Craig Button has seen just about every transformation in the scouting world. He has been around the game of hockey his entire life, his father Jack Button was not only an executive with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, but he was also the founder of the NHL Central Scouting Bureau, where analysts and teams alike venture to keep their eyes on the next generation of NHL talent.
So, it really should be no surprise that Craig Button ended up working in NHL front offices, including the general manager of the Calgary Flames for three seasons, but has ended up as a premier voice on up-and-coming talent yet to make their mark in the NHL, and becoming TSN's Draft Analyst.
In what Button described as a 'long-story, short,' he had taken university courses in computer programming, and while working with the Minnesota North Stars, he and colleague Mark O'Hara began to write the first scouting computer program.
"He was the brains behind it," Button said. "I might have been a little bit into scouting. I had what I would call rudimentary computer programming skills."
Button sees a bright future for the Devils, a future that has been slowly cultivated through the draft process and patience. As the pieces in the last two seasons have come together, Jack Hughes joining Nico Hischier, Ty Smith establishing himself on the blue line, Yegor Sharangovich and Janne Kuokkanen with surprise rookie seasons, and Mackenzie Blackwood with the No. 1 job at just age 24, the Devils are just getting started towards a new generation.
"You can just see such a well-balanced group developing," Button shared on the Speak of the Devils Podcast. "Up front, when you got two centers in my view, like Nico and Jack, those are two significant players that can really drive a lot of play. Alexander Holtz, I'll be shocked if he's not in the lineup next year for the New Jersey Devils. He's that good. He's that mature. And I think playing with one of those two centerman is only going to allow him to be that much more capable of producing early on in his NHL career."
With the 2021 NHL Draft approaching, here is another opportunity to add to the prospect cupboard.
A common thread in those recent picks is general manager Tom Fitzgerald, who drafted Holtz as the team's GM, and was serving as sssistant GM when Hischier and Hughes were both drafted in 2017 and '19 respectively. Beginning touches and important cornerstones on what Button sees as a bright future, led by the right man.
"Tommy understands team building," Button said. "And I firmly believe that and I, you've heard me say this before, I think the New Jersey Devils are in great hands with Tom Fitzgerald at the helm."
So where does Button see the Devils going with the No. 4 pick? There are certainly high-quality options, and with the belief that Owen Power will go first overall to the Buffalo Sabres, and a skilled forward third to the Anaheim Ducks (admittedly, the No. 2 pick to the Seattle Kraken proves to be a bit of a wild card), at least one of the two top defensemen will be around for the picking. Particularly two with Devils family ties.
"I love Luke Hughes, I think Luke Hughes is a terrific young player," Button said. "But I think Brandt Clarke is a better player, and at the left side I look at Ty Smith, and I look at Kevin Bahl, and I look at Shakir Mukhamadullin, and now you've got these players that are all different, all those differences add elements that I think are important elements to a team.
"And now I look at the other side and I think Brandt Clarke, when I see the way he plays the game and the way he approaches the game and the dynamic qualities he has in the game, I think he just becomes it for me looking from the outside. He's such a beautiful fit for this team."
Scouting and drafting certainly isn't an exact science, but Button has a keen eye. And while he doesn't have the inside track into how the Devils are leaning, particularly with that fourth-overall selection, the faith Button has in the way Fitzgerald works, and the experience he has as a player with 1000-plus NHL games, the options at his fingertips will be solid one.
"I think what Brandt Clarke does, and if you make the decision on Luke Hughes, nothing wrong there, Simon Edvinsson, nothing wrong there. But the quality of Brandt Clarke, the ability to drive on offense, and to really, I call him a bold player, he reminds me so much of Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, the way they play the game, and that's the way Brandt plays."