SWISS
21: Riley Heidt, 6’0 C/LW, WHL
22: Dimitri Shimishev, 6’4 LHD, RUS
23: Cal Ritchie, 6’1 C, OHL
24: Axel Sandlin-Pelikka, 5’11 RHD, SWE
25: Charlie Stramel, 6’4 C/W, NCAA
26: Ryan Leonard, 5’11 RW, US NTDP
27: Mikhail Gulyayev, 5’11 LHD, RUS
28: Koehn Ziemmer, 6’0 RW, WHL
29: Gracyn Sawchyn, 5’11 C, WHL
30: Brayden Yager, 6’0 C/RW, WHL
31: Beau Akey, 6’0 RHD, OHL
32: Kalan Lind, 6’1 LW, WHL
33: Jayden Perron, 5’8 C, USHL
34: Alex Rykov, 5’11 W, RUS
35: Michael Hrabal, 6’6 G, USHL
36: Nick Lardis, 5’11 RW, OHL
37: Tom Wallinder, 6’1 RHD, SWE
38: Brad Nadeau, 5’9 C, BCHL
39: Carson Rehkopf, 6’3 C, OHL
40: Gavin Brindley, 5’10 RW, NCAA
41: Oscar Fisker Molgaard, 6’0 C/W, SWE
42: Noah Dower-Nilsson, 6’0 C, SWE
43: Aydar Suniev, 6’2 W, BCHL
44: Mazden Leslie, 6’1 RHD, WHL
45: Aram Minnetian, 6’0 RHD, US NTDP
46: Maxim Strbak, 6’2 RHD, USHL
47: Carson Bjarnason, 6’3 G, WHL
48: Caden Price, 6’1 LHD, WHL
49: Martin Misiak, 6’2 C, SVK
50: Etienne Morin, 6’0 LHD, QMJHL
51: Lukas Dragicevic, 6’2 RHD, WHL
52: Gavin McCarthy, 6’1 RHD, USHL
53: Theo Lindstein 6’0 LHD, SWE
54: Tanner Ludtke, 6’0 C, USHL
55: Roman Kantserov, 5’9 W, RUS
56: Noel Nordh, 6’3 RW, SWE
57: Otto Stenberg, 5’11 C/W, SWE
58: Nico Myatovic, 6’3 RW, WHL
59: Jayson Shaugabay, 5’9 C, USHL
60: Luca Pinelli, 5’10 C, OHL
61: William Whitelaw, 5’9 C/W, USHL
62: Hunter Bruzustewicz, 5’11 RHD, OHL
63: Connor Levis, 6’2 C, WHL
64: Anton Wahlberg, 6’2 C, SWE
65: Jesse Kiiskinen, 5’11 W, FIN
66: Aiden Fink, 5’9 W, AJHL
67: Alex Ciernak, 5’10 W, SWE
68: Tyler Peddle, 6’2 C/LW, QMJHL
69: Lenni Hameenaho, 6’0 RW, FIN
70: Jakub Dvorak, 6’5 LHD, CZE
71: Scott Ratzlaff, 6’1 G, WHL
72: Timur Mukhanov, 5’9 C, RUS
73: Luca Cagnoni, 5’11 LHD, WHL
74: Felix Nilsson, 6’0 C, SWE
75: Trey Augustine, 6’2 G, US NTDP
76: Andrew Strathmann, 6’0 LHD, USHL
77: Tomas Uronen, 5’11 W, FIN
78: Artuu Karki, 6’2 LHD, FIN
79: David Edstrom, 6’2 C, SWE
80: Mathieu Cataford, 5’10 RW, QMJHL
81: Danny Nelson, 6’3 C, US NTDP
82: Yegor Zavragin, 6’3 G, RUS
83: Tanner Molendyk, 5’11 LHD, WHL
84: Andrew Gibson, 6’3 RHD, OHL
85: Rasmus Kumpulainen, 6’2 W, FIN
86: Dylan McKinnon, 6’3 RHD, QMJHL
87: Kasper Halttunen, 6’3 RW, FIN
88: Coulson Pitre, 6’0 C, OHL
89: Cameron Allen, 6’0 RHD, OHL
90: Damien Clara, 6’6 G, SWE
91: Casey Terrance, 6’1 C, OHL
92: Felix Unger Sorum, 5’11 RW, SWE
93: Tristan Bertucci, 6’0 LHD, OHL
94: Kristian Konstandinski, 6’5 LHD, SWE
95: Dominik Petr, 6’2 C/W, FIN
96: Jakub Stancl, 6’3 C/LW, CZE
97: Noah Erlinden, 5’10 G, SWE
98: Lukas Hes, 6’3 RW, CZE
99: Matthew Mania, 6’0 RHD, OHL
100: Hoyt Stanley, 6’2 RHD, BCHL
1- #13: Daniil But, 6’5 RW, RUS: Mammoth (6’5 205#), but super-skilled, wing who’s only just now putting all of the parts in his game together. A dual-threat offensive player who can really skate for his size (not unlike an Alex Tuch), But has a ton of potential. Can he reach it? That is the question. He has all the tools: a heavy rocket of a shot, super-soft hands that help him distribute the puck to an open teammate, creative mind and vision to see the entire ice, a desire to attack the middle of the ice with the puck, understanding how to use his massive frame to protect the puck against the wall and in motion. Of course, But’s still trying to consistently put all of these pieces into action simultaneously. If not, he’d be selected Top 5. But given the depth of the Sabres’ prospect pool, this natural finisher is worth taking a swing on. As mentioned above, he’s gifted with a massive shot. It’s heavy, it’s hard, and it’s accurate. For a player of his size, he’s got that goal-scorer’s gift of moving subtly without the puck, drifting around the Zone until finding just enough room to get his stick free and receive a pass. He’s got a hair-trigger release and his reach is long enough to snap off a wicked wrister as soon as the puck hits his tape. A killer between the dots. Lethal one-timer. His hands are so good; he can receive difficult passes or pucks on their edge, settle them and make a play all in one motion. But he’s not just a shooter. Dude can make plays as well, especially in transition where he’s an opportunistic playmaker. Defenders will play him for the shot which gives him the option to make a cross-seam pass and create chances for teammates. Has good vision and can identify trailers and weak-side forwards sneaking into scoring position. Always looking to get to the middle. His puck handling coming off the wall, or on the rush, is excellent. Will dangle a couple defenders, get inside leverage and cut straight to the net. Can create his own space purely due to his confidence with the puck and stickhandling, giving him just enough time to get a shot off or make a pass. Cognizant of controlling the puck. Works hard along the walls and in the corners retrieving and possessing the puck. Excellent motor for a big, skilled forward. Battles in his own zone, is an adequate defender off the puck and uses his reach and size to defuse dangerous chances before they can get pucks to the net. His hands in tight spaces are very effective, while his footwork in similar situations is surprisingly agile. But that brings us to his skating. While But’s top speed is really quite good, and his lateral movement remarkably strong, he is not explosive nor fast by any measure. Perhaps his biggest weakness is his balance. For a huge, heavy player, he is too easily knocked around and moved off his spot by smaller defenders and at times knocked off the puck. I think this is attributable to the problem of growing into his size, not unlike young Tage Thompson, and as he gets older and stronger, his balance will improve with better core strength. Coupled with his aggressive mindset, he’ll be a bear to get the puck off once that improvement comes. Right now, he reminds me of Juraj Slafkovsky, last’s year’s #1 overall, in that he can struggle when defenders get inside of him and use their quickness to turn the puck over or take it from him. If But can get some more burst out of his first couple strides and get stronger on his skates, he could be a deadly, Roope Hintz-type of scoring forward. Was a beast in the MHL this year (the Russian version of major Junior) with 32P in 32 games, and then for good measure added 9P in 7 games in the playoffs thus far, putting him right behind Michkov (who has 7P in 5 games). He also saw considerable time in the KHL – rare for a draft eligible – where he chipped in 2G in 15 games. His contract goes until 2025, so you probably don’t see him until then, but the Sabres can afford to be patient thanks to their depth up front.
2- #39: Tom Willander, 6’1 RHD, SWE: A player with more offense than defense, Willander is a playmaker on the back-end with great hockey smarts. Plays at a high pace, and transitions from defense to offense in the blink of an eye – something the Sabres place real value on. And we know how they like their Swedes. First off, the kid is a dynamic skater. He explodes out of his transitions, with tremendous 4-way mobility. Pivots are sharp, and when there is open ice, he chews it up before most defenders can get in front of him. Lateral agility is excellent, and he generates a lot of burst with just a couple crossovers. Can walk the line on the PP, escape forecheckers with ease, and create odd-man opportunities just by lugging the puck out of his end through the Neutral Zone. Able to shake forecheckers with one fake or shimmy, leaving them in his wake and creating potential odd-man situations for his team. Excellent when retrieving pucks in his own end. That high-end skating helps him gap up defensively and he works hard as an on-puck defender, really tough to escape on the rush. Not only does he have light feet, but Wallinder’s got a very aggressive stick as well. It always seems to be moving. Between his footwork and his stickwork, Willander disrupts a lot of offensive opportunities and can snuff them out in the Neutral Zone before they even take shape by deflecting passes, getting stick-on-puck and forcing turnovers or sending shots into the stands. His positioning is also at a high level. Willander has decent size (6’1 185#) and isn’t obviously physical, but he’s not afraid to muck it up in the corners. An all-around accomplished player in his own zone. When the puck winds up on his stick, Willander is really in his element. Has an accurate, precise first pass. Shines as a puck transporter. Willander is elusive carrying the puck. He’s slippery, his agility makes him difficult to stay in front of and opens up passing lanes on several layers throughout the ice. Is decisive with the puck, and with his skating, so when he sees an opportunity he takes it and doesn’t hesitate. His speed with the puck on his stick adds pressure to the defenders, especially in the Neutral Zone, drawing defenders and causing breakdowns in the opposing structure, which creates odd-man rushes. Offensively, he’s not especially creative. Plays a simple game once he gets over that blue line. He rarely makes an extra move or risks a turnover. Pucks will go into the corners or down the walls rather than risking a pass into the middle of the ice or trying to beat a defender one-on-one. Doesn’t have a big shot. Uses his shot more to redirect pucks off the wall or to create havoc in front than to beat the goalie clean. It is accurate, however, and if he has enough space, he’s smart enough to shoot for sticks and deflections when there is traffic in front, and able to pick corners when he’s got an obvious shooting lane. More concerned with keeping the puck deep in the O-zone than he is making a dynamic play. But he does show flashes that he can give more offensively. Willander chipped in 2P in 5 games at the Hlinka, and then led the Swedes in scoring at the World Junior A Challenge, where they finished with a Bronze and he was voted one of the top 2 defenders in the tournament. He’s expected to be on the top pair for the Tre Kronor at the U-18 Worlds. Has put up 25P in 39 games for Rogle in the Swedish U-20 league, even got a few games at the SHL level. Surprisingly, he’s committed to Boston University here in the US starting next season, a rare case of a highly-regarded Swede coming across the pond to play for an American college program.
2- #46: Maxim Strbak, 6’2 RHD, USHL: Another repeat selection, Strbak was a guy I had the Sabres target late in the 1st round way back in October. He’s maintained his spot as a long, defensively responsible blueliner without being a black hole offensively. Lanky Slovak defender (6’2 200#) who plays a two-way game. A long stick and reach, coupled with good lateral skating, allow for him to defend a lot of ice. Strbak had played in the Finland for the last several years, moonlighting at international tournaments for his home country of Slovakia before coming over to the US to play for Sioux Falls. He’s not posting big numbers offensively – 18P in 46 games – but he’s very responsible and has the makings of a shutdown defender who can also trigger the transition game. Awareness in his own end is excellent. Strbak disrupts a lot of passes, either eliminating passing lanes with his stick, or closing out the forward with the puck and preventing the pass from being made. Defends well both in space and off the puck. Identifies breakdowns quickly and efficiently and will instantly come off his check to protect the high-danger areas of the ice. Can cut off a passing play to a dangerous area or get a stick-on-puck and send a potential shot into the seats. On-puck, he’s got really good gaps and his skating keeps him in front of puck carriers, letting him harass them with his size and stick, often breaking up plays before they become dangerous chances. Plays a heavy, simple game. Will get a forearm into the chest of an opponent, takes away the center of the ice and drives players into the corners where he separates them from the puck. Already has some strength. Where he can get in trouble is getting too cute against the forecheck, sometimes making poor choices with the puck. Needs more poise when under pressure. Will put the puck through the middle of the ice in his own end (a cardinal sin where I come from!), sometimes make a blind pass reversing the puck along the boards, or attempt a hero pass way up ice too often. Any of these likely result in turnovers. Needs to become a better puck manager. Skating is good; he has good burst and his transitions are relatively smooth. Could be better skating backwards, and sometimes glides too much when he over-relies on his reach and stick to make plays. But his lateral movement is strong, and he can get from the wall to the center of the ice very quickly to eliminate chances. Offensively, he’s a work in progress. Able to skate the puck up, Strbak can be a very good first-pass transition triggerman as well. When he makes the right decision, his passes are on the mark and on time, and gets forwards through the Neutral Zone with possession and speed. And he has the tools, so there’s potentially more there, but they’ve rarely come together all at the right time. Has a low, hard point shot that he keeps ankle height for deflections, ricochets, and tips from his teammates, only bolstered by his ability to get pucks through. He can move well laterally, so he can smoothly walk the line while running the PP but seems to lack the confidence to really attack from the point, electing to make the safe play nearly every time. Not a dynamic player in the O-zone, he keeps the puck moving but does not use much patience in seeking out time and space or picking apart coverages. In the long-run, I think Strbak can be more than a shut-down defender. Making small improvements to his skating, becoming more confident with the puck, and making better decisions coming out of his own end could lead to a really high-end 2-way defender. He’s shown that kind of game at last year’s Hlinka (3P in 5 games), internationally for the Slovak team (12P in 15 games). Was one of the handful of draft eligibles who played in the World Juniors, where he notched 3P in 5 games and despite being the youngest on his team, Strbak might have been their best pure defender, even better than last season’s Top 5 selection Simon Nemec.
3- #88: Coulson Pitre, 6’1 C, OHL: A guy who I’ve been reluctant to put up this high, Pitre has grown on me over the past couple of months leading up the OHL playoffs. He’s never going to be a dynamic top-line scorer, but the kid can do just about everything else you want on the ice. A scrappy kid, his game is reminiscent of Tyson Jost in that he works his tail off along the boards, attacks the net, and forechecks hard all over the ice. Plays in all situations and on special teams, so there’s a lot of versatility there, which the Sabres seem to value. Uses his high-level smarts to keep him on the right side of the puck in all 3 zones. Can play a grinding, defensive-minded game or compliment a line of high-flying forwards and look good in either role, or anywhere between. His skating is strong – not a blazer by any means, but very solid – which helps him when combined with those smarts to always find his way to the right place at the right time. He won’t win any end-to-end footraces, but he’s quick enough and powerful enough to keep pace with just about any linemate (skated with Connor Bedard at the CHL Top Prospects game and didn’t look out of place) and win on the backcheck against nearly any opponent. Very good balance. He’s tough to knock off the puck, but he’s a bull when he’s bodying up opponents in puck battles. Comes away with contested pucks far more often than he loses them. Really heavy on his skates. Excellent agility. Nimble, light feet help him escape scrums with the puck and immediately get on the attack, or sidestep defenders in the middle of the ice to find open lanes. Once he gets inside a defender, he’s going to the crease and he’s got the quickness and strength to get there. His brain is what makes him really effective. Instant recognition of situations on the ice, sees the entire sheet, and is decisive with and without the puck. Always seems to find himself in the right spot to make a play. A surprisingly gifted passer, he can recover a loose puck in the corner, dance around a check to get to open ice, and draw a defender before sliding some sauce to a teammate across the crease or in the low slot. Clever, manipulates the defense with some subtle moves to open up space for himself or others. Does the dirty work and does it well. Likes to play a heavy game. Will lower the boom on opponents to separate them from the puck. Mixes it up on the boards and is a load to move when he gets to the other team’s net front. Work rate is through the roof. Plays playoff-style hockey. Defensively he never gives up on a play. Hustles. Will backcheck from one end of the rink to the other. Smarts leave him in good position when playing off the puck and he rarely breaks down even at the end of long shifts in his own end. Recognizes when his defense needs a safety valve to help break the puck out and provides it. Put up a very respectable 60P in 59 games for Flint, a team loaded with 7 NHL draft picks. Followed that up with 5P in 6 playoff games. Not a flashy choice, but a guy who the Sabres don’t have much of in their pipeline.
4- #109: Jacob Fowler, 6’2 G, USHL: Savvy goaltender on his way to play for Boston College next season. Putting up great numbers in the second half of the season for Youngstown in the USHL after putting on a show as the winning goalie for the US team at the World Junior A Challenge. Fowler has good size at 6’2 200# and relies primarily on positioning to excel between the pipes. Style is not that different from Eric Comrie, but he is not as aggressive in coming out of his net. Fowler tends to play pretty deep, which gives him an extra half-second to get into position to face down a shot but can leave him unprepared for follow-up opportunities. His lateral movement is good, although not great, yet his reading of the play enables him to follow the puck and be in the correct position when a shot comes. Reacts well to screened shots and has a knack for finding his way through a crowd to locate pucks and cover them in the nick of time. Tremendous glove hand and limits his movement so he doesn’t lose track of his posts. Fowler’s very methodical. He doesn’t make a lot of wild, athletic movements. Positioning and posture are consistent, he moves smoothly from side to side, a lot of his skating is incremental as he moves around the crease. Rebound control is solid. He swallows up a lot of difficult shots, although he can lose hard shots that get through traffic to the net. Gets in trouble when he has to make sudden moves or big pushes across the crease. His technique can get a little disjointed when that happens, and he either opens himself up too much or, when trying to keep his form together, leaves too much of the net open. Off to Boston College next season where he’ll compete with some other young goalies for ice time. Has had a monster season this year for Youngstown with a 2.35 GAA and a .919 SV% in 38 games; was outstanding for the US team at the World Junior A Challenge with a 1.75 GAA and a .918 SV% in 4 games on his way to winning the Gold Medal. Given the seeming graduation of Devon Levi and the loss of Erik Portillo, the Sabres need to replenish the goaltending cupboard. Fowler allows them to do just that.
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