As the 2021 NHL Draft shifted into the third round, each selection moved the needle closer and closer to the Devils' 68th-overall pick.
*65th pick: Jayden Grubbe, Red Deer of the Western Hockey League, to the New York Rangers
The Devils, three picks away from making their own choice, began debating their draft board and which prospects they liked. Inside the war room the chatter began.
*66th pick: Sasha Pastujov, USNTDP, to the Anaheim Ducks
Greg Royce, the Devils director of European scouting, turned to Scott Harris, the club's director of amateur scouting, to discuss the upcoming selection.
"I have Salminen ahead of him," Royce said referring to Finnish center Samu Salminen in comparison to another prospect. "He had an opportunity at the Under-18 (World Championship tournament), he stepped onto the top line and he produced. He's a two-way guy. He's got bigger size."
*67th pick: Ryan Winterton, Hamilton of the Ontario Hockey League, to the Seattle Kraken
The Devils were on the clock.
Video: Devils Draft Salminen | BEHIND THE SCENES
General manager Tom Fitzgerald addressed the room of scouts with a request: "Talk to me on Salminen."
Royce swiveled his chair and replied: "Salminen's the big center. In the U-18s … Salminen stepped up, led the way at center of the first line."
Royce was accurate on all accounts. Salminen certainly has size, standing at 6-foot-3, 190 pounds. And during the U-18s in Dallas, the captain of Team Finland scored seven goals and nine points in seven games.
Fitzgerald was convinced, responding: "OK, let's take him if he's there."
He was, indeed, there. And the Devils did, indeed, take him.
"We believe he can be a top, second- or third-line player," Royce stated to the media following the conclusion Day 2 of the NHL Draft. "Tommy Sinisalo, our Finnish scout, loves Salminen. He recommended him.
"(European scouts) Niklas Evertsson, Sanisalo, Vaclav Slansky, they've done a great job. They've seen these players. They have great evaluations. They put in great recommendations."
Salminen, a native of Helsinki, played for Jokerit's top junior team (U20) in the Finnish League during the 2020-21 season, scoring 10 goals and 26 points. He will continue his development in Jokerit for the upcoming season, and will do so under the watchful eye of New Jersey's European development coach Esa Pirnes.
Pirnes, who is also a native of Helsinki, will have the luxury of working closely with Salminen next year.
"I think that's a huge benefit for us," Royce said. "Having Esa right there in Helsinki to work with him right there on a daily basis is going to be a benefit to both player and our organization. Esa does a great job for us, so it's just an added bonus."
Salminen has committed to play for the University of Denver in 2022-23, so he'll continue his development in North America with a chance to live in his new adopted country as well as adapting to the smaller ice surface and college game for his own personal development.
"Skating is the most important thing," he said of the areas of his game he wants to work on over the next few years. "My start and stop play, the physical game, skating skills, my leg strength. Skating and defense are the most important things that I have to work on."
Video: Samu Salminen Media Avail | DRAFT
Photo: All Over Press