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FEATURE: How the Devils utilize the combine

Ever wonder how NHL organizations use the combine? Get an inside look at how the Devils utilize this week to evaluate players

by Chris Wescott /

On the suite level of the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY, the New Jersey Devils management group sits surrounding a small table littered with scouting reports, notepads and laptops. The room, which would normally be spilling over with energetic hockey fans or corporate gatherings or concertgoers, is now office space.

Video: DRAFT | Jack Hughes at Combine

Day after day this week, draft-eligible prospects enter and leave Suite 54 in 20-minute shifts. One by one, the Devils staff puts these young men on the hot seat.

It's the most important job interview of their lives.

"It's a pretty interesting process," said Devils Executive Vice President, General Manager/Alternate Governor Ray Shero.

"We're digging to find a little more information about them and their character," said Devils Director of Amateur Scouting Paul Castron. "Sometimes, with some kids, it's to find out exactly what their injuries were this year. We get different reports during the year and when we hear it from them, we know what they had for injuries. [It's also to find out] a little bit about their family life..."

"What else is in your life besides hockey?" said Shero. "Tell us about your family, your siblings. Tell us about your mom and dad. What do they do? You read the background on the kids or all the interviews our scouts have done on these guys, but it's interesting to really find out [those things]."

By the end of the week, the Devils staff will have spoken with just over 60 players. They had more lined up, but winning the draft lottery and securing the first-overall pick allowed them to thin the field a bit. But 60 is still a lot and this week is still a grind.

"It takes a while, I can tell you that," said Castron. "But it's going well. There are not too many bad kids in this process. They're all here, they're all dedicated. They know what they're doing. They're here for a reason."

Despite having already either scouted or spoken with these players, this is just another opportunity to create a connection with potential Devils.

"You're looking to maybe tease out a few more answers and get a little more insight of the player as a person," said Devils Senior Director of Player Personnel Dan MacKinnon. "What motivates them? What do they value? What are their interests and dreams are other than just playing in the NHL?"

The team can also get an idea of a player's love of the game, which only adds to the evaluation process.

"They all want to play in the NHL," said Castron. "You can tell by the way they come across that some kids are more focused and ready and determined to do what it takes to make the NHL because it's a hard league to make."

For the Devils, their draft board is pretty much set at this point. There will be very little movement of names up and down their list between now and the draft June 21-22.

"I would say that's pretty accurate," said MacKinnon. "The list is, for the most part, pretty set."

But nothing is finalized until draft day and, in gathering this information, the Devils set themselves up to be able to make any final tweaks to their board they need to.

"How these interviews can impact things would be at a smaller level in a smaller peer group, order wise," said MacKinnon. "Maybe it's 3-4 spots on our list where we're trying to dig a little deeper. I wouldn't say you'd have massive swings in the list order coming out of this week."

What separates one player from that pack of 3-4 then? What exactly are the Devils looking for when they dive into these conversations in Buffalo? And how do they achieve this?

Video: 1-on-1 with Ray Shero

"This is a lot of what [Dr. Aimee Kimball] does for us," explained MacKinnon.

Kimball is the team's director of player and team development and plays a huge role in the interview process. She asks the majority of the questions, sometimes about their past season or about a time they battled adversity, etc. Through those questions and the players' answers, the Devils are able to get a better idea of the prospect's competitive nature.

"As you know, from talking to John Hynes and other executives in our group, we put a high value on internal competitiveness and internal drive," said MacKinnon. "Other than what you observe on the ice, that's not an easy thing necessarily to tease out from sort of an intrinsic motivation level. So these interviews are helpful there."

And it all comes back to trying to separate one player from the pack.

"If you do have a cluster of 3-4 players and the order is a little in doubt, that's something that could swing it with how the answers go, how the discussions go and how we feel as a group about the individuals in terms of how they handle the interview, that can swing the order a little bit," MacKinnon said.

There is a lot of excitement within the Devils organization heading into the draft. The club holds 10 picks, including three second-round selections. All of that opportunity increases the importance of this week and these interviews as the management group looks to sort out which players fit the team's long-term plans.

So this week is actually quite significant.

"It kind of ties it all together," said MacKinnon. "It is the culmination of a year's worth of work."

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