In Vancouver, the New Jersey Devils scouting staff has engaged in constructive and, at times, heated debate about players on their draft board ahead of the weekend
VANCOUVER, BC - In a hotel conference room in Vancouver, the New Jersey Devils scouting staff has gathered the past few days to hammer out the final tweaks to their list of prospects. All of this work comes ahead of Friday night's first round of the 2019 NHL Draft.
Area scouts have this one final opportunity to state their case for players they've gotten to know over the past year or so. That makes for animated conversation and, at times, the use of outside voices.
"We're very excited when one of our scouts is passionate for a player in their area and it means a lot," Castron explained. "Usually, when that happens, it means they want this player because he fits the identity we're trying to create in New Jersey."
"Obviously, we want guys to express their opinions," added Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting Gates Orlando. "That's what Paul and I have to consider when a guy likes players and we see guys who are passionate about [players] they like. There are debates amongst groups in different regions, so it's good to be challenging. As long as it doesn't get personal, it's fine."
Often times when these players are being debated, the characteristic that stands out the most is "compete."
"No doubt," said Castron. "You have to have skill to win. A lot of these guys have a lot of skill, but the ones that have the high compete are the ones that are successful at the NHL level."
It's clear that healthy debate and conversation is key to a successful scouting meeting.
"I think we look at players and sometimes guys evaluate players differently in certain areas. For example, skating or sense," said Orlando. "There could be half a number difference and we'll debate that and maybe what's the fit for our team in terms of what we're trying to do here. Maybe it's less risk or more reward. Those kinds of things are debated today. Obviously, it's Ray [Shero] and Paul and myself who are going to make the ultimate decision. But we want guys who are pushing the guys that they like."
On the eve of the first round, Castron and Orlando gave some insight into how the Devils view this year's crop of players. There are some common themes from the head scouts.
For example, the Devils view this draft as a particularly strong one for players up front.
"I think early on in the draft, the forward position is going to be prevalent and then mid-first round there's going to be a lot of defensemen who go," said Castron.
"I see forwards as well," said Orlando. "The high-end guys are going to be the forward guys. You have a couple of really skilled defensemen who could be 1-2 defensemen in the NHL, but primarily you're getting some good forwards or top-six guys who will be playing in the NHL for a long time."
With more top-flight forwards than defensemen available, teams looking to stock their blueline cupboard have a decision to make, according to Orlando.
"I would think teams that are emphasizing defenseman probably have to take one a little bit early than they'd like to because once one guy goes there aren't many left on the board. They'll have to make a choice. Either we get him here or we don't get him with our next pick. They'll have to prioritize."
It's likely that whoever the Devils pick first overall will play in the NHL this year, and perhaps make an impact quickly. But the Devils aren't the only team looking to come away with a year-one gem. According to scouts, there may be several rookie players to crack an NHL lineup this season.
"Usually it's one, two and then you get a guy maybe at four like last year with Brady Tkachuk at four, and they end of playing," said Orlando. "But this year, maybe seven or eight guys have a chance with their teams and make it difficult. For example, we had Ty Smith last year at 17 and he got some games in the preseason. He was pretty close to making our club. A lot of times it depends on guys' camps, but this year the talent level is pretty deep from 1-10. Those guys all have a chance."
Another observation from the two scouts is that the talent pool is so deep that the 34th pick - the first of New Jersey's three second-rounders - has a ton of value.
"You're always excited when you can get a player in the second round that you have high on your list. And you know what? There are players that we will be excited about at 34. We just hope Ray keeps that pick for us," Castron laughed.
Next up for the scouts is a couple more last-minute interviews with prospects who they didn't have a chance to talk to in Buffalo, NY at the NHL Scouting Combine a few weeks ago.
They'll then make final adjustments to the list before the first round.
"Not major changes, but there are a couple of moves we're going to make and then the list will go to print after that," said Castron.
"We're just going to sit down today and finally come to a consensus about what we want," added Orlando.
After the dust settles late Friday night and the first round has reached its conclusion, the Devils scouts will reconvene.
"There will be some discussion after Friday night's first round in terms of which guys are still available and where we have them on our draft list," said Orlando.
"That's another chance to readjust the list," said Castron. "If you see something you're not happy with or someone you're going to get that you are happy with, you have the opportunity after the first round to make the change."
After all the long hours of meetings, the Devils are on the clock.
"I think we're pretty much ready to go," said Orlando.