CHICAGO -- The Devils added 11 players to the prospect pipeline at the 2017 NHL Draft including Nico Hischier, the first overall selection, and they are very happy with what they were able to accomplish last weekend at United Center.
"Picking a player like Nico is obviously a key part of the franchise that we hope will be a No. 1 centerman someday," said Devils director of amateur scouting Paul Castron. "Like all young players, he'll have to take time to grow into that position. The sooner the better, but I don't think you can rush it. I think he's one of those players that makes others around him better and he will fit in because of the personality he has and the passion he has, and just his love for the game. I think all of that is going to be infectious and he's gonna be a real building block for our team."
Said Devils general manager Ray Shero: "Obviously, I think it's a great draft because of Nico. We're thrilled as an organization to add him, and after that, it was kind of interesting. I don't think I've ever made three seventh round picks and 11 overall. But I think we added a lot of skill up front and on defense as well. So I think we added depth in all positions and have a lot of prospects to be excited about."
Winning at the NHL Draft is as much about preparation and doing homework as it is about luck and having chosen players available at the time a team is picking.
I always think you try to get as much skill as you can, and I think we addressed that.
-Paul Castron, Devils Director of Amateur Scouting
"I always think you try to get as much skill as you can, and I think we addressed that," said Castron. "The way it fell by taking the forwards at the top of the draft is just how the list went. We had D there, but other teams were taking them before they got to us or they were lower on the list than the forwards. That's the luck of the draw and you just gotta stay as tight as you can to the list. We made it for a reason and we have to be loyal to it."
The list Castron mentions was put together during the team's scouting meetings in early May and was finalized last week. However, it's important to note that the Devils' draft list has a number of ties, but only across different player positions. So there might be a three-way tie for 15th on the list, but that would mean it's between a forward, defenseman and a goalie - never multiple players in the same position.
Ties within the same position are broken during the scouting meetings as Castron and Gates Orlando, Devils assistant director of amateur scouting, are responsible for meshing the lists submitted by the scouts from each territory: OHL, QMJHL, WHL, USHL, US prep/high schools, Europe and Russia.
So if there is a debate at the draft table once the Devils are on the clock, it's between positional players. One such debate happened in this year's draft when the Devils were about to make the 81st selection in the third round. According to Castron, Reilly Walsh and Nikita Popugaev were neck and neck, and the decision to select Walsh -- a smaller, two-way defenseman -- over Popugaev - a 6'6" power forward - came down to positional need. They had already selected three forwards and after Walsh there weren't a lot of defensemen on their list that would be the best player available at their next selection, 98th. Because they wanted to make sure they stocked up on quality defensive prospects as well as skill up front, they chose Walsh at 81. Seventeen picks later, Popugaev was still on the board and they were able to get him too.
"If we didn't take Walsh, we had another long run of forwards and we would have never gotten a D," Castron said. "And then at the end it was like all we had were D - but those were two players that were very close on the list and we opted for Walsh, and I honestly didn't think we'd get another shot at Popugaev, but I'm glad we did. He's got a lot of talent and obviously a lot of size and could be a home run for us, especially getting him in the fourth round."
The 2017 Draft might be over, but the Devils' scouting department is already preparing for next year. A handful of scouts are already in Buffalo for USA Hockey's select festival for the 2000 birth year, which started this weekend. These festivals for 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds are used as development camps, but for the latter, it doubles as an evaluation camp for selection to represent Team USA at the annual Ivan Hlinka Tournament in August, where every player is draft eligible.
"After the select festival, the European guys have a tournament in July and then there's the World Junior Showcase in Plymouth with the U.S., Canada, Sweden and Finland," Castron said. "And although it's an older tournament, there are always a handful of players that are draft eligible there and then the season really kicks off with the Ivan Hlinka at the end of the summer. We'll have some downtime these next couple months, but there's still work to be done."
The work doesn't stop for the players either, especially with development camp just two weeks away.
"This is just one step in the process for these players and they have a long way to go before making it to the NHL," Shero said. "But I think we have the development staff to help them grow and learn as hockey players, and hopefully we'll see them all push for a spot in the NHL one day.
"I know I'm certainly looking forward to seeing these kids at development camp in a few weeks and seeing what we really have with them."