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DRAFT: Castron helps lead Devils to big draft decision

Devils Director of Amateur Scouting Paul Castron recently wrapped up the first wave of amateur scout meetings

by Marc Ciampa / newjerseydevils.com

It's a position that he's familiar with, having gone through it in 2017, but that doesn't make the decision of who to draft first overall in Vancouver on June 21 any easier. 

Devils Director of Amateur Scouting Paul Castron puts the process together when it comes to assessing the draft talent pool. The scouts recently wrapped up their amateur scout meetings but as of right now, the slots one and two remain open. 

"Two years ago, nobody knew (who the Devils were drafting) until the day of," Castron told Matt Loughlin and Amanda Stein during a recent recording of the Devils Road to the Draft Podcast. I don't think it'll be much different this time around. We'll do all our homework and due diligence right down to our last day. The book will get finalized the night of the draft."

The decision is between American Jack Hughes and Finn Kaapo Kakko. Hughes spent the entire season dominating his peers, netting 86 points in 41 games for the U.S. National Team Development Program but Kakko played against men and broke records for an 18-year-old with 22 goals and 38 points in 45 games in Finland's top league. 

"He's an unbelievable skater, for starters," said Castron of Jack Hughes. "The way he plays the game with pace with and without the puck is amazing and fun to watch. He really does bring fans out of their seats. As a scout, when we're in the rink when he gets on the ice, you know he's on the ice whether he has the puck or not or whether he's circling to get a pass or carrying the puck, he's so dynamic out there."

As for Kakko, Castron is equally impressed by the Finn. 

Video: PODCAST | Director of Amateur Scouting Paul Castron

"He's the bigger kid but also very talented. The kid's a winner. He's won at every level. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see them go head-to-head at the Under-18s because he made the Men's National Team and because he won the World Juniors this year and (played the) Under-18s last year, he opted to not play this year."

Hughes and Kakko have, however, gone head-to-head at the IIHF Men's World Championship. Kakko has outshone his counterpart with seven goals while Hughes has a lone assist. What can we read into that? 

"I wouldn't put too much stock into it," said Castron, adding that the body of work is the most important thing to examine when it comes to the two players. "It's a long year. Both have impacted the game at whatever level or age group they've been on. They've been dominant players and are probably headed that way in the National Hockey League as well."

DRAFTING FIRST

The experience of having gone through it all two years ago has helped prepare the Devils for this moment. Castron was asked how drafting first overall affects the mindset of the scouting staff and management team going into the draft. 

"It increases (the pressure). No different than when we picked Nico (Hischier). There were other players in the mix. Their careers aren't defined in one year. It takes a number of years for these kids. That crop has been pretty good already. We got to see (Cale) Makar come in after his college season and step in and have a great impact. (Miro) Heiskanen had a great year. (Nolan) Patrick had a tough year with some injuries but he plays hard.

"Nico is a quality kid and great kid, great leader for our team. Hard to believe he just turned 20."

When it comes to assembling a scouting staff that he can trust to help make this difficult decision, the credentials for the job are varied in his mind when it comes to the scout actually having played the game. 

"Guys that love the game and have passion for the game," Castron began when asked what he wants in a scout. "I worked with guys who didn't play at a high level. There's guys who never played that are GMs. Guys who have passion for the game and when we build the list, guys that pound the table for their guy and believe that their guy has a chance to be an NHL player.

"We trust the guys that we work with and we know the game. So when someone's pounding the table you know it's something they've seen. We might not get a good game when we go there. If they see them 15 times and we see them five, we're leaning on them."

He pointed to last year's first-round selection Ty Smith as an example of someone that his western scouts were really pushing for. 

"Ty Smith is a smaller defenseman, skilled, put up a lot of numbers. These guys saw him a ton and they were passionate about this kid. It's only one year and he hasn't played yet but he looks like he could be a big part of our future."

When it comes time to make the call, when the group as a whole is undecided, who breaks the tie? 

"Ray can break a tie anytime he wants," Castron chuckled. "Fitzy (Assistant General Manager Tom Fitzgerald) and Dan (Senior Director, Player Personnel Dan MacKinnon) are in there, too. They challenge us and challenge the scouts. If they see something that they don't think translates to the NHL, they'll question us.

"We have a good system. Collaboration is the best word I can use."

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