GM Ray Shero spoke of optimism on Monday and doubled down after the lottery win
TORONTO, ON - Devils General Manager Ray Shero spoke on Monday about his belief that he had plenty of reasons to feel optimistic about the team he has despite the club finishing 29th in the NHL standings.
On Tuesday at the NHL Draft Lottery in Toronto, one flip of a card strengthened that optimism.
"Yesterday at the media day, I said two years ago when we won the lottery that was a great thing for us but when we finished that season, it wasn't a good spot," Shero began. "But with winning the lottery then signing a guy like (Will) Butcher, Jesper Bratt comes out of nowhere, all of a sudden you've got talent on the ice and we had 97 points.
"This year was certainly disappointing but it's a way way different feeling for me overall. I know we're on our way, I know the culture that's there, even with all the injuries we had we're competitive. We said it yesterday, we need more talent. You get that through the draft usually. Staying at three, we'd get a really good player but to actually win the lottery and continue our momentum here, it gives (the fans) excitement."
Devils President Hugh Weber echoed the thoughts of Shero.
"When people look at a first pick and they look at the talent at the top of this draft, it becomes tangible for them. The theme of yesterday's press conference with Josh Harris and Ray Shero was around, 'listen, we've been doing a ton of work, we're super optimistic about the work we're doing, that's why we've stayed the course with extending Ray's contract and John's contract. We're not making wholesale changes. We're staying on course because we've seen the progress."
That progress is something that the organization has tangibly measured, not always by traditional means.
"The things that we measure, behind the scenes, show progress so there's reason to be optimistic about this.
"This accelerates that optimism," Weber said of owning the number one pick plus nine others in a very deep draft."We're going to have a lot of ability to fill our pipeline with talented players who are going to contribute down the road."
Where it got real for Shero was when Chicago fell off the board at the 12 spot. It was eerily reminiscent of the 2017 Draft Lottery where the 13th-ranked Philadelphia Flyers moved up.
"When Chicago went from 12 to the top 3, that happened last time with Philadelphia so when that happened that's when I started to get nervous. We could have moved down to six. In the back of my mind, I was prepared for that but in the back of my mind I was hoping we were in the top three. That's when you really start getting nervous. Up until then, I really wasn't at all."
As teams above you slip into the top three, that's where it gets dangerous and potentially results in your club moving back. A team can move a maximum of three spaces back such as the Colorado Avalanche did with their league-best odds eventually resulting in them drafting fourth.
After the Kings card flipped over in the five spot, that solidifed the Devils, Rangers and Blackhawks as the teams in the top three. Shero was asked if he felt a little better knowing that of the three teams, the Devils actually had the best shot.
"That was scary enough, too, because the teams with the best odds were not up on the stage," he noted. "Just to get down to the two was fantastic and for Stan Bowman to go from 12 to 3 for Chicago was great for him.
"It's a great day for our franchise and hopefully the start of another good draft for us and a ton of other picks for us. It's exciting for our fans."
After Chicago went at three, that left the two teams across the Hudson vying for top spot.
"It's Rangers-Devils there at the end. That's a pretty good rivalry and the Rangers moved up from five so they're going to get a really good player.
"At number one it's fantastic, we're going to get a real good player."
Shero was asked about the plan moving forward and if that changed at all with the team now owning the top pick.
"It doesn't change that much, we had a high pick anyway, but preparation wise for every team, not just New Jersey, the draft lottery used to be later. This is the first year (since 2014) where it's right after the end of the season. Now that you have the U-18s coming up in Sweden, for scouting purposes you can really identify where your team is."
The GM then made a statement which truly summed up the day.
"It doesn't change a lot, but again it changes everything."