VANCOUVER, BC - Devils GM Ray Shero spoke with media via conference call before heading into meetings with the other 30 NHL GMs on Thursday afternoon in Vancouver. The Devils first overall selection on Friday night dominated the discussion but Shero also touched upon other topics.
Shero would not commit to whether the Devils would select American Jack Hughes or Finn Kaapo Kakko. He continues to be effusive in his praise of both players. "Both the Devils and the Rangers are going to get great kids and great players." He later added: "Both are special players and are going to step into (the NHL) next year."
Shero played down the suggestion that having the Rangers picking right behind them has any sort of bearing on whom the Devils will take first, or the nature of the rivalry after proceedings are complete. "I think to a certain extent it's overblown because it's not like it was a couple of years ago where you play someone in your division six, eight, nine times," said Shero. "Now it's maybe four or five times. I hope it's going to be more than that because it means both teams are in the playoffs."
That is not to suggest that Shero doesn't believe the Devils-Rangers rivalry is not alive and well. " I think (our rivalry) is great for hockey and great for the Rangers and Devils," he said.
Kakko did not attend the Scouting Combine last month which threw a wrinkle into the evaluation process for Shero and his staff. Instead, both the GM and head coach John Hynes flew to Helsinki last week to meet with the Finnish star. "Jon Hynes and I visited him in Helsinki last week and went out to dinner with him and had the same amount of time and it was really a great exercise and he's a great kid"
The Finland trip presented another interesting perspective: Kakko only got his driver's license three months ago. The driving age in Finland is 18 and Kakko only turned 18 in February. The two-hour drive he made from his hometown of Turku was one of the first trips he made alone. He took his club's car on the two-hour drive to the Helsinki meeting. Shero said it made him realize that it's sometimes easy to forget young players are still dealing with life moments beyond hockey.
With the evaluation process now effectively over for this year's Draft class, the Devils slated 10 selections will be made after a process that included thousands of man-games viewed by club personnel and more than 60 interviews at the combine. That's this season. The Devils have been aware of Jack Hughes for several years and paying extremely close attention to him since last season.
With hundreds of prospects looked at, Shero had an interesting comment; "I wish I could take them all," he said, "you really begin to like these kids."
Shero effectively ruled out trading the top pick. "You never say never but it's not like two years ago when there was some discussion (about trading the first overall pick)," he said.
Shero did leave the door open to making deals involving some of the other Devils selections. The club has 10 picks in total, including five in the second and third rounds, and another near the top of the fourth round.