BUFFALO, N.Y. - Before general manager Ray Shero steps up to the podium in Chicago to announce the Devils' choice for top pick in the draft, he'll be on the hunt this week at KeyBank Center during the NHL Scouting Combine.
While it doesn't get a lot of attention, the Combine is an important milestone on the road to the draft. Many hockey fans know of the physical testing that happens during the combine's final two days, but arguably the most important part happens behind closed doors in the days before. That's when prospects are interviewed by team executives, psychologists and scouts.
Earlier this month, Shero met with the Devils' entire amateur scouting department for several days to discuss and debate this year's draft class. The group painstakingly developed a short list of players they'd be interested in selecting with each of their picks, and identified players of interest that might be available in different spots in order to be prepared in case the opportunity for a trade arises. The interviews at the combine are an opportunity to dig a little deeper and narrow their list a little further.
And while the physical testing won't favor heavily into a draft day decision, the interview can potentially swap things dramatically.
The Devils' scouts have spent hours across the globe watching these teenagers play hockey. They might know how effective one player is on the half-wall with the man advantage or how he likes to calm things down with smart decisions and precise passes, but there's a better than good chance that they haven't spoken with him yet. They have no idea what motivates him, how self aware he is, what his other interests are or how he might fit into their locker room. These interviews are a chance to find out straight from the source.
Beginning Monday, Shero, assistant general manager Tom Fitzgerald, senior director of player personnel Dan MacKinnon, director of player and team development Dr. Aimee Kimball, director of amateur scouting Paul Castron and assistant director of amateur scouting Gates Orlando will start meeting with players in hopes of getting a clearer focus of whose names they will call on June 23 and 24 at United Center in Chicago.
While the Devils have likely spoken with coaches and teammates about the prospects they'll be meeting with this week, the combine is one final step of due diligence to make sure whoever they choose to be a part of their organization will be worth the risk in selecting over another player.
It all aligns with Shero's plan to build this team the right way: from the inside out with skilled players of excellent character, in hopes of moving the franchise forward and bringing another Stanley Cup to New Jersey.